Why Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles Are Vital to Ukraine’s Fight Against Russia

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Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, Feb. 24, signs of significant battle damage to its tanks have surfaced across social media and news networks.

A US military aid package worth $60 million arrived in Ukraine on June 16, which included Javelin anti-tank missiles and other military aid. Another $350 million in military assistance was greenlit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken today.

“We are not confirming quantities, just that we have supplied Javelins and other lethal and non-lethal security assistance,” said an Office of the Secretary of Defense representative in an email response to Coffee or Die Magazine. The representative would not comment on quantities.

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According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Ukraine has dealt Russian forces a heavy blow. As of Friday at 3 p.m. local time, Ukraine claims to have destroyed at least 80 tanks, 516 “armored combat vehicles of various types,” 10 aircraft, seven helicopters, and 2,800 “special staff.”

Coffee or Die spoke with US Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha about Javelins and their use in conventional warfare. Before Romesha was awarded the Medal of Honor, he was a tanker well versed in how Javelins and other anti-tank missiles work against tanks and other types of armor. He received extensive training while serving in armor roles, taking part in rotations through Germany and South Korea, training to combat invasions as a tank crew member.

“All of my training before 2001 was to stop a Russian invasion of Europe,” Romesha said.

Clint Romesha

Clint Romesha standing on top of his tank during a training exercise in Hohenfels, Germany, back in 2000. Photo courtesy of Clint Romesha.

Clint Romesha standing on top of his tank during a training exercise in Hohenfels, Germany, back in 2000. Photo courtesy of Clint Romesha.

Romesha believes Russian tanks and their reactive armor or “javelin shields” won’t stand up to a Javelin missile. He explained that the top side of Russian tank turrets, like most other tanks, are much thinner in comparison to the other areas of the tank. Romesha said that even though the explosive reactive armor may stop some of the Javelin’s penetrating blast, it won’t stop all of it.

“It would still have oompf to punch through that and cause crew fires, cause fire control system malfunctions,” Romesha said. “It might not put a tank 100% out of commission. But I do think it would definitely be down and sent back to maintenance to get refit — it’d be down for a decent portion of a battle.”

Romesha explained that Russian T-72 and T-64 tanks, like the ones seen crossing Ukraine’s borders, store their ammo inside and underneath the tank’s turret. So when an armor-piercing round like the Javelin ignites the stored ammo via its own warhead, the turret will go flying.

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“Typically, if you see a turret off a tank, that is because of some sort of top attack round ignited the ammo storage inside that [tank],” Romesha said. “That’ll lift that turret right the fuck off.”

The evidence of this has appeared in different videos and photos circulating, with one video highlighting a Russian tank turret that had been “popped” off. The original poster of the video said that the popped turret rests in an area outside of Kharkiv, Ukraine, where heavy fighting is still ongoing.

Javelins have a “top attack” setting, meaning they can be set to strike a tank in its weakest spot: the top turret. Romesha believes that a metal shield can’t prevent a Javelin warhead from penetrating the tank, and even the reactive armor won’t be enough to stop disabling effects.

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The reactive armor is meant to prevent a shaped charge, but it’s not enough to keep the whole projectile from punching through the thin top turret armor, Romesha said. He said that there are two things a tank crew doesn’t want to face in the open: Javelins and unchallenged air support.

“If you’ve got air power above you, a tank is just a sitting duck for that,” Romesha said. “You don’t want a tank and a fast-moving jet trying to battle each other out. The tank is going to lose every time.”

With Javelins being provided to Ukrainians and the country’s air force still flying in some areas, they maintain a formidable force.

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“Now if you could put one guy up on the side of a hill with six fucking Javelin missiles, you’re stopping an entire company of tanks with one guy,” Romesha said. “They don’t even know where that shit is coming from.”

He explained that Javelins have a soft launch, so there’s no smoke trail to show where they are being launched from, nor a dirt cloud kicked up by missile backblast. Romesha said from the time of launch, the tank crew has maybe 10-12 seconds to try and evade, but with the launch location remaining out of sight, there’s little chance of evasion.

Romesha also pointed out that a Javelin rarely misses. He said it’s one of the best “fire and forget” launchers that can be used against armor. Lockheed Martin, the producer of Javelin missiles, boasts a 94% hit rate on targets with a firing range anywhere from 65 to 4,000 meters, or about 70 yards to nearly 2.5 miles.

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Joshua is a staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, Joshua grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. Joshua went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married, has two children, and is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, which is where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.
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