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NLAW: How Russia’s Tanks in Ukraine Are Getting Destroyed

NLAW
NLAW missile firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

NLAW: Britain and Sweden’s Anti-Tank Weapon – The Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon, colloquially known by its acronym NLAW, is one of the West’s most common anti-tank weapons in service today. While the Javelin system has received much international attention for its role in practically halting Russia’s advance into Ukraine, the NLAW system has also been used to great success by Ukrainian forces. 

NLAW: A Short History 

NLAW was developed as a replacement for the older LAW-80 anti-tank missile system of late Cold War vintage.

As the LAW-80 began to be phased out, British defense officials sought to develop a replacement anti-tank system, specifically one which could defeat armor in close battle and to attack fortified bunkers.

After opening for competition, the Swedish defense firm Saab Bofors Dynamics received their contract, and ultimately made use of a variety of Western subcontractors such as Thales Air Defence, BAE Systems, NP Aerospace, FR HiTemp, and Skeldings, among others.

Production on the NLAW anti-tank missile system began in full in 2009, which is when the system was first delivered to customers.

Thales’ factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland, which also produces the Starstreak and LMM missile systems, has been the center of NLAW assembly.

Assembly of the NLAW is concentrated in the United Kingdom, while the development of the system is primarily in Sweden, as per the foundational memorandum of understanding signed by the United Kingdom and Sweden at the beginning of the system’s development.

In addition to the United Kingdom and Ukraine, the anti-tank missile system has also been adopted by Finland, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, Indonesia, and Malaysia. 

NLAW: The Specs 

The NLAW system itself weighs about 12.5 kilograms and has an effective combat range of 20 to 800 meters.

NLAW is a particularly effective weapon in relatively close combat, where its versatility and easy deployment makes it a nimble weapon for one-man crews, as demonstrated in Ukraine.

The missile is capable of making Overfly Top Attacks against armored targets and Direct Attacks against non-armored targets, which contributes to its variability in effective range.

NLAW does not rely on an active target seeking system to acquire targets, and instead uses “predicted line of sight” targeting.

By allowing the user to fire effectively after tracking the target for only a few seconds, the operator may remain mobile on the battlefield and does not need to maintain a visual lock for the system to work, and the disposable nature of NLAW also allows flexibility for infantry users.

The British Armed Forces describes the NLAW as being particularly valuable to light forces operating independently in built-up and open environments alike.

With a shelf life of 20 years, today’s NLAW will see service far into the future. 

NLAW Heads to Ukraine

The system has been employed to great success by the Ukrainian armed forces on the battlefields of their country against Russia’s invasion force.

With 4,200 units reportedly sent to Ukraine since mid-March, the traditional battlefield dominance enjoyed by armored vehicles has been challenged by the wide distribution and employment of NLAW and other anti-tank systems.

This is a remarkable shift that allows even Ukrainian soldiers with minimal training to effectively wield a weapon which gives them a powerful battlefield advantage over armored opponents.

Ukraine

NLAW being fired. Image credit: UK Military/Creative Commons.

Ukraine

NLAW missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Ukraine

NLAW anti-tank missile in Ukraine. Image Credit: Ukrainian Military.

NLAW

NLAW. Image Credit: SAAB.

NLAW

A soldier is pictured aiming a practice NLAW (Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon). This training aid simulates the real NLAW launcher but fires a laser at armored vehicles equipped to receive the beam.

NLAW

The natural mobility and utility of the system in shorter-range contexts makes this tank-killer particularly vulnerable in close-quarter battles and ambush scenarios. 

While NLAW was far less tested in combat than the American Javelin at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, its effective use by Ukrainian forces has proved the value of well-distributed and easy-to-use systems in the hands of a motivated force to halt a more armored force.

With that in mind, this missile likely will remain in use for the foreseeable future. 

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Written By

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Alex

    May 7, 2022 at 10:28 am

    The US is losing the war in Ukraine. The whole world is watching how Russia beats the Anglo-Saxons.

  2. Donald Link

    May 7, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Alex: Don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have you around for comic relief. I must say , however, you don’t hold a candle to Lord Haw Haw, or Tokyo Rose.

