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The Javelin anti-tank guided missile is really a game-changer

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No one can keep a straight face and ridicule the Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM). If ever a legitimate game-changer existed, the Javelin fills that role to the hilt. I personally fired just a single round of the Javelin, and it would not be at all ludicrous to declare that it is difficult to miss with it.

I fired the weapon when the shipment of the first-ever Javelins arrived at Fort Bragg in 2000. The entire consignment of nine weapons went straight to the Delta Force for testing and trial and error observation. None of the missiles missed their mark.

The Javelin has the distinction of being a Any Known Armor (AKA) weapon. This means that it can defeat any known armor. There are several American anti-armor weapons systems and ammunition that carry the AKA designation besides the Javelin: the AT-4 ATGM, TOW ATGM, 90mm recoilless rifle, the Abrams M-1 Main Battle Tank (MBT), the Hellfire missile, and others.

Delta Force firing Javelin
Men from Delta Force fire the first-ever Javelin at Ft. Bragg. (Courtesy of author)

Above is a photo I personally took of one of the first nine Javelin ATGMs. Note the tail end of the rocket on the far left of the picture. The weapon features a smaller launch engine that pushes it out and away from the gunner, at which point the main engine kicks in and thrusts it out and onto the selected target. Also, note a slight bit of flinch from the observers in the background. A picture is worth one thousand words.

The reason for the initial booster and secondary attack charge is to get the missile out of the tube and away from the gunner so as not to thrash him with rocket blast and potential secondary projectiles which could injure him or cause a disturbed launch. This feature makes the Javelin safe and easy to launch.

The missile is fitted with two shaped charges: a precursor warhead to detonate any explosive reactive armor and a primary warhead to penetrate base armor.

Related: Infantry anti-tank weapons throughout the ages

One of the most useful and deadly features of the Javelin is the inclusion of fire-and-forget technology; that means once the gunner has a good sight picture of his target he can lock on the fire-and-forget feature and retreat from his firing position post haste. He can be long gone from his location leaving the expended tube behind as trash and toting the removed fire-and-control assembly with him.

It is conceivable that a good gunner can have two rockets descending on different targets simultaneously. The spent rocket tubes are expendable; the gunner only needs to unhook the fire and control system from the spent tube and attach it to another rocket tube.

Gunner fires Javelin ATGM and runs
A gunner, having just fired a Javelin, takes the fire and control set with him as he retreats to another location, leaving the empty rocket tube behind. (Photo by LCpl Quihuis, Kevin C Jr/ DOD)

Another amazing feature of the Javelin is its ability to attack a target from a straight trajectory or oblique angle and the gunner can select between the two.

If the target is out in the open without frontal protection, the shooter can use the Javelin’s straight line-of-sight mode. But if the target has overhead cover, the missile will climb up to 150 meters and drop down to destroy it from above; in those cases, if the target is a tank, the Javelin will usually strike the turret where armor is typically thinner.

In both modes, the Javelin will likely hit and destroy any target that the gunner gets a positive lock onto.

Related: Russia uses ‘relic’ weapons in Ukraine, including the 9K111 Fagot anti-tank system

Two-man Javelin team
A two-man team of soldiers put a Javelin into action during a joint training exercise. (Photo by Stuart A. Hill/ AMS-MOD)

As a worthy aside, the maximum range of the weapon is a tidy 8,200 meters. When we tested the missile back in 2000, we found ourselves launching Javelins, having coffee, and fixing up some victuals waiting for this thing to make landfall.

I must tell you that a staunch sense of pride rose up in us men-folk as we unleashed our county’s modern might onto enemy targets, knowing that our counter-armor potential was among the best of the world. It can’t get any greater, but our soldiers on the friendly side of such devastating power can only improve it with constant proficiency and out-of-box thinking power.

“It works well… except when it doesn’t.” (Author UNK)

By Almighty God and with honor,
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Feature Image: Infantrymen fire a Javelin in a desert environment. (Photo by Sgt. Liane Hatch/ 3rd Brigade Combat Team 4th Infantry Division)

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.