US trained Ukrainian troops to sink Russian ships, official claims

Last Updated: February 6, 2024By
FILE PHOTO: A US guided-missile cruiser launches a Harpoon missile during a drill in the Philippine Sea, May 26, 2019. ©  US Navy / Fire Controlman Aegis 2nd Class Joshua Shafe

US trained Ukrainian troops to sink Russian ships, official claims

The Pentagon rushed to clarify that the training was not provided inside the United States

A senior US military official said Washington provided training to Ukrainian forces who allegedly sank two Russian warships earlier this year, appearing to suggest the troops were brought to the US for instruction on Harpoon missiles before the Pentagon denied the assertion.

Speaking at an event hosted by Defense News on Wednesday, Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante highlighted American assistance to Kiev throughout its conflict with Russia, discussing alleged operations in June involving Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

“We got [the missiles] off the ship, put them on some flatbed trucks, put the Harpoons, the modules, on the flatbed truck,” he said, describing the arms transfer, going on to claim that the Pentagon “brought the Ukrainians to train on it over Memorial Day weekend – in our country, over Memorial Day weekend – and the next week two Russian ships were sunk with those Harpoons.” 

The official did not specify the Russian vessels in question, though the Pentagon previously claimed a supply ship was sunk using Harpoons. Moscow has not confirmed the alleged attack.

However, while LaPlante appeared to say Ukrainian soldiers were brought to the US for training on the Harpoons – a decision Washington had not previously made public – a Pentagon spokesperson later told Defense One the training occurred elsewhere. 

Instead, LaPlante “meant that the weekend the Ukrainians received training is called Memorial Day in the United States,” the spokesperson said.

Another unnamed military official reached by the outlet noted that the training was overseen jointly by US forces and foreign partners, but said the instruction itself was carried out by a “vendor.” It is unclear where that took place or what organization trained the Ukrainians to operate the Harpoons, which are produced by Boeing.

Ukraine first started fielding the US-made anti-ship weapon back in June, after it received a transfer from Denmark, while Washington later pledged two vehicle-mounted versions of the system as part of a $1 billion aid package to Kiev. 

Ahead of that shipment, a senior Ukrainian adviser declared that the Pentagon was “preparing a plan for the destruction” of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which included “deliveries of powerful anti-ship weapons” such as the Harpoon. US officials denied that charge “definitively,” though Washington has acknowledged training Ukrainian forces previously and frequently touts the billions in military aid provided to the government in Kiev.

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