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Video Above: The Role of Javelin Missiles in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

The Ukrainians have been extremely effective against Russian convoys and armored vehicles with anti-armor weapons such as the US-built Javelin anti-tank weapons, perhaps due to a blend of innovative ambush tactics and and strategic attacks in narrowly configured passageways or intersections

While most observers and weapons developers are likely to stop well short of using the word “obsolete” when it comes to tank warfare, however does the Ukrainian success highlight the prospect that heavily armored tanks are in fact more vulnerable than may have been anticipated?

There may be something to this in the sense that anti-armor weapons are known to be quite effective, as Javelins were used successfully against Iraqi armor in Operation Iraqi Freedom and have a proven record of being able to destroy armor. However, there are several crucial variables to consider, such as the relative condition of Russian tanks and the tactics employed by Ukrainian fighters.

U.S. Army Infantry Soldiers fire an FGM-148 Javelin during a combined arms live fire exercise in Jordan, Aug. 27, 2019.

U.S. Army Infantry Soldiers fire an FGM-148 Javelin during a combined arms live fire exercise in Jordan, Aug. 27, 2019.

Ukraine’s apparent success with anti-armor weapons may in large measure be greatly increased by successful ambush tactics and hit-and-run operations. For example, should Javelin-armed Ukrainian soldiers strategically position themselves in defilade at hidden or obscured locations in urban environments or at narrow intersections and “choke points,” they are likely to have success emerging quickly to strike armored vehicles at close-in ranges. 

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This would increase the likelihood that Russian armored vehicles could be accurately targeted by Javelins and hit with greater precision and impact. For instance, striking the ammo compartment of a tank or hitting other potentially more vulnerable areas can maximize damage to enemy tanks.

T-14 Armata 

Yet another key variable may be the relative state of Russian tanks. While it would be quite significant if Russia were to use some of its cutting-edge T-14 Armata tanks, however Russian papers say there are not many of them produced yet. Russia is known to operate some upgraded T-90 tanks and of course T-72s, but the extent to which they have been modernized may not be known. Many of them might be operating with outdated armor protections or without any kind of active-protection system. These tanks would be more vulnerable, it seems. Global Firepower’s 2022 assessment of Russia’s military says their Army operates 12,000 tanks, so they do not appear to be lacking in numbers, however it seems it would be significant to have an idea about how many of them are upgraded, modernized variants.

Russian T-14 Armata tanks make their way to Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade which will take place at Moscow’s Red Square on May 9 to celebrate 71 years after the victory in WWII, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 28, 2016.

Russian T-14 Armata tanks make their way to Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day military parade which will take place at Moscow’s Red Square on May 9 to celebrate 71 years after the victory in WWII, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, April 28, 2016.

Javelins

Finally, while many specifics are not likely available for security reasons, the US has been upgrading its Javelins in recent years with a number of impactful enhancements. 

Video Above: Scott Rutter, Expert of Russian Tactics and Doctrine Discusses the Russia Ukraine Conflict

It is not clear if the Ukrainians have the most cutting edge variants of the Javelin, however the Army’s ongoing upgrades to the Javelin’s 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 Warrior last year that the service is also engineering a new warhead for the Javelin as well.

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.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President