WASHINGTON ― Ukraine tested its new Javelin anti-tank missiles Tuesday for the first time since the United States approved the sale of the weapon system to assist Ukraine’s defenses in its ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the first test of the missiles over Twitter.
“Finally this day has come! Today, for the first time in Ukraine, the launch of Javelin missile complexes took place,” Poroshenko wrote. “This is a very effective defensive weaponry, which is used in the event of Russian offensive on the positions of Ukrainian troops.”
Poroshenko also wrote that he was grateful to U.S. leadership, including President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, for deciding that Ukraine should be armed with the weapons.
The Trump administration began the process of clearing sales of lethal military aid to Ukraine in December, though it was commonly characterized as “defensive lethal aid.”
Javelin anti-tank missiles were eventually cleared for sale to Ukraine in March by the U.S. State Department for an estimated cost of $47 million, which includes 210 missiles and 37 launchers.
The sale of the Javelin missile — and weapons such as the PSRL-1 rocket-propelled grenade launcher — are meant to be used in the event of a resurgence in the Ukrainian conflict, not for offensive purposes.
Currently, the conflict is set at a simmer, with Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces bogged down in the eastern part of the country, known as the Donbas. Although the last attempt at a cease-fire in March has not held, with gunfire and mortars exchanged almost daily, not much strategic progress has been made for either side.
To date, fighting in Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people, including roughly 2,700 civilians, according to the United Nations.
The U.S.-made FGM-148 Javelin is a fire-and-forget anti-tank missile that uses infrared guidance to hit armored targets. The guidance system is contrasted to wire-guided anti-tank missiles, which require a shooter to actively guide the weapon until it hits its target. A Javelin shooter can immediately seek cover after firing its shot.
Javelin missiles are made in a partnership between Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.
The missile utilizes a high-explosive, anti-tank warhead that is capable of defeating modern armored vehicles by attacking from above. It could also prove useful against fortifications in a direct attack flight, according to the U.S. Army manual on the weapon.
Javelin missiles are reported by Raytheon to have a more than 94 percent reliability rate. The weapon can deploy from multiple platforms and can be used in all weather, day or night operations. The missile is scheduled to be in the U.S. inventory until 2050 and can be dispatched from vehicle-mounted positions.
Kiev and Washington have previously said the arrival of the Javelins will help Ukraine build a better long-term defense capability to keep the cost high for what the two governments consider Russian aggression.
Russian officials, meanwhile, view the sale of Javelin missiles as an unnecessary provocation.
Responding to the approval of lethal military assistance to Kiev in December, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said arming Ukraine would worsen relations between Moscow and Washington.
“Supplying U.S. and Canadian means of warfare to Ukraine is paramount to pushing Kiev, which has been sabotaging a peaceful settlement in the east of the country, towards reckless new military decisions,” Zakharova said in a statement.
Although not a NATO member, Ukraine intends to invite the alliance’s forces deeper into eastern Europe.
Under the mentorship of Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, the program name for the training mission being conducted by U.S. forces in support of the country, the Ukrainian military is working toward establishing a NATO combat training center near Yavoriv, Ukraine, by 2020.
Currently, an area near that location is used as the International Peacekeeping Security Center, where forces are trained to counter terrorism and the use of improvised explosive devices, as well as peacekeeping missions.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer