The Javelin system is categorized as a "3rd Generation" anti-tank guided missile system and represents a lethal capability in terms of tank-killing power for the US Army and the like. Its 3rd Generation categorization implies a major improvement over existing anti-tank killing systems employed prior. Upon inception, the Javelin replaced the M47 "Dragon" man-portable, anti-tank missile platform then in service. The Javelin itself has already seen heavy action in the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and is consistently being exhibited under extreme combat conditions across the unforgiving battlefields of Afghanistan.
The Javelin was born from the 1983 US Army initiative known as the "Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System - Medium" (AAWS-M). The project gained traction in 1985 and a Proof-of-Principle phase was started the following year. Various US contractors were involved in showcasing their concepts and, in mid-1989, the winning contract was awarded to both Texas Instruments and Martin Marietta. By 1991, the program had proceeded to a live-fire test of the missile in question. The US Army gave the new weapon the designation scheme of "FGM-148" and the nickname of "Javelin". In 1993, the launcher was finally made ready and test-fired with the Javelin missile. Results were acceptable and the Javelin officially was accepted for service by the United States Army in 1994, to which began low-rate production deliveries. Army units began receiving the Javelin in quantity beginning in 1996. Texas Instruments and Martin Marietta were later to come under the banners of Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, respectively, and, as such, the Javelin missile system is now associated with these two contractors instead of the former. Contractors that failed in their proposals to the US Army during the AATWS-M initiative were Ford Aerospace and Hughes Missile System Group. Ford attempted to sell a missile based on a laser-beam riding principle while Hughes' attempt was related to an infra-red imaging system coupled with a fiber-optic cable link.
The Javelin is crewed by two specially-trained personnel and the system as a whole is made up of the launcher and the missile itself. Each team member carries a disposable Command Launch Unit as well as the Launch Tube Assembly. Training for US Army personnel in the maintenance, cleaning, assembly, reassembly and operation of the Javelin system is primarily accomplished at the Infantry School out of Fort Benning, Georgia and encompasses two weeks. The missile weighs in at approximately 26lbs with the launcher - or CLU (Command Launch Unit) - weighing in at 14.1lbs. The missile maintains a length of 43 inches while the launcher displays 47 inches. The missile holds a diameter of 127mm with an effective range between 75- and 2,500-meters (there is a safety and engagement minimum distance for weapons of this type). The missile sports an 18.5lb warhead payload made up of a HEAT (High-Explosive, Anti-Tank) tandem shaped charge, suitable for engaging the latest in protective vehicle armor. Detonation is by impact force and propulsion is handled by a solid fuel rocket motor. Guidance is via Imaging Infrared (IIR). Stabilizing wings are initially folded down while the missile is present in the launcher and "spring" into action once the missile is made airborne. The projectile maintains a streamlined form with a smooth, almost blunt, nose cone housing the IR seeker. Behind the seeker are the guidance electronics followed by the warhead. Propulsion is behind the folding wings (these wings numbering eight total), the wings themselves just aft of amidships. The control unit (also with folding wings - these numbering just four) is in the aft portion of the missile system.
Acquiring a target is accomplished through use of a thermal imaging component on the CLU. The missile is locked onto the target before it is set free from the launcher. Guidance to the target is handled completely by the missile itself, allowing for a true "fire-and-forget" experience by the operator. This is in contrast to the older "wire-guided" missile systems that required the operator to continually maintain the target in his crosshairs until impact. As such, the Javelin team can track, acquire and launch the Javelin missile at an enemy target while already displacing to a new location, retreating or advancing - all before the missile has struck its target.
Upon launch, the missile is thrown free from its launcher and only then engages its rocket motor once clear from the crew. Engagement of targets - be they airborne, static or ground-based and moving - can all be accomplished with the Javelin system. Operators can engage targets either directly line-of-sight or with help from the missile's guidance capability. As such, the Javelin team can strike at low-flying helicopters, a moving tank or a fortified building structure with equal fervor. Engagement of flying targets and fortified structures is done through a "direct-attack" style - essentially a point, aim-and-shoot action, requiring no lock-on by the missile system.
The Javelin missile's warhead is designed in such a way that it can penetrate even the latest in "explosive reactive armor" utilized the world over on tanks and armored personnel carriers. Explosive reactive armor adds an additional layer of protection to the crew and critical systems such as engine and magazine stores and sits atop the existing armor protection facing as designed per vehicle. However, a missile such as the Javelin features a tandem-shaped charge (two shaped charges, one to detonate the explosive reactive armor and the other to penetrate the base armor therein) in its warhead that attempts to ingeniously bypass this type of armor protection. Additionally, the Javelin missile attacks its given target from a higher-angle than the old direct-attack, wire-guided anti-tank systems. This means that, just before the missile reaches the target, it will "pop up" for up to 500ft in the air and engage the armored target from an upward angle. This angle is highly beneficial in attacking armor systems such as main battle tanks for tanks are generally armored thinly across their top facings. Couple this angle-of-attack approach with the Javelin's inline concentrated two-stage explosive firepower and the missile is a true penetrator of any vehicle on the modern battlefield.
The Javelin weapon system was designed to feature a relatively low blast signature (though this back blast is still dangerous for anyone caught near the rear of the launcher at the moment of firing). This allows for the Javelin to be fired in various confined structures such as buildings and bunkers while producing a relatively small visible smoke signature at the moment of launch. Couple this inherent security with the range that the Javelin brings to a battle and enemy warplanners have a serious anti-tank threat to contend with.
The Javelin maintains a complete field presence in a man-portable package. Setup is relatively an easy and quick feat given the training that the specialists receive - even when under fire - and its reusable nature makes it a potent, repeating anti-tank killing machine. There are also less components for the Javelin crew to carry when compared to previous anti-tank weapon systems fielded by the American military. However, the launcher, electronics and missile all come at a price - both physically and fiscally - for the entire system tops nearly 50lbs and launcher and system cost upwards of $165,000. Sources state each missile ranges from $40,000 to $80,000 alone.
Javelin launchers have been purchased by a large collection of operators made up by Australia, Bahrain, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Jordan, Lithuania, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and - of course - the United States. Since the Javelin launcher is reusable, owners have understandably elected to purchase more missiles than launchers as was the case with Jordan's $388 million procurement contract encompassing 162 launchers and 1,808 missiles. UN forces across Afghanistan have seen regular use of the Javelin system - this including the British, French, New Zealand and Czech armies. The Norwegian Army began use of the Javelin system as recently as 2009.