The Buzz

Russia Has a Missile to Kill NATO Tanks If War Ever Comes

Infantry Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) have always been a historical strength of the Russian military. During the Cold War, the Konkurs and Metis systems fielded by the Soviet Union were considered to be among their best in their class, far better than the American Dragon ATGM systems. However, with the introduction of the American FGM-148 Javelin ATGM, the United States took the technological lead in this field. While the Soviet systems required the operator to continue guiding the missile after launch by keeping the reticle on the target (SACLOS guidance), the American Javelin simply required the operator to lock on, then launch the missile (fire-and-forget guidance). However, even modern Russian systems, such as the Kornet and Metis-M, retain the SACLOS mode of guidance. But does this make them less capable? Or could it even make them more capable at certain tasks?

The primary infantry ATGM for Russian troops is the Kornet missile. In contrast with Western armies where the primary infantry ATGM has a relatively short range (out to 2.5 kilometers), the Kornet is a long-range ATGM with a range of eight kilometers. The trade-off is increased weight, as the Kornet has a combat weight of 63.7 kilograms. However, this is still lighter than the U.S. TOW missile on a tripod, which has a combat weight in excess of a hundred kilograms. Similar to the Konkurs missile that came before it, the Kornet reflects Russian doctrine in that the infantry’s primary ATGM is unified with the primary vehicle ATGM, even if it comes at the cost of increased weight.

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Developed following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1994, the Kornet was meant to defeat all current peer tanks, including the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams tanks. To achieve this, it was designed with a tandem-charge warhead. The Kornet’s tandem charge warhead is of an advanced design, where the two HEAT charges are separated by the missile’s rocket motor. This stands in contrast to Western tandem-charge warheads, where the two HEAT charges are stacked one behind the other. The advantage of the Kornet’s charge design is that the motor’s positioning allows for the second charge’s focal length to be increased, allowing for a greater distance in which the molten jet formed by the second HEAT charge to form. In a sense, the rocket motor acts as a standoff probe for the Kornet’s follow-on warhead. It also protects the second charge from deformation that may occur with the detonation of the precursor warhead.

As a result, the Kornet will likely penetrate the M1A2 Abrams with any hit that isn’t on the frontal aspect of the turret. Even on the frontal aspect of the turret, there are still many areas that are potentially vulnerable to the Kornet. Upgrade kits designed to protect against RPGs such as TUSK are unlikely to defeat the Kornet, given the tandem warhead design and the massive size of the follow-on warhead. Kornet missiles are known to have defeated armor on the Israeli Merkava tanks.

Other technical aspects of the Kornet system are a day/night thermal sight with 12x/20x zoom capability, which is greater zoom than provided by the Javelin’s CLU unit, which only goes up to 12x magnification. The ITAS thermal sight used for the TOW missile has up to 24x zoom; however, this sight is far heavier than that on the Kornet. Guidance is achieved with a laser beam, which the missile rides onto the target. While vehicle mounted versions of the Kornet have achieved automatic homing capability by using machine vision in the thermal sight to automatically track the target, the infantry Kornet remains a SACLOS system.

The other Russian infantry ATGM is the Metis-M1. This missile is far lighter than the Kornet at twenty-five kilograms’ combat weight and a range of two kilometers, more in line with a traditional Western infantry ATGM. However this type is not as widely in service as the Kornet. The missile is similar to the Kornet, with the same advanced tandem warhead layout. It is increased in caliber from the original Metis missile to increase its penetrative capability. Like the Kornet, it poses a threat to the hull and turret sides of the Abrams—however, due to the slightly smaller caliber compared to the Kornet, it is not as powerful and poses less of a threat from the frontal aspect. It also possesses a thermal sight, and is wire guided.