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How The FGM-148 Javelin Works?

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an ugly start to 2022. It’s just the second month of year, but the people are now staring at a conflict that could further devastate an already devastated world. We are just recovering from the COVID pandemic, and suddenly bombs are flying. The reason behind the invasion of Ukraine is a complex topic to discuss, but Ukraine is up against a powerful and intimidating opponent. Russia has larger armed forces than Ukraine, with superior numbers of men and machines. It seems that Russia will take Ukraine by storm. Being a non-member of NATO, Ukraine can’t have the benefits of support from other countries. It may be a smooth victory for Russia.

But that’s not the case.

In fact, there are reports that Russia failed to fulfill its objectives in the first day of invasion. Even with superior numbers, and the use of special forces, it suffered casualties and loss of equipment. Ukraine is putting up an unexpectedly fierce resistance. People often point out that the Ukrainians only have their courage to show against such a powerful enemy. True, they have courage. Not to mention trainings and weapons supplied by other nations.

And one of them is a shoulder fired missile that becomes the bane of the Russian armor. The Javelin Weapon System

The Javelin

A soldier firing a Javelin missile.

A soldier firing a Javelin missile.

Way before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the various conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and war on ISIS, the Cold War looms in the 1980s. There were worries of massive ground battles, with waves upon waves of armor charging in the horizon. Simply, the U.S. and its allies needed something to blow tanks effectively. Hence, the Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System—Medium, or AAWS-M development was introduced by the U.S. Army to address such needs. The Cold War ended, but the development continued, and eventually Texas Instruments and Martin Marietta (now known as Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin) came up with the weapon designated as FGM-148. And the Javelin was born, and its first deployment in the army was in 1996.

The said weapon was effective. According to the Raytheon website, it saw extensive use in Afghanistan and Iraq, with 5000 engagements under its belt. Overall, it is a portable anti-tank weapon, fired from the shoulder and weighs 50 pounds. Much of it is the missile it fires.

Being reputed as an effective destroyer of tanks and armored vehicles, one might wonder how it works.


Component of the Javelin.

Component of the Javelin.

Being an anti-tank weapon fired from the shoulder, the outside appearance of the Javelin is basically a portable, tube launcher with controls and aiming devices. Overall, the weapon system consists of three main components; the Command Launch Unit, the Launch Tube Assembly and the missile. The detachable Command Launch Unit, or LCU, is what the weapon operator uses to “paint” the target. It could also be use as thermal imaging and night vision equipment. Then, there is the disposable Launch Tube Assembly that houses and protects the missile inside. And finally, is the missile it launches, with a tandem HEAT type warhead that uses shaped charge, made to counter explosive reactive armor.

The weapon is fired from a crossed-leg seated position, and the soldier can make a run for it and escape to safety afterwards with the missile heading to the target on its own. It’s a fire and forget weapon that requires little human guidance. And the Javelin weapon system is designed to go for the weakest area of a tank or an armored vehicle. The top. Most of the protection is at the front or side, and the Javelin fly above the vulnerable top before crashing down.

Ukraine Received It

Ukrainian soldier firing a Javelin.

Ukrainian soldier firing a Javelin.

The Javelin weapon system is never cheap. Each shot cost $80,000, but that never stopped Ukraine from buying it. Going back in 2018, the U.S. and Ukraine had a controversial sale. Ukraine would only receive defensive weapons from the U.S. and the Javelin wasn’t seen as defensive. Given its capabilities, many saw the Javelin as capable of more than defense. In the hands of the insurgents, it could inflict serious damage.

But somehow, Ukraine managed to get those. A change of policy in the U.S. side.

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Ukraine received 210 missiles and 37 CLU as a part of $47 million dollar purchase from the U.S. And in October 2021, Ukraine received an additional 180 missiles and 30 launchers. And in the month before the Russian invasion of Ukraine (January 2022), U.S. sent 300 missiles.

And Ukraine had time for practice.

The Russian backed separatists in Donbas got the taste of its potentials. And when the Ukrainians were not fighting, they are blowing mock tanks in training exercises.

And the Russians never took the threat of the Javelin lightly.

There are photos of Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine with a form of cage armor on the top, the weak spot of armored vehicle.

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Wreckage of Russian armor.

Wreckage of Russian armor.

And near the end of February 2021, the war in Ukraine broke. For some reason, the Russian leader Putin chose violence, and he directed his troops and armors to invade the said country. With a massive military advantage over Ukraine, it should be a quick take-over. The memories of coalition armor charging almost unopposed in Iraq suddenly looms.

But days later, it was clear that the Ukraine takeover won’t be a Shock and Awe operation.

As of the time this article is written, the fighting in Ukraine is still ongoing, and it was still too early to determine the overall results of the battle. But as observers pointed out, Russia failed to achieve a quick takeover. Days since the start of the invasion, Russia failed to make significant progress or hold any major cities. Even worst, the casualties in the Russian side are mounting. On February 25, 80 Russian tanks were destroyed, together with 516 armored vehicles and 7 helicopters. And as the war progress, the Russian casualties continue to mount, with footages online showing burning Russian armors. Observers credit the fierce Ukrainian resistance, and their effective usage of the Javelin missile.

St. Javelin?

The modified image of St. Mary Magdalene with the Javelin.

The modified image of St. Mary Magdalene with the Javelin.

Whether Ukraine could hold up or not, only time could tell. But it proves how devastating the Javelin weapon system is, with its ability to damage the larger armored forces of Russia. So much so that the Javelin became one of the scourges of the Russian forces, while online, a picture of St. Mary Magdalene holding a Javelin Weapon System was circulating.

Dubbed “St Javelin,” it shows a Byzantine icon of St. Mary Magdalene with red halo flanked by the coat of arms of Ukraine. She cradles a Javelin missile launcher, and her image became the symbol of Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invasion. The popularity of the image also showed the people’s solidarity towards Ukraine.


1. Gault, Matthew (26 February 2022). "Who Is St. Javelin and Why Is She a Symbol of the War in Ukraine?"

2. Javelin Weapon System (n.d.). Retrieved from


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