The FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile entered service in 1996

FGM-148 Javelin Anti-Tank Missile

Lockheed Martin/Raytheon's Shoulder-Launched Tank Striker

The FGM-148 Javelin is a US origin anti-tank missile. Introduced in 1996, it’s now been in frontline service for two decades. With tens of thousands manufactured, the FGM-148 Javelin has been supplied to 20 nations. All-weather capable and able to be operated by day and night, the Javelin has lethality and versatility strongly on its side and, courtesy of Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and numerous other deployments, it’s very much battle-proven too.

Effective against all Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) in current use, the missile plus its launching equipment together make up ‘the world’s premier shoulder-fired anti-armor system’. That’s according to Lockheed Martin which, alongside Raytheon, is part of the Javelin Joint Venture team that manufactures this hugely successful technology, set to remain operational up until 2050 and potentially beyond.

FGM-148 Javelin Development

FGM-148 Javelin Missile Development

The FGM-148 Javelin’s origins lie in the US Army’s AAWS-M (Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System-Medium) initiative that began in 1983. AAWS-M gained momentum in the mid-1980s when the programme entered its POP (Proof-of-Principle) stage and various concepts were put forward. Texas Instruments (now Raytheon) and Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) were the AAWS-M contract’s ultimate winners and so got to work. Live-fire trials started in 1991 and, in March 1993, the Javelin missile and its launch unit were paired-up for the first time.

Low-rate FGM-148 Javelin missile system production got underway in 1994. Via an initial multiyear contract, full-rate production for the US Army, involving thousands of missiles, started in 1997. A follow-up order saw Javelin Joint Venture contracted to provide an additional 11,805 missiles – plus 2,968 launch units – in August 2000. "Javelin's second multiyear contract ensures America's soldiers and Marines have the Javelin systems necessary for today's wide spectrum of military operations”, Raytheon’s then-Electronic Systems president (now Raytheon chairman), William H Swanson said at that time, describing it as “a vital part of our future missile business in the US and international markets." Just one example of that last prediction having since come true emerged in late 2014 when the 40,000th FGM-148 rolled off the Javelin Joint Venture production line and into US Army service.

FGM-148 Javelin Missile Features

So far, several Javelin missile variants have been developed. The FGM-148A was the initial production variant and the improved B and C models followed it, while the FGM-148D is the export variant.

FGM-148 Javelin Missile Features

The FGM-148 Javelin missile system comprises a missile – contained inside a one-piece launching tube – and a CLU (Command Launch Unit). Three feet seven inches (1.1 metres) long, the missile weighs approximately 26 pounds (11.8 kilograms). It is armed with an 18.5 pound (8.4 kilogram) warhead incorporating a pair of charges that work together to penetrate even the most robust vehicle armour. This warhead is placed behind the missile’s guidance technology. In front of that sits its IR seeker, contained inside a smooth nose shaped with aerodynamic benefits in mind. Winglets – of which there are 12 in total - also help the missile maintain a steady flightpath. These winglets are folded up while the missile is inside its launching tube but pop out after it’s been launched.

The FGM-148’s Command Launch Unit is an M98A1 model that, including its battery, carry bag and cleaning equipment, weighs 14.16 pounds (6.42 kilograms). The only reusable Javelin missile system component, it features day and night-optimised sights that provide four and 4.2 times magnification, respectively.

The Javelin missile’s minimum range is 256 feet (75 metres) and its maximum range is 8,202 feet (2,500 metres, or two-and-a-half kilometres.) The system’s maximum rate of fire is two missiles per minute.

FGM-148 Javelin Missile Operations

Fully man-portable, the FGM-148 Javelin missile system can be deployed and fired by a single warfighter but a two-person operating crew is more typical. Placed on the shoulder, it can be used from a seated, kneeling or standing position. Target acquisition takes place via the Command Launch Unit’s thermal imager. Next, the target is ‘locked’ before the CLU transmits a launch signal to the missile and it’s fired out.

Gas cylinder power propels the missile for the first 65 feet or so (20 metres) of its flight but its main solid fuel rocket motor kicks in after that. This ‘soft launch’ process makes the system suitable for use in relatively confined spaces (‘inside buildings and bunkers’, Lockheed Martin says). That said, personnel definitely shouldn’t stand behind it during the launch phase as the most hazardous part of its ‘blast back’ cone extends around 82 feet (25 metres) rearwards.

FGM-148 Javelin Missile Launch Modes

FGM-148 Javelin Missile Launch Modes

The FGM-148 Javelin missile system has two modes of operation – top attack and direct fire. Top attack sees the missile trace out a curved flightpath – reaching an altitude of up to 500 feet (152.4 metres) before dropping down for the strike. There are two benefits to this ‘lofted trajectory’ method. One is visibility (the missile can better ‘see’ its target), the other is impact level, since tanks etc tend to have their thinnest armour coverings on their upper surfaces which, from that elevated angle, the Javelin missiles directly hit. Top attack mode is the FGM-148’s usual means of striking MBTs and other armoured vehicles, while direct fire is used against targets located behind protective infrastructure and low-flying helicopters. The minimum possible distance for direct fire strikes is 213 feet (65 metres).

FGM-148 Javelin missile system operations are based on the ‘fire and forget’ principle. This arises from the missile’s ability to self-guide once it’s been launched. With no need to keep the target in their sights, FGM-148 operators can thus immediately reposition, protect themselves against counter fire and/or prepare the system for its next strike.

FGM-148 Javelin Operators

FGM-148 Javelin Operators

The FGM-148 Javelin missile system is presently operated by 20 nations. These nations are Australia, Bahrain, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Georgia, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Rojava (Syrian/Western Kurdistan), Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the UAE, the UK and the US. India emerged some years back as a potential FGM-148 Javelin operator and planned to acquire examples and build them under license but a definitive transfer technology deal couldn’t be agreed. Instead, India opted for the Javelin anti-tank missile’s counterpart – Israel’s Spike.

Key Facts:

Role: Portable anti-tank missile
Length:  3 ft 7 in (1.07 m)
Diameter: 5 in (12.7 cm)
Maximum speed: Unknown 
Maximum range: 8,202 ft (2,500 m)
Weight: 11.8 kg (26 Ib.) 
First Launched: 1991

FGM-148 Javelin missile tank explosion image copyright US Army – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
FGM-148 Javelin missile seated launch image copyright USMC – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
FGM-148 Javelin missile wide angle launch image copyright USMC – courtesy Wikimedia Commons
FGM-148 Javelin operators image copyright USMC – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

FGM-148 Javelin video footage copyright Raytheon – courtesy YouTube

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