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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

AT4: The ‘Old’ Tank-Killer Missile Hitting Russian Armor in Ukraine

Spc. Thomas Johnson, a paralegal with HHC, 2nd Bde., shoots off an AT-4 round during weapon familiarization at the Udari range in Kuwait Jan. 30. Soldiers of the 2nd Bde. Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (Light) are currently preparing for their Operation Iraqi Freedom rotation.

AT4 – Basic But Deadly Anti-tank Weapon Coming to Ukraine – The White House just announced on March 16 that it will provide 6,000 AT4 anti-armor weapons to Ukraine. The AT4 is one of the most basic anti-tank weapons that new U.S. Army recruits usually learn to operate early in their career. Troops can be easily trained due to their straight-forward design. These weapons will be helpful to Ukrainian reserve territorial defense units. Volunteers with no prior military experience can be force-multipliers with these weapons as many reservists are only armed with AK-47s.

Below is the basic concepts behind the AT4 and why, even being older, can still kill a lot of Russian tanks and armor.

AT4: One Shot, One Kill Then Discard

The AT4 is a disposable, single-shot unguided launcher that fires an 84mm round.

It is rugged, light, and portable and can be slung to a shoulder, so the soldier is still able to carry a rifle.

They are one-shot-one-kill weapons so operators must make that only round hit paydirt because the firing unit is discarded after use.

A Million Made and In Use With Numerous Countries

The recoil-less AT4 can be used against lighter tanks (it’s not that effective against main battle tanks) and armored personnel carriers, plus enemy bunkers and defensive emplacements. They are manufactured by Sweden’s Saab Bofors Dynamics.

Saab says it has made over one million AT4s over the years with the U.S. military ordering 600,000.

After improving the sights and sling and adding rear and front bumpers, the U.S. Army was one of the first customers in the early 1980s. The AT4 is now used by at least 20 countries.


AT4. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Similar to Carl Gustaf Recoilless Rifle

The AT4 goes back to the 1960s as it was based on the sparsely-designed 74mm Pansarskott M68 anti-tank weapon. The Army held a six-entrant competition in 1982 in an attempt to replace the M72 LAW and the AT4 best fit the bill. It was also built along the lines of the 84mm Carl Gustaf recoilless anti-tank system.

Carl Gustaf

A Marine Special Operations Command member fires a Carl Gustav Recoilless rifle system on a range during training in Washer district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 16, 2013. Coalition force members review their weapons handling and firing techniques to increase safety, accuracy, and familiarity with the weapon system. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Benjamin Tuck/Released)

It Can Be Fired Easily

Firing is straight-forward. Operators must remove the safety pin, move the sight covers, and aim through the iron sights that pop up. Then simply push the red firing button forward with the thumb. One important safety consideration is to ensure that the backblast area is clear, if not, a soldier standing behind the weapon when it is fired can be seriously wounded.

Many Different Types of Projectiles

The AT4 is a little over three feet long. It weighs around 15-pounds. The round can travel 820-feet in one second. The AT4 can penetrate 16-inches of armor. The maximum effective range is about 1,000-feet. The projectiles can be high-explosive anti-tank, dual-purpose delayed penetration, high-penetration, and anti-structure for urban combat.

The AT4 Is No Javelin of NLAW

The AT4 will likely be used as a last-ditch anti-tank weapon. It is no substitute for the Javelin or NLAW guided missile systems that take out main battle tanks. But it is easy to use and newcomers to the military can be trained on the weapon in little time. It also has an advantage in close-in street fighting. If the Russians continue to assault suburban and urban areas, lightly-trained Ukrainian reservists will have to prove their mettle.

Javelin Anti-Tank Missile

Javelin Anti-Tank Missile.

6,000 AT4s provided by the United States can make territorial defense units that much more potent in urban warfare.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.