The Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM), 5,000 of which have been supplied to Ukraine by the United States to fight Russia, have a poor hit-to-miss ratio, range, and technical malfunctions, as per internal documents from its manufacturer Raytheon that leaked on Russian social media.
The documents also contain survey results from US soldiers who are unclear about the system’s performance characteristics and observe repeated snags and poor maintainability.
The Javelin missile is a collaborative effort between US aerospace and defense giants Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Technologies through the Raytheon-Lockheed Martin Javelin JV.
The JV was awarded a $309 million contract by the US Army on May 16 to manufacture more than 1,300 Javelin systems to meet domestic and Ukrainian demands.
The FGM-148 Javelin is a ‘fire-and-forget’ anti-tank missile system. The soldier first peers through a command launch unit, selects the target and fires the missile.
It is then pushed out of the tube through an exhaust-less booster before its main motor engages, flying straight up and then propelling down on the target in a ‘top-attack’ mode by locking on to its heat signature.
The mode of target acquisition, initial smokeless release, and attack allow infantrymen to quickly move away from the location before inviting counter-fire and reduces the chance of the adversary detecting where the missile was launched.
What Do The Documents Say?
According to the Department of State, Washington has supplied at least 5,000 FGM-148 Javelins to Ukraine as a part of a $9.8 billion security assistance as of August 8.
One chart shows the actual performing range of the Javelin with an 8.4-kilogram missile at 2,500 meters (2.5 kilometers), half of the advertised five kilometers distance. The graph relevant to the Javelin is called “just right” and also records the observed ranges of other systems like the TOW missile, AT-4 rocket launcher, and heavy mortars.
Another set of graphs compared the Javelin’s hit ratio to the TOW missile’s, where the former hit only three targets out of 8 “engagements” while the latter hit 2 out of 14. However, the conditions of these engagements – whether in exercises, combat scenarios, weather conditions, test conditions, or on moving or stationary targets – are unknown.
The leaked documents also contain a survey amongst US soldiers, which Russian social media claims served in Iraq and Afghanistan. While 56 out of 58 said the Javelin was “reliable,” 18 out of 57 reported maintenance issues.
“Our company did not create those documents, and the efficacy of the Javelin speaks for itself,” Mike Nachshen, senior director of international communications at Raytheon, was quoted by Polygraph.info following a leak of the documents.
A June 14 Washington Post article singled out the lack of technical support and training from the seller – the Pentagon and Department of Defense – and the manufacturer – Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
Many Javelins in Ukrainian units were inoperable owing to several reasons. The highly complicated system did not have a brochure with a helpline number for Ukrainian soldiers, as is provided to US troops. The training lasted a day barely, unlike the three-and-a-half-day capsule for US soldiers.
Even the 200 US National Guard soldiers posted there to train Ukrainian soldiers in the run-up to Russia’s military intervention were withdrawn.
The lack of logistical assistance was also raised at the Congressional level when Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska), during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in May, asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin if enough training systems were being sent to Ukraine. Readying, aiming, and firing the Javelin is a complicated drill, often requiring training simulators.
Another issue was the limited supply of batteries for launch units, which last only for four hours on a full charge and drain even faster once the system has been used, making the Javelin a “50 pound (23 kilograms) doorstep.”
Mark Hayward, a US Army veteran and a volunteer trainer, recounted an incident where he received a frantic call from a Ukrainian soldier he had previously trained.
The soldier’s Javelin was malfunctioning as he hid behind a small hill, taking cover from a Russian tank fire in southeast Ukraine. Hayward, however, could not address the problem over the phone, forcing the Ukrainian soldier to flee, with his fate remaining unknown.
US Industry Overdrive To Manufacture Javelins
Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet told CBS in early May that the company was working to double its production capacity of Javelins to 4,000 from the current 2,100 a year.
But Taiclet also added that it would take “maybe even a couple of years” to “crank up” the company’s supply chain to meet the production goals. By March, Ukraine said it needed 500 Javelins daily to stall the Russian advance. The Javelins don’t come cheap, costing between $80,000 and $200,000 per missile.
The Javelin, like the Turkish TB-2 Bayraktar drones and US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), became a symbol of foreign and American military assistance.
After several tactical successes over the Russians, they acquired cult status and became the subjects of songs the Ukrainians penned, lionizing their contribution to hitting the Russians.
However, EurAsian Times wrote about how Ukrainian soldiers later reported the Bayraktars themselves as becoming vulnerable to Russian air defense and counter-drone systems, forcing them to limit their use.
Then the HIMARS also lost its sheen after Russia claimed to have destroyed eight of the 16 delivered to Ukraine. EurAsian Times had done a cost-benefit, tactical and comparative analysis of the HIMARS to its Russian equivalent, the 9A54 Tornado multiple-rocket launch system (MLRS), and found the latter to be 16% cheaper, easy to manufacture, and better in range.
Amael Kotlarski, an analyst from Janes, also highlighted the absence of reliable data on how many Javelins Ukraine has used and to what effect.
“The Javelin is not a silver bullet. There is a prevailing narrative in the public mind to sort of lionizing certain weapons systems as having a defining impact on certain conflicts (but) the reality is often more complex,” Kotlarski was quoted in an article in Stripes.