Winning: Ukraine Has Whatever You Want

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May 22, 2019: The five year war between Russia and Ukraine has had a few positive side effects. For example, it enabled Ukraine to revive some of its moribund defense industries and once again become a major developer and exporter of new weapons. For example, a Ukrainian firm has developed a new ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) that is launched via the smoothbore 120mm tank gun. This is the caliber gun widely used in Western tanks. This Konus ATGM has a range of 5,000 meters and a tandem shaped charge warhead that can penetrate 800mm of armor covered by  ERM (Explosive Reactive Armor). A laser beam guidance system is used and the missile weighs 17 kg (37 pounds). The first of these ATGMs will be built in Ukraine and then production will be moved to a Turkish firm which is buying the technology.

The Konus design is based on an older Falarick tank gun-launched ATGM that came in versions for 90mm, 105mm and 120mm guns. The smaller caliber versions had less range and penetrating power. The Falarick was built for a Belgian firm that was never able to find many customers for this system. During the Cold War, Russia bought a lot of these systems, for 115mm and 125mm tank guns and most were developed in Ukraine.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 the newly independent Ukraine inherited these Cold War era designs and kept building them but they never sold in large quantities. The main reason was that these missiles cost most than 50 times what the most expensive tank gun shell did and in combat there was little opportunity to use them. Moreover, the unguided conventional tank shells became more and more capable (accurate and effective at longer ranges) as better armored vehicle fire control systems were developed that enabled tank guns to obtain hits at longer distances (3,000 meters). For most effective anti-tank shells used by tanks, this never really worked at long range because the best anti-tank rounds relied on speed to penetrate modern armor. New shell designs helped there somewhat. Tank gun launched ATGMs were not found to be a useful solution to this problem. If you wanted effective tank firepower you had to pay for the ammo and vehicle maintenance so all the crews could train regularly and frequently. The Turks apparently feel they can find enough customers who will find these “specialty shells” worth the additional cost to equip each tank with a least a few of them. Turkish tanks have been fighting Islamic terrorists in Syria recently and may have developed new tactics that can make use of Konus. Then again for two decades, it has been Turkish government policy to support new defense development and production in Turkey and the Konus deal may simply be another example of that.

Currently, a Russia based firm produces a version of the 125mm Refleks ATGM for 125mm tank guns and has found few customers for it. Refleks was about 20 percent cheaper than Western designs but that did not seem to help sales much a lot. Even the Israelis gave this design a try. In 1992 an Israeli firm offered the Lahat for 105mm and 120mm guns. It never sold well and the design was eventually adapted for use as a conventional ATGM. The Lahat is still available for use in 105mm and 120mm tank guns but most of them are sold for use on aircraft, UAVs or ground launches (a four missile launcher similar to one developed for helicopters).

By the late 1990s, Israel was becoming a leading supplier of ATGMs and the best sellers were models used on helicopters, small ships and ground forces. Since the 1990s infantry have found that these missiles were very useful for destroying bunkers and defenders barricaded inside buildings. Aside from having lots of combat experience with these missiles, Israel is also quick to modify existing designs to meet user needs and suggestions. Thus in 2014 Israel announced it had developed a new helicopter launched version of its Lahat ATGM. This lightweight version weighs 13 kg (28.6 pound), has a range of 13,000 meters (fired from a helicopter, or 6,000 from a ground vehicle) and is, like the heavier Hellfire, fired from four-missile launchers. What makes Lahat so attractive to so many customers is its reliability (because it has been in service since the early 1990s) and extensive (and successful) use in combat. Then there is the price, which is under $50,000 each. This is cheaper than any competition and in addition, Israel is flexible when it comes to pricing and getting export sales.

The 2014 version of Lahat had its origins in the its 2009 version customized for use as an air-launched version of the original tank gun launched Lahat. The 2009 version was designed for use on the ground by infantry and in the air by helicopters. The 2009 version was a 12.5 kg (27 pound) missile with a range of 8,000 meters (when air-launched). There was also a version of Lahat designed for use by UAVs. This one has a range of 13,000 meters and consisted of a 75 kg (165 pound) launcher that included four ready-to-fire missiles. The four missile launcher for these systems can also be mounted on ships or vehicles and include a laser designator. The Lahat is still available for use in 105mm and 120mm tank guns but most are sold for use on aircraft, UAVs or ground launches (a four missile launcher similar to one developed for helicopters). Lahat uses laser guidance and has the ability to fly over the tank and detonate a shaped charge warhead that will punch through the thinner top armor. The latest Lahat warheads are “smart” and will detonate in different ways depending on the target it is used against.

 


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