What are Javelin missiles? - explainer

The Javelin anti-tank missile has been used effectively by Ukrainian forces against Russia and is one of the main weapons being continuously supplied by the US.

Service members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fire a Javelin anti-tank missile during drills at a training ground in an unknown location in Ukraine, in this handout picture released February 18, 2022. (photo credit: UKRAINIAN JOINT FORCES OPERATION PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Service members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fire a Javelin anti-tank missile during drills at a training ground in an unknown location in Ukraine, in this handout picture released February 18, 2022.
(photo credit: UKRAINIAN JOINT FORCES OPERATION PRESS SERVICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

One of the oft-mentioned weapons that the US has been constantly supplying to the Ukrainian army is the Javelin anti-tank missile system. Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, the US has supplied 2,600 Javelin missiles to Ukraine, and on March 16 announced that it would be supplying 2,000 more as part of an $800 million aid package. What is this system and why is it in such high demand?

The Javelin missile (FGM-148) is an American-made, portable anti-tank missile system in service since 1996. The missile is based on infrared guidance technology and has lock-on-target capabilities, which allows the shooter to "fire-and-forget" - to search for cover or prepare the next missile as soon as the previous one was launched, without having to guide it to its target.

The Javelin has an arced flight path, known as "top-attack" which enables it to hit tanks and heavily-armored vehicles from above, where their armor is thinnest. It can, however, also be used for direct fire in order to bring down walls, fortifications, targets in close vicinity and low-flying aircraft such as helicopters.

In addition to the arced flight path, the Javelin warhead is equipped with a dual charge which allows it to damage tanks with advanced explosive reactive armor (ERA) which is used to bear the brunt of the explosion and prevent a missile from penetrating the tank. The Javelin warhead's first detonation is meant to clear away any ERA, and only then a second, much larger explosion can infiltrate a tank or armed personnel using highly explosive anti-tank (HEAT) technology and damage its interior.

The Javelin operates on what is known as a "soft launch arrangement," whereby the initial launch distances the rocket away from the shooter and only then do the main rocket motors ignite. This arrangement decreases the danger of injury from backblast - hot gases that are expelled from the rear of the system when the missile is launched.

 Ukrainian service members unpack Javelin anti-tank missiles, delivered by plane as part of the U.S. military support package for Ukraine, at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine February 10, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO) Ukrainian service members unpack Javelin anti-tank missiles, delivered by plane as part of the U.S. military support package for Ukraine, at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine February 10, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/VALENTYN OGIRENKO)
 

The missile's length is 1.1 meters (43 in) and its caliber is 127 mm (5 in). The warhead weighs 8.4 kg (19 lb) and it is usually operated by a two-person crew. Its range varies between 2.5 km (original range) to 4.75 km is shot from a vehicle. It is in use by both Western and Eastern counties, including the USA, Qatar, France, Jordan, Ireland and the UAE, and has been used effectively in the War in Afghanistan, the Iraq War, the Syrian Civil War, the Libyan Civil War and others.

It is also being used effectively by Ukrainian forces against Russia. As of Friday, Ukrainian troops have reportedly destroyed 450 tanks and 1,448 armored personnel vehicles, according to data supplied by the Ukrainian army.