Not just Javelins

Valentyn BADRAK: “It is important for Ukraine to build on the American anti-tank missiles deliveries and become an ally of the US”

Having decided to provide arms to Ukraine, the US is worried about the possibility of US military technology falling into Russian soldiers’ hands. This is stated in the article “U.S., Ukraine Try to Ensure Weapons Don’t Fall to Enemy,” which appeared in The Wall Street Journal. The publication notes that for that reason, the Javelin anti-tank missiles (ATMs) are supposed to be kept at the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF)’s depots in permanent bases located far back from the frontlines. Also, American soldiers, who are now training Ukrainian servicemen at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center, could soon move to training centers in Central Ukraine as well, to regularly check and count these arms. So, how substantiated are the fears of Americans? Are there reasons for this? We discussed it with Valentyn Badrak, who serves as director of the Center for Army Research, Conversion and Disarmament.

“THE U.S. GOVERNMENT DOES NOT ACCEPT THE PUTINIST KREMLIN’S ATTEMPTS TO IMPOSE A REVISION OF THE SECURITY SYSTEM”

“Yes, the reasons do exist. For the US, Ukraine remains a country that did not seize a historic opportunity, although it had every reason to become a political and economic regional leader after the collapse of the USSR. We did not seize it ‘because of the human factor.’ Leonid Kuchma’s multi-vector approach turned out to be a case of spinelessness that transformed into unstable foreign policy of his pupils and made the situation into a confirmation of Samuel Huntington’s conception of civilizational fault lines. As you know, Huntington drew one of them between Western and Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, the US leadership, by and large, does not trust our government and is not convinced that Ukraine has become an asset to it. Not in the sense of ‘distrusting Petro Poroshenko,’ but in the sense of being uncertain whether a significant disappointment among Ukrainians in the current government might not lead to a pro-Russian politician’s taking lead. Of course, with support from Russia, whose political representation in Ukraine remains strong.

“The US is well aware of the position of the Ukrainian authorities and develops its own position accordingly. President Poroshenko opted for a strategy of palliative action in the struggle against the enemy, and the US is also implementing a half-hearted action strategy. The US, and maybe Canada, are the only Western nations who are really interested in making Ukraine into a strong buffer between the West and Russia. All other NATO countries, except Poland and the Baltic States, will do nothing for the real strengthening of Ukraine.

“Therefore, deliveries of Javelin ATMs are a symbolic step. They offer psychological support to Ukraine and serve as a signal for Russia that the US government does not accept the Putinist Kremlin’s attempts to impose a revision of the security system. More so given that these weapon systems cannot strategically influence the course of the war, it is just that the word ‘Javelin’ has become a mantra that everyone repeats and everyone listens to. It is important for Ukraine to build on this situation and become an ally of the US, similar to, say, Israel or Poland.”

“THE U.S. IS WELL-INFORMED ABOUT NUANCES OF UKRAINE’S PERSONNEL POLICY IN THE FIELD OF SECURITY AND DEFENSE”

Also, WSJ writes that American weapons falling into enemy hands “is not a theoretical problem.” It notes that, after the US delivered short-range counter-battery radars to Ukrainian military in 2014, some components at least of one of these radars were captured by combined Russian and separatist forces during fierce fighting near Debaltseve. What do you know about this?

“This is more a ‘technical’ issue, which depends on many factors. But it is also a legitimate question. Since the Ilovaisk debacle, the Ukrainian army has become stronger by an order of magnitude, and this is true. But it happened because our people ceased to be pacifists and learned to respond quickly to bombardments and sudden offensive actions of the enemy. At the same time, the US government is well-informed about the nuances of Ukraine’s personnel policy in the field of security and defense. Speaking of the UAF, experienced and talented fighters have been given brigade-level commands, and in individual cases combat arm-level commands. Under conditions where the automated command and control system has not been fully created, to say the least, and Russia has already completed its cycle of preparations for a large-scale war, no one is immune from Vladimir Putin embarking on another military adventure after the presidential election. Of course, if he succeeds in maintaining control of the situation. Were Putin not in the Kremlin, but in Bankova Street, he would have ceased to be the head of state a long time ago, but unfortunately, Russians have an Asian-level store of patience. So, we see that a ‘technical’ scenario is possible as well. Meanwhile, the US government would justly regard Javelin systems falling into the hands of Russian terrorists as a defeat in its symbolic clash with the Kremlin in a ‘disputed’ area. However, the US government needs to supply such weapons to Ukraine as much as Ukraine needs to obtain them. Financial expenditures are small, but they may have an oversized effect if they strengthen the anti-Russian sentiments of Ukrainian society, improve the morale of the military and eventually turn Ukraine into a powerful and well-protected player in the Western camp. In addition, the likely technological loss on the US’ part in the event of the FGM-148 Javelin falling into the hands of Russian troops in the Donbas is significantly exaggerated, as this is a late 1980s design, although a powerful one. US troops have been receiving these anti-tank systems since the late 1990s.”

