Online, a picture of a Mary Magdalene done in the style of the Eastern Orthodox church is circulating. Her halo is bright red and flanked by the golden trident coat-of-arms of Ukraine. Her robes are green and she carries a FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile launcher in her arms. This is St. Javelin, a symbol of the conflict in Ukraine.
There’s been iconography like this before. The Virgin Mary has held everything from gold-plated AK-47s to daggers. There’s even a website selling St. Javelin T-Shirts, hoodies, flags and patches and donating the profits to a charity supporting Ukraine. ”100% of the proceeds from the sale of the products will be donated to Help Us Help, a federally registered Canadian charitable organization focused on humanitarian aid and educational projects in Ukraine,” its website said.
On February 25, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar announced that Ukraine had destroyed upwards of 80 Russian tanks, 10 aircraft, 7 helicopters, and 516 armored combat vehicles. Those are astounding numbers that speak to Ukraine’s tenacity in this war. Ukraine would probably not be able to take out this many armored Russian units without the Javelin.
The Javelin is an incredibly effective weapon of war. It was designed by U.S. defense firms in the late 1980s at a time when the United States and its allies worried they’d be fighting a land war in Europe against an enemy fielding a massive amount of tanks. The Cold War ended but the Javelin project continued and went into service in 1996. Since then it’s become a pre-imminent destroyer of enemy armor.
The weapon weighs about 50 pounds and much of that is the missile. Users sight their target with a detachable Command Launch Unit (CLU) that can paint a target and launch the self-propelled missile. Once launched, the missile shoots high up into the air at an angle with the goal of getting above the target and crashing down into it from above. The missile is a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round that devastates most armor.
Armored vehicles and tanks are typically weakest at the top. Much of the armor and anti-missile protections exist on the sides and the Javelin cuts right through all of it by flying above and crashing down with explosive force. The reusable CLU also doubles as a thermal imaging and night vision system when separated from the missile, a nice piece of equipment in its own right.
Soldiers firing the missile often sit on the ground cross legged, sometimes with a spotter and sometimes without. Once fired, the soldier can flee. The Javelin is a “shoot and scoot” weapon, meaning you don’t have to stick around to guide it to its target once fired. This allows soldiers to get out of the way of possible return fire from their target.
Ukraine hasn’t had the Javelin for long. It first purchased the missiles in 2018 from the United States as part of a $47 million dollar purchase that included 210 missiles and 37 CLUs. At the time it was a controversial sale that signaled a change in policy. The U.S. had committed to only selling Ukraine defense weapons at the time, and many viewed the Javelin as being capable of much more than defense.
The U.S. sent an additional 180 missiles and 30 launchers in October of 2021 and an additional 300 missiles in January. Each missile costs $80,000. That’s a lot of money to take down a tank, but to people defending their home from an invasion, well worth the cost.
As the war in the Donbas heated up ahead of the invasion at the end of 2021, Ukranians got practice with the Javelins against Russian-backed separatists. It also released several videos to social media of training exercises where Ukrainian soldiers wielded the weapon against mock Russian tanks.
UPDATE: 2/27/22: Initially, this story used language that made the St. Javelin charity sound illegitimate. We have sense verified the charity and changed the language to reflect that. We regret the error.