As Russian mechanized forces massing near Ukraine raise fears of an invasion this winter, tank watchers on social media have identified more and more Russian tanks sporting unsubtle field modifications seemingly aimed at fending off Ukraine’s newest weapons: U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and TB2 Bayraktar drones supplied by Turkey. Both pose a deadly threat to the top armor of armored vehicles, where protection is drastically weaker.
The portable FGM-148 Javelin consists of a dumb bell-like launch unit with an advanced infrared sensor. Once a target is identified, it can launch missiles that arc steeply upwards before plummeting down upon a vehicle’s top armor guided by an infrared sensor (and thus not requiring any operator input after launch.)
The latest man-portable Javelin systems have a range of 2.5 miles and a high probability of a hit; furthermost its top-attack launch mode will likely knock out just about any tank (bar special countermeasures) while minimizing the exposure of the operator, though each missile is pricey at $80,000 to $100,000 per shot.
The United States first authorized Ukraine to acquire Javelins in December 2017, and in 2018 Ukraine received 210 missiles and 37 launchers — though under the condition that they not be used in frontline fighting bar an emergency. In 2020 Ukraine received 150 more missiles and 10 more launchers. In the fall of 2021, President Joe Biden authorized an additional unspecified Javelin delivery as part of a $60 million military aid package.
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