Some analysts believe that Harpoon missiles supplies to Ukraine doesn’t matter much (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOjWBwPlbTQ). The reasons are:
- they would be detected and destroyed by Russians soon enought;
- they are not enough to change the status quo in the Black Sea — Russians would have naval superiority either way.
Well, I disagree. First, unlike any regular country which needs some kind of targeting data to be collected by shore based radars or naval patrol aviation or whatever, Ukraine doesn’t. They can (and in the past most probably had) receive coarse targeting data from US or NATO air and space based intelligence gathering assets, and the final target acquisition would be done by the missile’s seeker. As long as there is no Ukrainian search radar or naval patrol aviation planes which can be detected and destroyed, thus rendering the Harpoons or similar long-range anti-ship missiles almost useless, the launchers themselves can be easily hidden almost anywhere. Only communications (from command center to launchers) can be detected and located, if they aren’t secured (but they obviously will be). But in lack of a search radar or other emitting land, sea or air-based assets, the task to locate the launchers would be extremely hard. So Ukraine has good chances to secretly receive, position and operate those launchers, without being detected until they already fired their missiles.
The second point is the effect of having this missiles on Russian operations in Ukraine. If we assume Russia has no plans or intentions for landing operations, than this effect would be insignificant. Supplies of the Snake Island garrison would be more problematic, they would require escort of air-defense capable ships, and some, relatively minor losses are possible. It was publicized earlier that US made a decision not to provide Ukraine with intelligence and targeting data more than 100 kilometers behind its borders. If so, any Russian ship, military or civilian, would be safe as long as it stays more than 100 km from the Ukraine. Even if still within the range of the Harpoons, since Ukraine, it seems, lacks means to provide behind-the-horizon targeting data by itself.
But I have a suspicion, that Russian Army has plans to induct a landing operation at the south-western part of the Odessa province (“oblast” in Russian). My reasonings being: stubborn Russian bombings of the bridges on the Dniester Liman, which separates the western part of the Odessa oblast from the eastern one. Of course, this could be attributed to the desire to degrade major lines of communications from NATO countries to Ukraine. But it seems to me that most of the military supplies are made through the Polish border, and yet so many cruise missiles were thrown at those bridges across the Dniester Liman.
Such a landing operation could serve several goals. Firstly, it will enable to reinforce Russian forces in Transnistria, in the event they would be attacked by Ukrainian or Romanian forces. The alternative would be a deep maneuver through the Ukrainian territory from the Kherson Oblast, which would be much more troublesome at this time.
The second goal is to lock communication lines to the EU/NATO in the south. Together with Transnistria, this would leave only the north-western part of Ukrainian border with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, thus making any supplies from the West to Odessa and Southern/South-Eastern Ukraine much harder. Poland is a main supply route of military goods to Ukraine at this point, but in the event of escalation, Odessa would be the logistical shortcut to the Russian front.
The third goal is to encircle the Odessa in order to capture it. Coming from Kherson and leaving the border to Romania open, will enable to supply Ukrainian forces in Odessa and around it. To prevent it, as well as to prevent possible retreat of Ukrainian forces via Romania and their return to West Ukraine, a “cauldron” is needed.
This hypothesis of the landing operation in western Odessa oblast seems more plausible, since this part of Ukraine is relatively undefended. If the bridges are destroyed, Russia could land its forces with little resistance, and no meaningful reinforcements could arrive freely or quickly without those bridges being operational. The stubborn fights for the Snake Island, the sinking of Moskva, and the losses that Russia was ready to endure there, and the installment of S-400 on the island — all are indicative of some greater role intended for this geographic region by Russian planners.
If so, any long-range anti-ship missiles installed in Odessa would become problematic. Losing a landing ship with potentially hundreds of soldiers on each would be another maritime disaster, as bad or even worse than the sinking of Moskva in the Russian public opinion. That is why I disagree with the sentiment that a few Harpoons here and there would make no real difference. To the contrary — it may result in delaying the Odessa operation, and make any moves to reinforce Transnistria much more riskier and problematic at this point.
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