The Javelin is a U.S. man-portable anti-armor guided missile system. It is utilized by the U.S. Army and Marines, as well as some U.S. allies. It was procured as a replacement and follow-on for the DRAGON wire-guided missile system, which U.S. forces previously used. It is not intended to replace the vehicle-mounted TOW missile system; rather, it is intended for dismounted infantry use.

A Javelin team consists of two soldiers, a missileer and a loader. The system itself consists of a reusable CLU Command and Launch Unit, onto which prepackaged missile rounds in sealed tubes are attached for use. The CLU contains the day/night sight, the triggering mechanism, and electronics for target acquisition, tracking and system tests. The sighting is either optical (day) or passive IR (night); the target acquisition system acquires an IR target from the sights and hands it off to the missile electronics, receiving confirmation that the missile has the target locked, before notifying the user that the missile is ready. The missile will acquire the target on its own IR sensors before acknowledging.

The missile is cold-launched, meaning it is fired out of the tube using a pyrotechnic rather than by firing the missile rocket motor. Thus, it can be launched from enclosed spaces without endangering the firer. The rocket motor ignites once the missile is several meters away from the firing position.

The major advantage of the Javelin over prior systems is that it is a fire and forget weapon. Once the missile has acknowledged lock and been launched from the CLU, the operator need take no further action. The missile's on-board electronics will fly the weapon to the desired target, assuming the missile does not lose lock. This is a distinct change from the DRAGON or even TOW systems, where the operator must remain focused on the target in order to 'steer' the weapon to its destination. It is therefore easier to defend against a TOW or DRAGON, for as soon as the missile ignites its engines it is visible to the target. If, at that point, the target (and other units nearby) begin firing at the missile's point of origin, they can disrupt the shot. They need not even hit the operator, merely cause him or her to move the system crosshairs off the target (in the case of the TOW) or lose control of the missile (in the case of the DRAGON), in order to 'generate a miss.'

The Javelin uses an IIR (imaging infrared) sensor in order to 'see' a picture of the target as a thermal signature. It follows that signature once launched. There are two modes it can be fired in; the default mode, for use against armored vehicles, is top attack. In this mode, the missile will 'pop up' right before impact and fire a shaped charge down into the vehicle's thinner top armor. If the missile is being used against fortifications, or thin-skinned vehicles like helicopters, it can be set to direct-attack, in which case it will strike the target head-on and fire its charge forward. The warhead on the Javelin is rated for 600mm of RHA penetration.

The CLU can also be used without a missile attached (it runs off of its own disposable batteries). In this mode, it is useful as a daytime magnifier and night vision system/magnifier for scouting.

Javelin weighs approximately 49 pounds as a system (CLU with live round attached). It is fired from the shoulder of a kneeling or standing soldier. It can be mounted on a bipod for stability during long wait times or for defensive positions.

The Javelin was first used in combat during the Second Gulf War. Some months later, there is a bit of a disagreement developing over its effectiveness; U.S. Marines who utilized the missile in combat (and, in at least one case, while being broadcast live by an embedded reporter and crew) claim that the missile often lost lock on its target, striking the ground short or travelling erratically before missing the target and striking other objects behind it. In one case, a U.S. Marine Lieutenant claims that his unit fired a missile at a stationary unmanned fuel truck as a test; in that case, the first missile missed (after reporting prior to launch that it had a lock) and fell short.

Lockheed Missiles & Space, the makers of the missile, claim that the weapon performed at or above expectations in its live-fire tests to date, and maintain that if there is a problem with the unit, more data on its battlefield use will need to be collected and analyzed. The Pentagon is denying that there is a widespread problem, and the Army is claiming they suffered no out-of-profile failures. However, the Marine complaints come from users in the field, while other service comments come from command HQ spokespeople; time will tell if there truly are problems with the weapon that need to be corrected.

None of this should surprise or even disturb the serious student of military systems and procurement. One of the axioms of procuring weapon systems is that the first combat use will always reveal flaws or at least unexpected behavior of the weapon; the acquisition plan acknowledges this, with multiple 'milestone' requirements for the weapon.

In this particular case, it may be a combination of user actions and the missiles themselves. One weakness of the system is that it requires a target with a consistent visible heat signature. If the target is behind cover, or has its engine turned off (as in the case of the sitting duck fuel truck) then it is possible for the missile to 'lock' onto a thermal picture that doesn't in fact reflect the target vehicle's outline. If the operator 'told' the missile to select a poor target, increased erratic flights might be a result. One fact that doesn't help, likely, is the missile's cost; at $68,500 per all-up round, there has been extremely limited live-fire training or testing of the missile; the military has relied a great deal on computer simulations for training. While simulations can be quite effective at training, they are limited by the knowledge of the simulation designers, and are therefore much less useful for discovering problems with the weapon. Furthermore, the quality of the training is highly dependent on the simulation design as well - incorrect assumptions embedded in the sim can result in the learning and integration of counterproductive methods of using the real system.

The Javelin has had troubles before; during testing, it was found to have a penetration depth of only around 500mm, rather than the 600mm required. Study revealed that changes had been made to a component in the missile after design, and that a different supplier had been used for a piece inside the warhead. These two changes made for a different thickness and density of the plastic 'shield' around the component, and this thicker shield was found to be disrupting the warhead's function. Changing back to the original design spec fixed the problem.


  • Federation of American Scientists' page on the Javelin at
  • Global's page at
  • Lockheed Martin's product information at
  • CNN and BBC television coverage
  • "Javelin Didn't Earn Its Stripes, Marines Claim" - San Diego Union-Tribune, July 22 2003.