Armor: Roadblocks For The 21st Century

In 2016 Lithuania, having already received some of its 2014 order for U.S. 220 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and 74 launchers (CLU) and worked with American and Canadian troops on how to most effectively used them sought additional ways to use these missiles with older (pre-ATGM) techniques to stop or delay advancing armor. Lithuania and the other two Baltic States (Estonia and Latvia) are recent NATO members and are stocking up on anti-armor weapons in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Estonia had already ordered and received 350 Javelins and 74 launchers. None of the Baltic States expect Javelin to stop a determined Russian invasion but to delay them long enough for NATO reinforcements to start arriving.

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In late 2016 the Lithuanians saw a demonstrations of how American troops quickly took down trees along forest roads to form an abatis type obstacle that forces armored vehicles to either back up and seek another route or stop and spend hours clearing the obstacle while under fire. The abatis was used extensively by both sides during World War II in Europe. American engineers still maintain a working knowledge of how to quickly take down trees (usually with explosives) to in a crisscross pattern on the road. Used in conjunction with ATGMs like Javelin the abatis can quickly and cheaply delay the advance of mechanized forces through forested areas.

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This was demonstrated during one of the first battle a Javelin was used in. That was back in early 2003 as 150 Iraqi troops advanced north into Kurdish controlled northern Iraq and found the mountain road blocked by a small group of Kurdish militia and a few American Special Forces troops. The Iraqis not only outnumbered the defenders by more than five to one in troops the Iraqis had armored personnel carriers and tanks. The American Special Forces troops quickly fired two Javelin missiles to take down two armored vehicles and block the road and then, along with the Kurdish fighters they had helped train, used assault rifles, .50 caliber machine-guns and grenade launchers for several hours fighting the determined Iraqis before killing or driving them off. That one small action discouraged the Iraqis from trying to move back into northern Iraq. Meanwhile down south Baghdad was about to be taken by the two American divisions advancing from Kuwait.

The Javelin, introduced in 2002, weighs 22.3 kg (49 pounds, with disposable launch tube and battery/seeker coolant unit) and is launched from a 6.4 kg (14 pound) CLU (command launch unit). The CLU contains a 4x day sight and a 9x heat sensing night sight. The missile has a tandem (two shaped charge explosives, to blast through reactive armor) warhead 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 8.2 kg (18 pound) warhead. Maximum range is 2,500 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 (and makes it pretty obvious where they are firing from).

Since ATGMs first saw action in the 1970s operators (who had to guide the missile to its target) 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. In response to that most recent ATGM designs seek to deal with that using features like “fire and forget.”

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, 75 meters. It takes about 20 seconds to reload a CLU after a missile has been fired. Javelin users have been very impressed with the CLU and missile. Not just because of the ease of use and accuracy, but because the missile is combat proven and is known to be very effective against non-vehicle targets. The CLU also performs well as a night vision device, which is how many American troops use it in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Russians have also noted the success and capabilities of Javelin and respect the system.

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