Video Above: Can US Supplied Anti-Javelin Missiles Help Ukraine Fend off Russian Attacks?
As Russian forces enter Ukraine as part of what President Biden calls the “beginning of an invasion of Ukraine,” forces are positioned to move in from all directions, indicating a full-scale take-over of Ukraine may be unfolding in the coming days.
Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles
The Pentagon has armed Ukrainian forces with some number of Javelin Anti-Tank missiles, weapons often used by small, maneuvering dismounted units to target and destroy tanks from distances out to several miles. What kind of impact might they have on fast-incoming Russian tanks streaming into Eastern Ukraine. In combat, Javelins have shown an ability to destroy tanks, as the weapons were first used against Iraqi T-72 tanks during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
The Javelin can dismount and operate as a shoulder-fired weapon used by small groups of soldiers on the move or also mount and fire from tactical vehicles as well, such as those that go off road.
Could Javelin-armed Ukrainian forces stop, slow-down or destroy invading Russian tanks? Perhaps, yet there are a few things to consider. A quick look at the geography shows that Eastern Ukraine is largely plains and plateaus, whereas the Western part of the country is mountainous. In order for Javelins to reach their maximum effectiveness, they might best be fired from soldiers in defilade, meaning hidden by rocks, trees or uneven terrain.
Therefore, the terrain in Eastern Ukraine might not be an optimal location from which to stage hit-and-run Javelin attacks on Russian tanks. Should soldiers attacking with Javelins be unable to conceal their points of attack, they could of course be more vulnerable to advancing Russian mechanized formations and less effective in stopping them.
Ultimately, the intent with the Javelins may mostly be to slow down, impair or derail a Russian invasion without necessarily expecting to fully halt a Russian advance. Javelins could certainly raise the cost of a Russian attack by inflicting casualties upon attacking forces and potentially cause delays or even force a Russian ground assault to change course.
The real margin of difference may lie in the range, image fidelity and accuracy of targeting sensors. Should Javelin targeting systems or long-range sensors from nearby command and control vehicles be able to precisely target approaching tanks from fortified or hidden positions, then a number of Javelins could potentially greatly impair an approaching column of Russian tanks.
Russian tanks may have the targeting sensors sufficient to track mobile dismounted, Javelin-armed units, however a tank cannon may have trouble accurately pinpointing small groups of fighters on-the-move. At the same time, approaching Russian ground forces are quite likely to operate with air superiority or some measure of close air support, something which could easily put exposed Ukrainian fighters at great risk of being destroyed from the air.
Video Above: What with Russia's Attack on Ukraine Look Like?
It is not clear whether Ukrainian forces are receiving the most recently upgraded variants of the Javelin now emerging with the US Army, however any Javelins they are receiving are likely to have a substantial impact.
Recommended for You
The Army’s ongoing upgrades to the Javelin anti-tank missile offer an interesting point of reference, as a new Raytheon-built Lightweight Command Launch Unit for the weapon expands the range. The more recent innovations, slated to enter production in 2022, also incorporate improved sensor fidelity and a “fast lock” for improving attacks on the move. Army officials told The National Interest last year that the service is also engineering a new warhead for the Javelin as well
A column of advancing Russian tanks are certainly most likely to prevail in any large-scale ground invasion of Ukraine. The force differential between Russia and Ukraine is massive, and Global Firepower reports that Russia operates as many as 12,000 tanks.
tank force is composed of older, Cold War-era T-72 tanks, T-90 tanks and quite possibly a small number of Russia’s newer, high-tech T-14 Armata tanks. The T-14 Armata, much hyped in the Russian press, is reported to be extremely advanced, however much detail is likely unavailable.
Could these tanks be used in an invasion of Ukraine? It seems possible, although numbers and production plans for the T-14 appear to have fluctuated in recent years. Regardless, Russia is not likely to operate a large or very significant number of T-14s, as multiple public reports have indicated they may operate roughly 20 at the moment.
Is the tank as superior as Russian media reports claim? There may certainly be a lot of unknowns, although the T-14 is reported in the Russian press to be faster, more mobile and more deployable than most existing tanks. The T-14 is reported to operate at speeds up to 55mph and weigh only 55 tons, according to a report from hotcars.com, This would make it more expeditionary and able to travel over bridges, urban areas or other places where a 70-ton tank might be challenged to operate.
While, quite naturally, the range and particular technical capabilities of the US Army’s emerging tank sights are not available for security reasons, several Russian news reports – such as GRU Pycckoe – report that the new Russian T-14 Armata’s thermal targeting sights are able to discern tank-size targets during the daytime at ranges out to 5 kilometers. The same reports state the nighttime sights can reach 3.5 kilometers.
A news report from Sputnik several years ago reported that tank-maker Uralvagonzavod has developed a "remotely-detonated" 125mm shell for the T-14 Armata.
A report in Popular Mechanics from several years ago says the T-14s new, now-in-development 3UBK21 Sprinter missile can hit ranges more than 7 miles,, according to the report. The Armata’s current round, the 9M119 Reflecks, has a range of 3.1 miles (roughly comparable to the current Abrams) and can penetrate up to 900 millimeters of armor, Popular Mechanics writes.
Yet another report cites a wide range of attributes of the Russian T-14, to include specific comparisons to the Abrams, yet much of its characterizations may lack context.
The report, from hotcars.com, presents a number of interesting technical facts about the Armata, to include its 1,500-2,000 horsepower diesel engine. The article argues that its engine is more powerful than a U.S. Abrams due to its having a better thrust to weight ratio, meaning that a 1,500-horsepower Armata engine drives a 55-ton tank, whereas an Abrams 1,500 horsepower turbo gasoline engine powers a heavier tank at 70-tons. However, while the hotcars report cites the Aramata’s Afghanit Active Protection System, claiming it is extremely advanced, it seems very unlikely that a 55-ton tank would in any way be comparable in terms of survivability compared with an Abrams.
The largest advantage of the T-14, however, may be its unmanned turret which of course greatly reduces risk otherwise associated with having a manned gunner on top of the tank. Unmanned turrets, perhaps using a high degree of automation, robotics and human controls from the main crew compartment, have been under development in the US for many years, so it is not clear how much of an advantage that might be, if any.
The most significant margin of difference may lie in the range, resolution and precision-targeting technology associated with the tanks thermal sights. Should a tank be in position to see and destroy an enemy target or tank from a safe standoff distance without itself being detected due to advanced sensing, then the platform would likely be in a position to prevail.
The newest variants of the US Army’s Abrams tanks, for instance, are upgraded with a 3rd-Generation FLIR - Forward Looking Infrared sensor better positioned to find and target enemy forces at safer ranges.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.