Lethal US weaponry in Ukraine – now what?

December 23, 2017

It appears that the US has finally decided to provide Ukraine with lethal defensive weaponry.

To be entirely blunt, what Ukraine needs most is EW equipment.  And then more EW equipment.  It also needs secure communications.  Air defence capabilities are lacking.  More counter-battery radar would be useful too.

Nevertheless, despite Ukraine producing two types of ATGW missile of its own, attention will be drawn to the supply of Javelin anti-tank missiles due more to the political rhetoric surrounding the system, rather than the Javelin system abilities.

Rumour has it something like 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 launch systems are heading toward Ukraine.

The Javelin, albeit better than the two Ukrainian ATGMs due to its successes with “attack from the top” has become more of a symbol due to political rhetoric than an absolute military necessity.  The Ukrainian ATGMs have successfully knocked out Russian tanks since 2014 after all.  The Javelin “kill ratio” is simply better, mostly due to the attack from the top ability.

That said, aside from the symbolism, it may be a moral lift for those on the Ukrainian side front line – even if the Javelin is unlikely to feature often on the front line.  A reader might suspect that the supply of such weapons comes with a caveat that this defensive weaponry is to be applied to a defensive posture.

As such it should perhaps be expected that the Javelin will more likely appear in Sumy, Kharkiv, Dnripro, Zaporozhny and Odessa, as well as some distance from the front line in Donetsk and Luhansk – rather than as a permanent feature at the front line itself.  (That naturally would require a rapid means of deployment when they are required.)

That said, once the weaponry is in Ukraine and the training has been given, a reader should expect one or two Javelin engagements on the front line should the opportunity to send a message to the opposing tanks crews present itself.

The Kremlin, when all is said and done, hasn’t really tried to redraw the current line of engagement with tanks since Debaltseve in 2015.  Thus among the political bluster, probable temporary kinetic uptick on the front line to show Kremlin dismay, and screeching of the commentariat, the supply of Javelin may theoretically force a Russian military re-think to any plans to engage in an armoured advance – of which there has been no sign since 2015.

The Kremlin is engaged in a political and societal war of exhaustion rather than a war to militarily take and control more Ukrainian territory after all.  What is there to be gained by an armoured assault to take land that won;t change The Kremlin negotiating position?

Thus aside from a kinetic uptick, albeit temporary, on the front line, any Kremlin response is likely to be asymmetric – both for Ukraine and the US.  And both will withstand it.

When all is said and done, a reader is perhaps rightly skeptical about the military advantage Javelins would give Ukraine compared to other military needs.  There are other needs that would provide greater advantage as stated at the start.  Perhaps too much historical rhetoric requires a sacrifice of other military priorities.

There is also an entire MIC that really could use serious external assistance and/or partnership.

Nevertheless while Javelin may grab the headlines, it is perhaps about the bigger picture.  Ukraine is under no weapons embargo, yet Lithuania is the only nation to (officially) be currently supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine.  The US move may now encourage other nations to find their spine – or at least allow their own MIC to benefit from Ukrainian misfortune.

Whatever the case, it will be everything other than Javelin on the US supply list that will be interesting.

(The cynics are already placing bets as to how long it will be before a Javelin system appears on the other side of the contact line, and the method of its arrival there.)

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