“TALENTED DESIGNER OLEH KOROSTELIOV HAS CREATED A SCHOOL OF PRECISION WEAPONS DESIGN RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES”

It is known that this year, the Ukrainian army introduced the Korsar light man-portable missile system, which, according to experts, is little inferior to the American Javelin. I would like to hear your comparative assessment of these missiles. If the experts are right, were the Ukrainian military-political leadership’s steady requests for the American side to provide the aforementioned anti-tank weapons really justified?

“Despite the fact that many consider Javelin ATMs to be more technologically advanced and even say that the Javelin and the Korsar ATM belong to different generations, I do not think so. Technologically, the Korsar is a high-precision weapon capable of killing any tank or self-propelled gun with one shot at a distance of 2.5 km (although it is really difficult to find such a long line of sight, and in most real combat cases, it is sufficient to hit the target from a distance of one and a half kilometers). By the way, the Javelin has the same range – up to 2.5 km. It should be understood that the key point of the modern battle is the training of soldiers and the willingness of the government to saturate the combat zone with domestic ATMs, which are also not that cheap. In fact, the media should have started promoting and broadcasting cases of hostile weapon platforms being hit by these missiles long ago. The fact that Javelin systems are capable of hitting vehicles from the upper hemisphere is a clear technological advantage. For guiding and firing missiles, the Javelin uses an infrared fire-and-forget homing system, while the Korsar uses semi-automatic laser beam guidance (that is, after the shot, the operator needs to keep the target in the crosshairs for 8 to 12 seconds). One of the technological advantages of the Javelin ATM is the availability of a ‘soft’ launch, which allows a shot to be made even from closed and confined premises. As an obvious disadvantage, experts list the fact that the missile’s homing system needs to be pre-cooled for not less than 25 to 30 seconds. In addition, experts insist that the effective use of Javelin systems is possible only for personnel who have been through a training course for ATM operators. But in general, both ATM types can be seen as comparable, and looking at the price, the domestic design costs just a fraction of its counterpart. The cost of one American ATM can be as high as 50,000 dollars, and the export price of one launcher with missile complement can be as high as 170,000 dollars, while other sources cite ‘more than 200,000 dollars,’ while the price of a complete Korsar is estimated at about 130,000 dollars, and a missile costs just 20,000 dollars. In addition, it is important to take into account a number of factors, of which the most important is domestic arms self-sufficiency. When we buy the Korsar, which was introduced in August 2017, we invest in the development of domestic precision weapons. In fact, talented designer Oleh Korosteliov has created this school of design before our eyes; he is the general designer and general director of the Luch State Design Bureau in Kyiv. The support for this school is directly related to the creation of a cruise missile, a new powerful multiple rocket launcher and even a domestic mid-range surface-to-air missile system. It should be added that the Korsar ATM can be used as part of combat modules, that is to say, it can be installed on all types of armored vehicles operated by the UAF. So, the importance of the present moment is in combining American assistance, technology, support with Ukrainian consistency in the development of weapons. Therefore, in fact, the Javelin and the Korsar systems ideologically and technologically complement each other in the UAF.

“I would like to raise another point to create a full panorama of short-range precision weapons being developed in Ukraine. Besides the Korsar, Ukraine has other guided ATMs – the Skif and the Stuhna-P (they have essentially the same characteristics, but the Skif uses the PN-S control system which is produced by the Belarusian Peleng JSC). So, this ATM is capable of ‘killing’ enemy targets from a distance of five kilometers, and remote control is available as well. By the way, Skifs are used by a number of states (thanks to Ukraine’s strong exports), and in 2017, the Luch Design Bureau continued to supply Stuhna-P missile systems, delivering about 300 RK-2 missiles ahead of schedule ‘with the number of launchers specified by the customer,’ as noted in the media. Both the Korsar and the Skif can be used to defeat low-heat targets as well, that is, pillboxes and other engineering structures, while the Javelin cannot do it.”

“RUSSIA HAS NO ATMs OF THE JAVELIN’S TECHNOLOGICAL LEVEL, THEIR VERSIONS OF THE KORNET SYSTEM ARE EQUAL TO OUR SKIF”

Speaking of the American Javelin or the Ukrainian Korsar, can Russia counteract them in any way? What weapons do they have now with regard to light man-portable missile systems?

“Russia has no ATMs of the Javelin’s technological level, their versions of the Kornet system are equal to our Skif. The Kornet missile is also a laser beam rider and is more versatile, but it still belongs to the generation 2+, while the Javelin is a third-generation system. But I want to emphasize once again: in the current war, everything depends on the training of firing teams, the mobility, the ability of the state to provide troops with comprehensive logistics, rather than an individual element.”

After it became known that the US would deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine, after all, the Kremlin offered predictably sharp criticism, threatening bloodshed in the Donbas. In your opinion, what can Russia do, after all, as we remember the Kremlin’s earlier statements on this issue?

“All sides have long been accustomed to the Kremlin treating Ukraine as a battlefield in its rivalry with the West and a testing laboratory for its military machine. We know the limits of Putin’s actions. He has long crossed multiple ‘red lines’ and been working to destroy the independent state of Ukraine. Therefore, the only way left open for us is to be unafraid and get stronger, to be prepared as much as possible to repel the enemy. For any other approach amounts to surrender.”