US, UK Send Anti-Tank Missiles to Ukraine as Russian Army Masses

January 21, 2022Maggie BenZvi
US UK Ukraine missiles

Third Cavalry Regiment troopers conduct a Javelin anti-tank missile live fire while deployed to Iraq, Oct. 4, 2018. US Army photo by 2nd Lt. Jamie Douglas.

The Russian Army has been massing military forces along its border with Ukraine since late last year, including hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles.

In response, the US and British sent shipments of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine this week. 

Several UK C-17s flew anti-tank missiles into the country on Tuesday, Jan. 18, and the United States has signed off on a transfer of anti-tank Javelin missiles from other NATO ally states in the Baltics to Ukraine.

Politico reported the US agreement based on an anonymous source in the Department of State. The transfer agreement has not yet been formally announced. However, Peeter Kuimet, head of Estonia’s International Cooperation Department, said last month that it was waiting on US approval to send Ukraine its Javelin missiles.

US Ukraine missiles
A US Army paratrooper assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, fires an FGM-148 Javelin shoulder-fired anti-tank missile during a combined arms live-fire exercise at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Aug. 21, 2019. Photo by Sgt. Henry Villarama.

Javelins are fire-and-forget weapons, allowing the user to immediately take cover after the missile has been launched without requiring further guidance. They have a range of between 2,500 and 4,000 meters, and they strike at targets from above, which is where tanks are most vulnerable to damage. Top-attack Javelins can defeat Russian tank defense systems because of their steep angle of descent. 

The missiles weigh approximately 33 pounds, but in combination with the launcher the entire system weighs almost 50 pounds. While a single person can fire the missile, it is usually carried by a two-person team, one person each for the missile and the launcher.

This transfer of US missiles follows the approval in December of what CNN reported as $200 million in military equipment that the US will send directly to Ukraine. It is unknown when those supplies will arrive on the front lines.

The missiles sent by the UK to Ukraine earlier this week were Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons, known as NLAWs. Unlike the long-range Javelin, the NLAW is designed for nearly face-to-face fighting. With a range of only 20 to 600 meters, the system weighs about half as much as its US counterpart and is disposable after one use.

Like the Javelin, the NLAWs attack their targets from above.

US Ukraine missiles
A soldier training to fire a NLAW, or Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon. The UK sent several planeloads of the missiles to Ukraine this week. Image via Wikipedia from the UK Defense Imagery database.

Delivery of the missiles involved its own bit of international drama as the C-17 flights from the UK to Ukraine avoided German airspace. That longer route led to much speculation about whether Germany had told the UK not to fly over the country for fear of diplomatic conflict with Russia. The two nations have significant relationships in the energy sector. Officials from both the UK and Germany denied that was the case, with the UK Ministry of Defense saying, “Germany have not denied access to its airspace as the UK did not submit a request, there has been no dispute between the UK and Germany on this issue.”

On Monday, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the country’s Parliament, “We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light, anti-armor, defensive weapon systems. […] Let me be clear: this support is for short-range, and clearly defensive weapons capabilities; they are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia.”

Russia sees things differently. On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, “We emphasize the need to stop fueling the militant Ukrainian regime with the supply of weapons, instructor assistance, the development of plans and their implementation for the construction of military bases, training events and much more, which poses a direct and immediate threat to us,” according to multiple Russian-language publications

“We call on our American colleagues — we did this last week and will continue to do this — to finally take concrete action in terms of forcing [Kyiv] to rigorously and fully comply with the Minsk agreements,” Ryabkov said, referring to the attempts at creating an effective long-term cease-fire in the Donbas region. “If, of course, Washington is really interested in a political settlement of the intra-Ukrainian conflict.”

Read Next: Russian Troops Enter Belarus, Escalating Threat of Kyiv Encirclement

Maggie BenZvi
Maggie BenZvi

Maggie BenZvi is a contributing editor for Coffee or Die. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in human rights from Columbia University, and has worked for the ACLU as well as the International Rescue Committee. She has also completed a summer journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to her work at Coffee or Die, she’s a stay-at-home mom and, notably, does not drink coffee. Got a tip? Get in touch!

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