TechEstonia supplies Ukraine with an enhanced anti-tank system while fortifying its border

Estonia supplies Ukraine with an enhanced anti-tank system while fortifying its border

Estonian soldiers at a shooting range with the FGM-148 Javelin system.
Estonian soldiers at a shooting range with the FGM-148 Javelin system.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | MoD Estonia

4:11 PM EST, February 3, 2024, updated: 4:23 AM EST, March 7, 2024

So far, Estonia has extended a total monetary assistance of 80 million euros to Ukraine, equivalent to 0.25 percent of its GDP. Given their resources, this constitutes a considerable contribution. Because of its complex history with Russia, Estonia, like many other countries in the region, is not just supporting Ukraine but also diligently enhancing its defense systems. This proactive approach is also evidenced by the recent announcement made by local authorities regarding a proposed plan to construct a fortification belt along the border they share with Russia.

FGM-148 Javelin: The American-made nightmare for Russian tankers

The FGM-148 Javelin is a complex anti-tank system developed in the 1990s. Unique in its operation, it features a "fire and forget" capacity. After the shooter fires the missile, there's no need to guide it towards the target; instead, they can swiftly change their position, simplifying their task and enhancing their safety by reducing variables that might interfere with accurate shooting.

Unlike this, older-generation anti-tank systems such as the Milan and the RBS-56B BILL 2 require shooters to maintain constant visual contact with the target until the missile hits it. Given that most anti-tank missiles travel at 656 feet per second, a shooter roughly 1.24 miles from the target has about 10 seconds to react. Moreover, many modern tanks integrate a launch detection system, clearly visible on thermal imaging, which allows them to retaliate against the launcher's position.

Occasionally, even a random shot or simply pointing the barrel toward the launcher can cause the guided anti-tank missile crew to panic, leading to a missed target. However, with a "fire and forget" system like the FGM-148 Javelin, the shooter can immediately reposition after launching the missile. Its lightweight design, at just 48.72 pounds, also allows easy transportation.

The FGM-148 Javelin operates through an advanced guide head with a fourth-generation infrared sensor. Instead of detecting a heat point, it recognizes the thermal image of the target. This sensor focuses on the tank's thermal signature, although, in older versions of the Javelin system, a cooling period is necessary before firing.

This functionality allows for precise guidance of the powerful tandem-shaped charge warhead, which can launch diving attacks on targets from above. Its excellent penetration capabilities render all roof layers made of Kontakt-1 reactive armor blocks, heavily used by the Russians, inefficient.

Nevertheless, the guidance method of Javelin missiles isn’t flawless. There are techniques to reduce their effectiveness, such as decreasing the tank's thermal signature. The Russians have developed several countermeasures that could mitigate the effectiveness of the Javelin system.

However, these countermeasures typically apply to older missile versions from the 1990s and early 2000s, with a range of 1.55 miles. The more recent models, with a range of approximately 2.95 miles and equipped with improved sensors, are less impacted by these methods.

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