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The FGM-148 “Javelin”: US Soldiers Training With Awesome Tank Hits

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Introduction TO The FGM-48 “Javelin”

In modern warfare, lethality comes in ever smaller packages. The FGM-148 “Javelin” is a notable example of this trend. Javelin is a portable anti tank missile claimed to be capable of destroying any armored vehicle in service in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

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Javelin was designed as a successor to the 1970’s era M47 “Dragon” which was widely regarded as obsolete by the 1990s. Javelin does not suffer from certain key weaknesses of its predecessor, the most significant of which is Dragon’s reliance on wire guidance. This means of controlling an anti tank weapon forces the operator to maintain constant control of the missile as it streaks towards its target – no easy task when under fire. Instead, Javelin is a true ‘fire and forget’ weapon: once lock on is achieved and the rocket motor ignites, the missile pursues its target independent of any operator input.

“Javelin” FGM 48 System Details

The Javelin system is comprised of two main components. The missile itself is sealed upon manufacture within a weather resistant, disposable tube. The core of the system is the Command Launch Unit, a reusable command module for Javelin that contains the equipment necessary for the user to acquire a target, achieve lock on, and fire. The CLU contains three sighting modes for target acquisition, two of them utilizing thermal sensors, and costs over a hundred thousand dollars.

During operations, the launch tube and command module are carried into the field separately and assembled when needed. There are two soldiers in a Javelin team; one looks for targets and the other is the gunner. The gunner sits cross legged on the ground with the Javelin system resting on the shoulder. After powering on, a short time is required for the thermal seeker to sufficiently cool before it is capable of seeking a lock on – a drawback of thermal imaging. Because the lithium batteries powering the command module have only a four hour life and are rather heavy, it is not practical to either leave the thermal seeker active when not in use or to rely on spare batteries.

Operating Javelin is a bit like playing a hyper realistic video game. While looking through the sight, the gunner keeps each thumb on a separate joystick style trigger. The default sight mode is a 4x level of magnification that requires light in order to operate. Once a suitable target is identified, the gunner depresses either trigger to move into a 9x magnification mode utilizing the thermal sight. The gunner then manipulates the joystick triggers to move a small reticule over the target, which may be up to two kilometers distant. When satisfied with the target selection, the gunner again depresses the trigger, entering a final narrow view mode, and the targeting reticule is again adjusted to fit over the target. Once the reticule is centered this time, the gunner simultaneously depresses both triggers to cause Javelin to record the thermal signature of the target, achieving lock on. Moments later, the missile fires. In all, the process from initial setup to firing takes under a minute for a well trained Javelin team.

Unlike many anti tank missile systems, Javelin utilizes a soft launch, meaning that pressure is used to eject the missile out of the launch tube and a safe distance away from the Javelin team before the main engine ignites. This system allows the operator to fire Javelin from inside structures, which is a capability lacking in many other missile systems and one that enhances Javelin’s usability in rugged or urban terrain. Perhaps just as importantly, depending on the selection of the operator, Javelin is capable of executing either a level run to its target – used against helicopters and buildings – or a pop up style attack where the missile arcs high into the air before turning nose down to plunge into the weakest point of any armored vehicle – the roof. Upon impact, Javelin utilizes a tandem warhead to achieve its purpose. The first causes explosive reactive armor, commonly installed to protect against anti tank weapons, to activate prematurely. The primary charge, a shaped warhead, then distorts into a copper lined jet of molten metal that penetrates the main armor.

Pricing, Downsides And Other Notes

All this firepower in the hands of two soldiers. And the price? Roughly a quarter of a million dollars per complete unit, with about two thirds of that wrapped up in the reusable Command Launch Unit. As many main battle tanks cost over four million dollars, Javelin can be an extremely cost effective weapon.

Like any weapon, Javelin has its downsides. It is a heavy system, weighing in at almost 50 lbs assembled, which lessens its portability and reduces the number of systems and replacement launch units that can be brought into the field. The infrared sensor has drawbacks as well, because dawn and dusk alter thermal signatures, making it harder to achieve the necessary lock prior to firing.

But in an age of light, mobile warfare against unpredictable threats, Javelin fills a critical niche in the inventory of the rifleman, scout, or combat engineer, giving infantry a fighting chance against an armored opponent. Perhaps the best evidence of Javelin’s effectiveness is its popularity. Aside from the United States, thirteen other nations use the system, and at least two others are in the process of acquiring it.

Image Attribution

By English: Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Jackson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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