August 22, 2003
The U.S. Javelin anti-tank missile got quite a workout in Iraq and was generally considered very successful. The 21.6 pound "fire and forget" missile, is launched from 13.4 pound launch tube using a 14 pound CLU (Command Launch Unit) which the troops found very useful, as it has a magnified (9x) night vision capability. Troops would use just the CLU at night to see what was happening in their area. The CLU is reusable, the 35 pound missile and launch tube are used once. The Javelin contains a dual shaped charge warhead, mainly to defeat reactive armor. The missile comes in from above, hitting thinner top armor as well. Before Iraq, there was video of a test shot against a loaded (for combat, with fuel and ammo) T-72 tank. The resulting explosion was so spectacular that many cynical observers insisted that the army had some help from Hollywood special effects experts. But troops in Iraq can attest that against a tank or other armored vehicle carrying fuel and ammo, the resulting explosion is just like the video. Apparently the Javelins dual warhead puts enough super-hot plasma inside the tank that everything ignites, quickly and in a spectacular fashion.
But the most important aspect of the Javelin was that it provided, for the first time, a reliable, easy-to-use and very accurate anti-tank missile for the infantry. Earlier missiles were either heavier, and required more from the operator (like keeping the cross hairs on the target for 10-15 seconds until the missile hit), or were unreliable (like the Dragon) But the Javelin is "point and shoot." While not really light enough to carry for long distances, the Special Forces, Rangers and paratroopers wandering around the Iraqi back country usually have vehicles, and often encountered Iraqi armored vehicles blocking their way. With Javelin, no problem. Grab the CLU and a Javelin from the back of the hummer, point and shoot, and move on. If you ran short of Javelins, you could get a few more the next time you met up with the supply helicopter. With Javelin, infantry no longer feared running into enemy armored vehicles. Javelin was also useful for taking out bunkers, or most any enemy fortified positions. Of course, as $75,000 a missile, this was expensive. But unless you can afford it, don't go to war.