Blow from the sky: how the Javelin anti-tank missile system works?

MOSCOW, (BM) – Javelin is hailing as a superweapon, virtually flawless, a compact and effective solution that allows light infantry to stop the enemy’s mighty armored fist.

Lithuania Received Additional Missiles for Its Javelin Anti-Tank Defence Systems
Photo credit: Sgt Mauricio Campino, USMC via Wikipedia

The FGM-148 Javelin (ATGM) portable anti-tank missile system began development in 1983. The Cold War was still going on, and the Western alliance’s fears of firing thousands of Soviet tanks into the English Channel had not yet dissipated. However, times have changed. When the US created Javelin, the threat of a global conflict in Europe remained a thing of the past.

Javelin, produced in about 40,000 pieces, has been “spotted” mainly in local wars such as the US military’s Iraqi and Afghan operations. All the most impressive achievements of the complex in the form of, for example, the defeat of a tank company (T-55) by the Iraqi army of a dozen American paratroopers belong to the period of wars started by the United States after the terrorist attack in New York in September 2001.

What is the reason for such a high rating of the complex?

What can he do? First, it is very light: the kit’s mass, which includes a rocket, a tube, and a command launch device, weighs a little more than 22 kg. One person can shoot, although the standard calculation is two fighters.

Secondly, the Javelin missile can hit a tank, falling on it almost vertically and piercing the top of the least protected armor. The projectile has a tandem warhead: the leading charge destroys the tank’s dynamic protection, while the main produces a cumulative jet that burns through the armor.

Third, the main thing that makes Javelin a third-generation ATGM is the infrared finder and the “shoot and forget” principle. The operator looks at the launcher’s screen, where the image transmits from the self-guided head, determines and marks the target with the cursor, fires a shot, and runs as fast as possible to change position and avoid the impact of return fire. And the self-propelled head is not afraid of smoke, fog, and even electronic warfare: it directs the missile at the target’s thermal radiation.

Expensive for Toyota

Javelin is undoubtedly a very advanced system, but it will still be exaggerated if we call it a superweapon, as it has many drawbacks. The first is the price. An ATGM shot costs about $ 80,000. If we consider that the United States now fights mostly carts based on Japanese pickups, the favorite Middle Eastern fighters, the projectile that hits the target is sometimes much more expensive than the target.

The second significant drawback is the scope. Javelin can only fire at a distance not exceeding 2.5 km, while, for example, the T-90 tank is capable of firing at a distance of up to 5 km. The target must also be in the operator’s field of vision; otherwise, he will not be able to assign it to his control and launching device. And yes, before aiming, the fighter must activate a unique device that cools the GOS matrix by evaporating liquefied gas. It takes up to a minute, and there is no full guarantee that the head will see the target in the presence of a robust thermal background (for example, in the heat of the desert).

According to some reports, modern systems for active protection of armored vehicles of the type developed for the T-14 Armata “Afghanita” tank can deploy effective smoke and aerosol curtains that dazzle the Javelin finder. Thus, the American complex is undoubtedly useful in the fight against Arab carts and old Soviet tanks without thermal imagery and modern dynamic protection. As you know, a new shield inevitably appears against the new sword.

But, do not underestimate the merits of Javelin

However, it would help if you did not underestimate the merits of Javelin. Its compactness and lightness in the presence of damaging severe factors make the complex an effective anti-tank weapon for reconnaissance groups and lightly armed troops. We can also fire even from the premises without fear of being hit by a jet reflected. The rocket ejects from the tube with an impressive starting engine, which stops working even before the projectile leaves the launcher. When the main engine is switching on, it can no longer cause damage to the operator.

It is interesting to compare Javelin with another tricky third generation. We are talking about the Israeli ATGM Spike. The complexes are similar in weight and size; the range of shooting is also almost identical. The Israeli missile again can enter a steep trajectory, hitting enemy armored vehicles at the top.

There is an exciting difference. Spike also has an infrared self-guiding head, but the missile can also be controlled in flight (this option is not available in the Javelin complex) using a fiber optic cable held behind the projectile. To the point that after launching the missile, you can reassign the target.

The Javelin-Spike couple has a competitor in India

However, the third-generation complexes continue to develop, gradually losing their shortcomings. The American media reports that the US troops successfully tested a new version of Javelin with an extended range of action, capable of hitting targets with a range of up to 4.5 km. If this modification goes into production, it will surpass TOW in many ways.

Also, the Americans are experimenting with setting up Javelin on light armored vehicles, which will allow the latter to fight against enemy tanks while maintaining a good chance of not falling victim to backfire. And the “shoot and forget” principle has a significant advantage in this.

Besides, with its anti-tank complex Nag, India has already become a competitor of Javelin – Spike. They also use an infrared self-guiding head and the “fire and forget” principle.


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Editorial team