The transfer of Western anti-armour weapons started before the war even began. The United States transferred significant shipments of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles along with M141 SMAW-D Bunker Defeat Munitions and Stinger MANPADS.
At the same time as an initiative from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – Estonia also delivered Javelin missiles. For reasons of operational security we don’t know how many Javelins have been delivered to Ukraine by the US and Estonia at this time. However, Estonia is believed to have had several hundred in stock.
What is Javelin?
Javelin is an infrared guided man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile. It’s been been in service with over a dozen countries for over 20 years and is still produced by a joint venture between Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Lockheed Martin. It weighs about 22kg or 46 lbs ready to fire and had a detachable Command Launch Unit (or CLU) . Its effective range depends on the type of CLU but the improved Lightweight CLU introduced in 2020 can engage targets out to 4,000 metres (about 3 miles). As of 11 March, Lightweight CLU has not yet been seen in Ukraine. The earlier block 0 and 1 CLU can engage targets out to 2,500 meters (1.5 miles). The CLU enables this with a number of optics including a 4x day sight, a 4x night sight a 9.2x thermal sight. The CLU is also a useful tool for reconnaissance when other NVG and thermal imagers aren’t available. Once the gunner has their target and establishes a lock the missile can be launched.
Javelin’s missile has a soft launch system which limits back blast and firing from relatively enclosed spaces. Once launched the main rocket motor kicks in at a safe distance. It uses automatic infrared self-guidance and has two modes of attack: direct for use against lightly armoured targets and structures and top-attack. In top-attack mode the missile climbs above the target and then plunges down on it to penetrate thinner top armour.
The missile has a tandem shaped charge high explosive anti-tank round. The initial charge can detonate any explosive reactive armour used by the enemy target vehicle while the second shaped charge will penetrate the target’s main armour. When the round detonates it super heats the metal of the armour and creates a high velocity stream of metal which enters the vehicle. More on the complex science behind shaped charges here. It can destroy vehicle’s drive systems or if it enters the fighting compartment it can kill or injure the crew and detonate munitions.
Javelin was developed by Texas Instruments in cooperation with Martin Marietta. In the mid-1980s it beat off competition from Ford Aerospace and Hughes Aircraft to win the US Army’s Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System—Medium program.
In June 1989 Texas Instruments and Martin Marietta were awarded a development contract and the Javelin was adopted as the FGM-148. Javelin continued development and testing throughout the 90s before entering service. Since then it’s been adopted by countries including the UK, Australia, France, Norway, Poland, Taiwan, and many others. According to Raytheon the system is scheduled to be in inventory until 2050.
Javelin In Ukraine
Ukraine adopted Javelin in April 2018, ordering 210 missiles and 37 CLUs with a further order for 150 missiles and 10 CLS in December 2019. Since the threat of invasion became increasingly likely the US provided a series of aid packages worth $260 million. Reports suggest that at least 300 Javelin missiles were delivered as part of these packages. Since then the US has agreed a further package worth $350 million. 70% of this package is said to have been delivered as of 9 March. It’s difficult to estimate how many missiles and CLUs have been delivered so far but the number of missiles is likely over 1,000.
From the sparse evidence available we know that at least some of the Javelin transferred to Ukraine are confirmed to be from older Block 0 stocks, which includes FGM-148A/B/C and D. The vast majority of Javelins in Ukraine are likely to be Block 0 variants. Block I, the FGM-148E came into service with the US in 2008 and has an improved CLU and rocket motor. Javelin’s shelf life is around 20 years, so it makes sense for these older production but still fully capable missiles to be sent first.
In early February the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense shared a short video showing troops testing the newly-arrived Javelins against tank hulks which had been fitted with so-called ‘Javelin Cages’, a metal structure which Russian tanks have recently added to their turrets. It is believed the cage is intended to detonate the initial charge of a Javelin before it contacts with the tanks explosive reactive armour or the hull itself. However, it is also believed that it is intended to defeat drone-fired micro munitions like the Turkish MAM series. The cage detonating the micro munition before it reaches the tank. The footage shared by the Ukrainian MoD showed that Javelin easily defeated the cages.
Update 15/3/22: We have now seen evidence of Block 1 FGM-148Es in Ukraine. Amael Kotlarski, Janes Infantry Weapons Editor, speculates that these may have originated from the Baltic states’ stocks. At least one example of the Block 1 and a number of Block 0s have been captured by Russian forces so far.
While at the time of publishing this video there has been no confirmed footage of Javelin in action in Ukraine, no doubt due to good Ukrainian OPSEC, we have seen the system in theatre.
We got our first confirmation on 3 March, when Ukraine’s Operational Command “North” shared photos of troops being briefed on the use of NLAW and Javelin anti-tank weapons. In the photos we could see numerous Javelin transport cases stacked while troops were briefed on the Command Launch Unit (or CLU). On 6 March, the Ukrainian Armed forces shared a short instructional video on Javelin, showing how the battery is inserted and what the CLUs controls do.
How Capable is Javelin?
The penetration capabilities of Javelin are listed as classified with the USMC’s manual stating “The Javelin penetrates all known armor, “well” in excess of 30 inches [or 760mm] of rolled homogeneous steel.” This means Javelin is more than capable of knocking out any Russian armoured vehicle in Ukraine.
In terms of performance in Ukraine, one report from 3 March, quoted an anonymous US Special Operations officer who is monitoring the conflict, suggested that of 300 Javelin fired, 280 knocked out vehicles. Time will tell.
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NLAW In Ukraine, Armourer’s Bench, (source)
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$60 Million Worth of US Military Aid Arrives In Ukraine, Overt Defense, (source)
First batch of Estonia-donated Javelin missiles arrive in Ukraine, EER, (source)
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