While Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has evolved, Ukraine’s use of Javelin anti-tank guided missiles has not faltered. Ukrainian forces have been able to carry out a highly effective defensive strategy against the Russian forces thanks in part to the help of this American-made tank-killing machine. Since the onset of war, Ukraine has depended on an array of weaponry and ammunition provided by international actors. However, the Javelin may remain the most important arms delivery. Many soldiers have referred to the missile launcher as “Saint Javelin, Protector of Ukraine.”
What is the Javelin?
The FGM-148 Javelin first entered service in the mid-1980’s, replacing the M47 Dragon anti-tank missile in the U.S. Designed and developed by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, the Javelin lets its operator remain undetectable after launch – a capability its predecessor could not provide. At just under 50 pounds, the missile launcher can easily function perched on a shoulder, and it works as a mobile weapon. Guided by an infrared seeker, the missile can be spring-ejected before it is ignited, and travel at a rate of 1,000 feet per seven seconds, according to Military Times, which continues:
“Upon contact, the foremost of two tandem high-explosive antitank, or HEAT, warheads explodes against the reactive armor, clearing the way for the second warhead to reach the tank’s main armor. The Javelin’s warheads can penetrate steel up to 23.5 inches to 31.5 inches thick. With an effective range over 1.5 miles, the Javelin’s warhead travels 213 feet before it arms — but it does produce a backblast that the user must take into account.”
Other Anti-Tank Systems Have Arrived in Ukraine
Since the Kremlin began its invasion of Ukraine, the West has largely banded together to sanction Moscow and provide effective weapons to aid Ukraine’s defense. While the U.S.-made Javelins are perhaps the most capable anti-tank systems delivered to Ukraine, they are of limited quantity. Other NATO member-states, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, have provided alternatives. Ukraine utilizes the Saab Bofors Dynamics NLAW, the Panzerfaust 3, and the Carl Gustav. Following the NATO summit in Spain this summer, the U.S. approved a whopping aid package to Ukraine that included more than 6,500 Javelin systems.
The Javelin’s Performance in Ukraine
In June, videos circulated on Telegram depicting the destruction of two advanced T-90 Russian main battle tanks in Eastern Ukraine. Soldiers of the 80th Separate Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces used the Javelin to take out these premiere battle tanks. In fact, Russia’s battle tanks have suffered immensely at the hands of well-equipped Ukrainian Forces.
What Has Gone Wrong?
While the Javelin has performed a crucial role in the war, supply chain limitations and lack of training have hindered its potential. In June, the Washington Post reported that lack of tech support and information has partly handicapped the Javelin’s operators. The Drive summarized the report, which revealed Ukrainian soldiers have had to “cannibalize parts from video game controllers and deal with shoddy Google translations of instruction manuals in order to get broken Javelins back in the field.” A source told WaPo that “instruction cards which include phone numbers to a support hotline were not contained in Ukraine’s Javelin shipments.”
Additionally, Javelins are extremely expensive to produce. Each system costs approximately $440,000, according to 2023 budget documents. In May, U.S. President Joe Biden called on Congress to ramp up its monetary allocations to Ukraine after touring the Lockheed Martin production facility responsible for producing the Javelin. The Center for Strategic and International Studies said that at most around 6,500 Javelins could be produced per year. At the rate the U.S. is shipping weapons to Ukraine, America’s remaining inventory of Javelins could dwindle quite quickly.
Although some Ukrainian soldiers are unable to mend broken Javelins due to the lack of instructions provided, the anti-tank missile system has provided a dual purpose. Soldiers have discovered that the flat, large box the weapons arrive in makes a decent resting structure. Considering the large amount of Javelins used by Ukraine against Russian tanks in recent months, soldiers have plenty of extra boxes to spare.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.