Thursday, 25 May 2017

Javelin anti-... infantry?

Been a lot of politics and economics talk lately so let's go with something a little different today. Namely blowing shit up.

Because a thought occurred to me recently. No, not that I shouldn't start sentences with "because", though I've never understood quite why that's considered such a grammatical faux pas. Nor that I overuse quotation marks or use them inappropriately. It came when watching a series of videos showing anti-tank missiles like the US TOW series being used in places like Syria and Iraq as an anti-personnel weapon. I've seen lots of people complaining about this as a waste of resources, though I doubt the groups doing it are overly worried about the financial cost to their sponsors of such a use. But it did get me thinking about the possibilities of using such weapons in the anti-personnel role.

Specifically what I'm thinking about here is the case for the UK perhaps developing an anti-personnel version of the Javelin missile. Literally all I'm thinking about is what would happen if you removed the tandem HEAT warhead and replaced it with something specifically designed for fragmentation and blast to be used against infantry. The missile already has an impact fuze setting and I suspect it wouldn't be that hard to give it an option for a slight delay, in order to better engage lightly protected targets like firing positions with overhead cover (or to reduce the blast/fragmentation area for use in certain COIN engagements). With a bit of clever jiggery pokery (which I'm reliably assured is a correct technical term) you might even be able to get an airburst function in there. In warhead terms, the current one weighs about 18 pounds. If you could replace it with a fragmentation warhead of similar weight then you're talking about a punch that is comparable to many 155mm artillery rounds.

But why go to all this trouble? After all, aren't Javelin missiles bloody expensive? 

That depends on your opinion about what is and what isn't expensive. One Javelin is roughly (very roughly) equivalent to the running cost of a Tornado bomber for one flying hour. That's before the Tornado actually deploys any ordnance and presuming that the Tornado only needs to fly for one hour to carry out the desired attack mission that we can now replace with a Javelin. The cost argument also leads into some rather difficult rabbit holes about the cost of replacing a trained soldier that might otherwise be killed or the long term cost of failing a particular mission. 

Mainly the thinking here is what it gives to the end user, i.e. the people being shot at on the front line. As mentioned above if the warhead weight can be kept about the same then the soldier effectively gains a pocket 155mm artillery shell. Except this shell doesn't require permission from above for its deployment and nor is there such a time lag between the decision to use it and the arrival of the round on target. Once the sight system is ready and the target acquired, the round can be fired. The need to call rounds in from a firebase or air support is obviated, along with all the calculations, spotting rounds and adjustments that can go with it. Indeed with the increasing accuracy of modern guided weapons you can in some circumstances effectively replace an entire barrage of shells with one precision shot. 

Why a completely new warhead though? Why not just use the existing anti-tank rounds? Well - somewhat morbidly - it struck me watching the use of missiles like TOW that the warhead is understandably not optimised for use against enemy personnel. In many cases the shot seems to land dead centre in a group of people, after which the majority are soon back on their feet, albeit injured and understandably looking a little dazed. I got the impression that a specifically designed fragmentation round would be far more effective. 

I just think it would give UK forces (and of course allied forces who also use Javelin) another tool for the toolbox and is a good fit for one of my little hobby horses about trying to free the forces from having to rely too much on each other. Given the range of Javelin and its potential to deliver precision shots at those distances, it might thus help the army take another step towards reducing reliance on air support. More importantly it could help save British lives and improve overall combat effectiveness.


  1. The new generation of the Spike missile announced recently does much of what you are considering above.
    They have the option to have a multipurpose blast warhead and selectable detonation for impact or penetration.

    Range has also increased out to 5km and weight reduced to 12.7kg.

  2. The latest Javelins have a fragmentation jacket around the main HEAT warhead.