  3. Jacksonian Libertarian

    May 7, 2022 at 2:51 pm

    Smart weapon armed stealthy Missilemen have replaced the outdated heavy/tracked vehicle model on the modern battlefield. In a tactical environment of “if you can see it you can kill it”, where guided missiles have both a range and accuracy advantage. The dumb bullets and explosive rounds of armored vehicles cannot justify their nightmare logistical needs. On the modern battlefield armored vehicles have become death traps.

    Because of the conservatism of militaries, and the natural human resistance to change, the transition to missilemen from armored vehicles will be as bloody as previous transitions.

    • Fluffy Dog

      May 7, 2022 at 5:32 pm

      There is some truth to what you said, which is why the US Marines got rid of their tanks. In an urban environment and with infantry support, they still have a place.

  4. Observer of the LAW

    May 7, 2022 at 5:06 pm

    The NLAW weapon is like an omen from the gods, sent to despatch the invaders of innocent Ukraine,back to the land of orcs.

    It can not be a coincidence that the Russian invaders broke international LAW, and a godlike weapon called NLAW appears to bring the invading orcs, back towards observing the LAW through the NLAW!

  5. aldol11

    May 8, 2022 at 6:18 am

    Tank units need to be adequately supported by infantry and aviation or they are more vulnerable than ever before

  6. John

    May 8, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    Alex, the whole world is watching Russia get its ass kicked…thoroughly and comprehensively

  7. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 11:06 am

    And now, instead of tantrums and fantasies, let’s face it.

    Zelensky is a Kremlin agent.

    So in just two months:

    1. Actively extorted money from the West.

    2. Strengthened the ruble.

    3. In addition to the Crimea, he gave Donbass to Russia.

    4.. Turned off the gas at the whole of Europe, sending it to the Middle Ages.

    5. Ruined the pockets of drivers, farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers in the EU and the US.

    6. Since the beginning of the special operation, almost all major competitors from Russia have left, making room for Russian entrepreneurs.

    7. Begging for so many weapons that even Scholz said that the Bundeswehr was running out of weapons “for himself.”

    8. He collected all the crap of the Ukrainian Nazi subculture – tattooed Nazis, outcasts, idiots, maniacs, murderers from Europe and other countries in one place, where the Russians kill them in batches and promptly deliver them to Bandera.

    9. United the Russian people around their leader. Russia has never known such powerful support for the actions of the President and his cabinet during all the terms of his reign.

    10. He sent into emigration the entire corrupt beau monde of the Russian stage and cinema, with pockets full of “wishes” from the grateful Russian people.

    Never before has Russia been as good as under Zelensky.

  8. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    Jim Chambers (Fergie Chambers) – a journalist from NY spoke about how he SAW the attacks of Ukrainian fascists on peaceful Ukrainians. He told how he SAW what horrors the Bandera Nazis were doing to the Ukrainians. He said that food and medicine appeared when the Russian Liberators came.

    He told how he SAW Nazi paraphernalia wherever the military of Ukraine abandoned their positions (swastikas, Mein Kampf books, paintings by Hitler, Bandera, etc.).

    He SAW how opponents of the regime of the Ukrainian authorities were detained, tortured and killed. He told how the people of Ukraine are waging their struggle for existence and for peace without Bandera Nazis. He spoke about how the Russian liberators help civilians and the Ukrainians ask the Russians not to leave. The Ukrainians are upset that the Russians came late, they should have come earlier.

    He said: “Our American weapons have only exacerbated the useless bloodshed in a battle that the Ukrainian fascists can never win. I am ashamed to carry an American passport with me. The world desperately needs a Russian victory: at the end of Ukrainian Nazism and at the end of the American NATO empire. World needs victory for freedom.”

  9. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 1:40 pm

    Graham William Phillips is an outstanding British journalist who objectively and unbiasedly covers events in Ukraine.

    He is in a war zone and interviews all sides. He confirms the existence of Bandera Nazis who brutally torture and kill Ukrainians just because they do not want to see Bandera Nazis in their country.

    He confirms that the Ukrainians are asking the Russian liberators not to leave them anymore and not to leave.

    It is interesting to see how Graham interviews Aiden Aislin, a Briton who fought on the side of Ukraine as part of the Nazi Azov Battalion and was taken prisoner in Mariupol.

    The truth will always see the world thanks to such professionals, and not propagandists, who sometimes have never been to Ukraine and are thousands of miles away.

    No Nazism. We free people will win.

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