Prized anti-ar­mor mis­siles re­quested by Ze­len­sky in fate­ful call with Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY MIKE GLENN

It was the Ukrainian quid for an Amer­i­can quo that helped launch a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

A pow­er­ful U.S. anti-ar­mor mis­sile prized for its abil­ity to knock out the world’s tough­est tanks has emerged as the un­likely cen­ter of the im­peach­ment dis­pute sparked by a fate­ful July 25 phone call be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Ukrainian coun­ter­part Volodymyr Ze­len­sky.

Mr. Trump is ac­cused of link­ing an of­fer to sell the Javelin Close Com­bat Mis­sile Sys­tem, bet­ter known sim­ply as the Javelin, to a re­quest for a “fa­vor” from Mr. Ze­len­sky to in­ves­ti­gate Mr. Trump’s po­lit­i­cal ri­vals. The phone call is the cen­tral el­e­ment in the on­go­ing im­peach­ment dis­pute be­tween the White House and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“We are ready to con­tinue to co­op­er­ate for the next steps,” Mr. Ze­len­sky told Mr. Trump, ac­cord­ing to a later White House ac­count of the con­ver­sa­tion. “Specif­i­cally, we are al­most ready to buy more Javelins from the United States for de­fense pur­poses.”

Kyiv’s in­tense in­ter­est in more Javelins isn’t hard to un­der­stand. Mil­i­tary lead­ers say the Javelin is a game-changer in any fight against ar­mored forces. It can be op­er­ated by a sin­gle sol­dier, weighs about 50 pounds and is highly ef­fec­tive against a va­ri­ety of tar­gets at ex­tended ranges dur­ing day or night and in vir­tu­ally all weather con­di­tions.

Locked in a grind­ing civil war against Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratist mili­tias in its east­ern half, Ukrainian of­fi­cials have made no se­cret of their ap­petite for more Javelins, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion green­lighted for sale last year.

“The Javelin can re­ally de­feat any ar­mored ve­hi­cle that any mil­i­tary cur­rently fields,” said re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter of Na­tional De­fense at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

One of its sell­ing points is a tan­dem war­head. The front blasts a gap into the tank’s ex­plo­sive re­ac­tive ar­mor, and the sec­ondary war­head punches into the ve­hi­cle. The Javelin also is a “fire and for­get” weapon, un­like sys­tems that re­quire the op­er­a­tor to guide the mis­sile to the tar­get.

“Once you have your tar­get, the war­head is go­ing to find its way there. Mean­while, you can seek cover,” Gen. Spoehr said. “You’re no longer a tar­get.”

The Javelin is the re­place­ment for the bulky M-47 Dragon anti-tank guided mis­sile. It had a max­i­mum range of about 1,000 yards, com­pared with the 4,000yard tar­gets that a Javelin can hit. A large back blast when a Dragon was fired could re­veal the po­si­tion of the op­er­a­tor to en­emy forces. That is not the case with the Javelin.

The mis­sile “pops out and then the rocket mo­tor ig­nites,” Gen. Spoehr said. “There’s not a gi­ant sig­na­ture. As a gunner, you’re much less sus­cep­ti­ble to hav­ing some­body re­turn­ing fire im­me­di­ately.”

In March 2018, Mr. Trump ap­proved the $47 mil­lion sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank mis­siles and 37 launch­ers to Ukraine. It was the first lethal mil­i­tary as­sis­tance that the U.S. pro­vided to Ukraine in the sep­a­ratist war. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­peat­edly ex­pressed re­luc­tance to sell the Javelin and other lethal weaponry to Kyiv for fear of pro­vok­ing Rus­sia and ex­pand­ing the con­flict.

On Oct. 3, the State De­part­ment ap­proved the sale of ad­di­tional 150 Javelin mis­siles and re­lated equip­ment to Ukraine with a price tag of just un­der $40 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the De­fense Se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion Agency.

“This pro­posed sale will con­trib­ute to the for­eign pol­icy and na­tional se­cu­rity of the United States by im­prov­ing the se­cu­rity of Ukraine. The Javelin sys­tem will help Ukraine build its long-term de­fense ca­pac­ity to de­fend its sovereignt­y and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity in or­der to meet its na­tional de­fense re­quire­ments,” the De­fense Se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion Agency said in a state­ment.

Sym­bolic worth

The Javelin’s sym­bolic worth may be as valu­able as its bat­tle­field ca­pa­bil­i­ties for Ukraine, which is per­pet­u­ally pressed by a big­ger and stronger Rus­sia across the bor­der.

“You see a lit­tle bit of a bounce in the step of a Ukrainian sol­dier when he or she has had the op­por­tu­nity to em­brace this sys­tem that al­lows them to bet­ter de­fend their turf,” Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand, said this month at the Pen­tagon.

Former Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, who was de­feated by Mr. Ze­len­sky in an elec­tion this year, hailed the ar­rival of the first Javelins last year as a “dream come true.” The mis­sile, he said, “is a sym­bol of co­op­er­a­tion with our Amer­i­can part­ners.”

Of­fi­cials said Ukraine should have no trou­ble ab­sorb­ing the sys­tem into its armed forces and the sale should not al­ter the ba­sic mil­i­tary bal­ance of power in the re­gion.

About 20 coun­tries are thought to be us­ing the Javelin sys­tem. The weapon also has been re­ported to be in Libya.

Ian Brzezin­ski, a se­nior fel­low at the At­lantic Coun­cil’s Scowcroft Cen­ter on In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity, has ar­gued that the U.S. de­liv­ery of Javelins would “sub­stan­tively in­crease Ukraine’s abil­ity to im­pose costs on Rus­sian forces.”

In an as­sess­ment posted on the think tank’s web­site last year, Mr. Brzezin­ski car­ries sym­bolic weight not just for the Ukraini­ans but for the Rus­sians as well.

“The Javelins will also likely re­an­i­mate among Rus­sian com­man­ders un­com­fort­able mem­o­ries of the role that U.S. shoul­der-mounted Stinger air de­fense mis­siles played in forc­ing the Soviet Union’s re­treat from Afghanista­n in the late 1980s,” he wrote.

Javelins alone will not force Rus­sia out of Crimea and the Don­bas re­gion, but they “sub­stan­tially in­crease” Ukraine’s abil­ity to level the playing field, Mr. Brzezin­ski said.

The Javelin is a mul­ti­pur­pose weapon. In ad­di­tion to its use­ful­ness as a “tank killer,” the mis­sile can take out a bunker or even mov­ing tar­gets.

“If you want the mu­ni­tion to go through the roof, just tog­gle ‘top at­tack’ mode,” Gen. Spoehr said. “The mis­sile will choose to at­tack the tar­get from the roof.”

The Javelin does not re­quire a great deal of train­ing be­fore an op­er­a­tor is pro­fi­cient.

“A lit­tle bit of train­ing, and all of a sud­den you’ve got a guy who can de­feat any ve­hi­cle that any mil­i­tary can field,” Gen. Spoehr said. “I’m not aware of any tech­nol­ogy that can de­feat a Javelin right now.”

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