Armor: December 16, 2002


: The U.S. Army has begin issuing the new Javelin ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) to troops. So far, only Special Forces and the Marines have gotten theirs, but regular army units are now receiving training and will receive more as production increases. The Javelin is a major advance over the missile it replaces, the 29 year old (and much despised) Dragon. Although it weighs 49 pounds (with disposable launch tube and battery/seeker coolant unit) and is fired from a 14 pound CLU (command launch unit), the Javelin is much more capable than the Dragon. The CLU contains a 4x day sight and a 9x infrared (heat sensing) night sight. The missile has a tandem (two warheads, to blast through reactive armor) that can hit a target straight on, or from the top. This latter capability enables the Javelin to destroy any existing tank (including the U.S. M1) with its 18 pound warhead. Maximum range is 2500 meters. Best of all, the seeker on the missile is "fire and forget." That is, once the operator gets the target in the CLU crosshairs and fires the missile, the computer and seeker in the missile warhead memorizes the target and homes in on it. The infantry love this, because it allows them to take cover once the missile is fired. Since ATGMs first saw action three decades ago, operators quickly discovered that in the time it took (up to 15 seconds) for the missile to reach its target, enemy troops would often shower them with machine-gun fire. Another Javelin feature is "soft launch", where the missile is popped out of the launch tube by a small explosive charge, small enough to allow the Javelin to be fired from inside a building. Once the missile is about eight meters out, the main rocket motor ignites. The minimum range is, however, is 75 meters. It takes about 20 seconds to reload a CLU after a missile has been fired.

Some Javelins were used in Afghanistan, with great success. The CLU was used to observe enemy activity at night and the missile was fired only at bunkers and buildings. Each missile costs about $70,000 and the U.S. has ordered 9,000. Several other countries have ordered Javelin, which is competing with the similar Israeli Gill/Spike ATGM. The Israeli missile has one advantage over Javelin, the operator can abort the missile after launch. This is a safety feature to helps prevent some friendly fire incidents. 

The missile has proved very effective in testing and demonstrations. At a training exercise in Germany recently, astonished German officers watched newly trained (for a week) American Javelin operators score nine for nine hits at distant targets. Pictures of a Javelin's effect on a loaded (with normal fuel and ammo) T-72 tank can be found here.


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