Is the Javelin Missile Still Killing Russian Tanks in Ukraine?

November 22, 2023 Topic: military Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: JavelinRussiaUkraineWar In UkraineTanks

Is the Javelin Missile Still Killing Russian Tanks in Ukraine?

While a range of Ukrainian weapons have led to the demise of Moscow’s tank fleets, the Javelin has stood out as the real tank killer.

Meet the Javelin Missile: The U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies have delivered billions of dollars’ worth of military aid to support Kyiv since the start of Russia’s invasion.

From main battle tanks and other armored vehicles to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and munitions, Ukrainian troops are well-stocked with some of the best military systems on the planet.

While the Switchblade drone, M1A1 Abrams MBT and HIMARS rank in the top weapons delivered to Kyiv by the U.S. alone, one anti-tank system stands out.

The FGM-148 Javelin has undoubtedly altered the trajectory of the ongoing invasion. Referred to by some Ukrainian soldiers as “Saint Javelin, protector of Ukraine,” this anti-tank system may be Kyiv’s greatest weapon to thwart Moscow.

The Javelin’s Origin Story

The Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System-Medium (Javelin) initially entered service with the U.S. several decades ago.

Designed to replace the M47 Dragon anti-tank missile, the Javelin was developed by Texas Instruments and Martin Marietta (now Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin).

By the early 1990s, the first test flight of the anti-tank missile took place, and within a few years, the first Javelins were deployed by the U.S. Army.

The Javelin allows its operator to remain undetectable post-launch as it is a fire-and-forget weapon. This capability, which did not exist in previous anti-tank systems, improves survivability. 

Specs and capabilities

Weighing in at under 50 pounds, the missile launcher is very transportable. A soldier can easily sling the Javelin on their shoulder. The weapon’s mobility certainly makes it a missile launch of choice.

An infrared seeker guides the launcher and the missile can be spring-ejected prior to its ignition enabling it to travel at a rate of 1,000 feet per seven seconds.

The Military Times detailed this ability: “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.”

Operators of the Javelin have the option of using the weapon in both top attack mode and direct attack mode.

When the former is chosen, the missile flies upward and can then target larger armored vehicles and tanks.

The latter mode is used more to target bunkers, buildings, and helicopters. This fantastic feature was also not available on previous American anti-tank systems. 

How has the Javelin performed in Ukraine?

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine commenced back in February 2022, main battle tanks have played huge roles for both sides.

Moscow and Kyiv have deployed a litany of MBTs to the front lines, including a range of Soviet-era tanks and newer Western-delivered counterparts.

In the summer, analysts estimated that Russian forces had lost at least half of the country’s tank fleet.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, “The estimates suggest that Russia might have lost 50% of modern tanks such as the T-72B3 and T-72B3M and that its inventory of T-80BV/U tanks has been depleted by two-thirds.”

The Javelin is a Russian tank-killer

The situation for Russia has grown so dyer that the country has turned to storage-ridden tanks used last in the Second World War to support its frontline troops.

While a range of Ukrainian weapons have led to the demise of Moscow’s tank fleets, the Javelin has stood out as the real tank killer.

Other NATO member-states, including the United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany, have provided other formidable anti-tank weapons to support Kyiv’s defensive efforts.

Today, Ukrainian troops deploy the Panzerfaust 3, Saab Bofors Dynamics NLAW and the Carl Gustav. However, following a 2022 NATO summit, the White House approved a staggering military aid packing to Kyiv that included more than 6,500 Javelin anti-tank missile launchers. 

Over the last 600+ days of warfare, countless videos depicting the destruction of Russian armored vehicles at the hands of the Javelin have circulated on social media. One video that was released by open-source intelligence trackers on X this summer showed a modified Russian T-72A tank fitted with a KMT-6 mine be totally obliterated by a Javelin. The video was published by Ukraine Weapons Tracker and allegedly depicted the work of the Ukrainian Armed Forced 59thMechanized Brigade.

The scores of videos proving the Javelins’ might have indicated that Russia’s arsenal is really no match when it comes to the American-made anti-tank missile launcher. 

In June, Kyiv initiated its long-anticipated counteroffensive to recapture territories taken by Moscow.

While a pretty inflexible stalemate appears to be preventing any real progress for other side of the war, NATO-delivered weapons like the Javelin continue to play a leading role in the fight. 

Maya Carlin is 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

All images are Creative Commons.