America is selling anti-tank missiles to people fighting the Russians

Last month, the news that Ukraine would receive FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States generated headlines. It’s not surprising that the move got attention from the public, given the fact that Russia and Ukraine have been fighting a low-level war since 2014. But Ukraine is not the only neighbor who has received weapons from the U.S. under the Trump Administration.

America Anti-tank Russia Javelin

The javelin antitank missile training system, stowed in its container, that was issued to Marine Corps Base (MCBH), Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on August 31st, 2000. 410 of these missiles were sold to Georgia. (USMC photo)

According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Republic of Georgia will be receiving 72 launchers and 410 FGM-148 Javelin missiles. Why might this be a big deal? Well, in 2008, Georgia and Russia fought a war over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia lost the war and Russia seized the territory. Russia claims that the disputed territories are now independent nations, but if you believe that… well, then we’ve got some lovely beachfront property in North Dakota to sell you.

T-80 tank Javelin missile

A Russian Army T-80. The FGM-148 Javelin gives Georgia a fighting chance against a horde of these tanks. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

So, how does the Javelin change things for Georgia? Well, most of Georgia’s current anti-tank missiles are older Russian models, like the AT-4 Spigot, AT-7 Spriggan, and the AT-13 Saxhorn 2. These missiles are generally wire-guided and, as a consequence, aren’t entirely safe. This is because most anti-tank missiles have a huge backblast that reveals their position. Worse, when you have a wire-guided system, you have to direct the launch until the missile reaches its target. If the bad guys can hit your position in the meantime, you’re likely finished.

America Anti-tank Russia AT-13

The AT-13 Saxhorn-2 was among the anti-tank missiles Georgia had in service when they bought 410 FGM-148 Javelin missiles. (Polish Ministry of Defense photo)

The Javelin, on the other hand, is a fire-and-forget system with a range of roughly one and a half miles. That means that once you fire the missile, it hunts its target with on-board seekers (the Javelin uses an imaging infra-red seeker). This is much safer for anti-tank teams since they can relocate to a new firing position immediately. In essence, Georgia has just seen a substantial uptick in its capabilities against the horde of Russian tanks.