The latest news craze is about the possible delivery of US anti-tank weapons (the FMG-148 Javelin is often mentioned) to the Nazi junta in Kiev. These stories typically include a discussion of “defensive” vs “offensive” and “lethal” vs “non-lethal” weapons and always display a child-like belief in the existence of some magic technology which would perform miracles on the battlefield. None of that has anything to do with the real world and this is why the folks who write this kind of nonsense like to hide their ignorance by peppering their articles with nonsensical figures such as range, armor penetration, guidance system types or expressions like “fire and forget”. The truth is that all these self-appointed experts all quote each other and all parrot the official propaganda line which tries to suggest that the delivery of weapons to the Ukraine could be a game changer. The latter is actually true, but not in military terms. So let’s try to make sense of all this nonsense.
First, forget goofy concepts like “defensive” vs “offensive” and “lethal” vs “non-lethal” weapons. All weapons are lethal and they are all offensive, at least potentially. Even the putatively “defensive” ones actually can be used to “defend” offensive weapons/units/forces and are therefore play a very important role in the offense. Even a combat fatigue or a flask of water is offensive when used in the offense because it makes the offensive possible in the first place.
Second, modern warfare is simply too complex to make it possible for one weapons system to radically change the face of the battlefield. When Hezbollah used the Russian-made RPG-29, the AT-14 Kornet and the Metis-M and successfully destroyed the most advanced Israeli tank, the Merkava-4, that did not by itself determine the outcome of the war. Yes, the Israelis were shocked by the defeat of their best tank, but no more than by the Hezbollah missile strike on INS Spear, a Saar-5 Class destroyer or, for that matter, by the well-prepared fortification system Hezbollah had built over the years right across the Israeli-Lebanese border.
Frankly, this western obsession with military high-tech (along with an equally infantile belief that more expensive weapons are for some reason better than cheaper ones) is a reflection of a culture which has long stopped relying on courage, patriotism and even good tactics to win wars. All this Hollywood like nonsense came tumbling down in 2006 when second-rate Hezbollah forces (the best one were kept in reserve north of the Litani river) defeated the best of the best of the putatively “invincible” Israeli forces, including the famous “Golani Brigade”. And Hezbollah won precisely because Hezbollah fighters displayed the moral and intellectual qualities which are so clearly lacking nowadays in western military forces. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah very clearly explained that during his “Divine Victory” speech when he said:
How could this group of mujahidin defeat this army without the support and assistance of almighty God? This resistance experience, which should be conveyed to the world, depends – on the moral and spiritual level – on faith, certainty, reliance [on God], and readiness to make sacrifices. It also depends on reason, planning, organization, armament, and, as is said, on taking all possible protective procedures.
Needless to say, western military ‘experts’ chose to ignore his words and instead made a truly valiant effort to simply forget it all. Fair enough – what could they have to say about morals or spirituality anyway? As for the regime in Washington, it simply declared that the Israelis won, end of discussion.
This amazing ability to believe your own propaganda is also what is misleading US decision makers to pretend like the delivery of “defensive” anti-tank missiles to the Junta in Kiev will meaningfully alter the balance of power between, on one hand, the Ukrainian army and assorted death squads and, on the other, the Novorussians. It won’t. If only because the US has *already* delivered anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainians (via Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and others). We know that thanks to a recent report by SouthFront which obtained exclusive photos of the contract between the Ukrainian state-run company Spetstechnoexport and the American company AirTronic USA on the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine (see here). And this is just one example, there are probably many more.
True believers in the US propaganda will reply that the “advanced” Javelins are much more capable than anything seen in the Ukraine so far and that their delivery would really make a difference. Let’s look into this claim a little closer.
It is true that the Javelin is a rather complex and high-tech system. Unlike most other anti-tank weapons, the Javelin, once fired, does not need to be controlled as it guides itself against its target, which makes it possible for the firing crew to seek cover and not to have to worry about hitting the target (hence the “fire and forget” characterization). The Javelin can also hit the enemy tank from the top, where the tank’s armor is typically much thinner than in the front or sides sectors. Do these characteristics make the Javelin some kind of super-weapon? Not at all.
For one thing, one should take all the claims about the tactical-technical characteristics of the Javelin with a solid pound of salt. It is one thing to have this system operated by professional experts in perfect conditions and at zero risk, and quite another to try to use it against actual Russian tanks protected by infantry, snipers, artillery and their own missile systems. Add to this very complex terrain and often extreme weather conditions (mud, fog, rain, heat, snow, winds, vegetation, villages, cities, etc.) and the quasi-miraculous capabilities of any fancy weapon system suddenly begin to rapidly decline. Besides, the Javelin naturally has all the disadvantages inherent to most infrared targeting and guidance systems such as the dependence upon a slow and short-lived cooling system, the fact that the missile cannot be controlled in flight and that its guidance system is susceptible to deception by means of various heat sources.
One of the main problems with the delivery of Javelins by the US to the Ukraine would be that it would free (politically speaking) the hands of the Russians to deliver their own weapons systems to the Novorussians, including IR-jammers, active tank-protection systems or even their own anti-tank missiles. Nobody knows how the Javelin would actually perform against modern Russian systems, but even if it did a good job against them, the correct use of the Javelin would entirely depend on the training and motivation not only of the actual firing crews, but also on the training and motivation of the forces supporting them and supported by them. After all, an anti-tank position is rarely used “by itself”: typically these weapons are engaged as part of an offensive or defensive effort. The outcome out the encounter is thus simply the product of effectiveness of all the various subunits and systems engaged. Simply put, if your infantry sucks, your anti-tank crews won’t save the day.
But the real problem is not technical, of course, it is political.
Overtly sending these weapons to the Junta would mean that the US is basically giving up on the Minsk-2 Agreement and that they are also overtly disregarding the views of the West Europeans (the East Europeans don’t have “views”, they just compete for the title of most russophobic “ally” of the Neocons; they therefore don’t really matter very much).
The reality on the ground is that the Russian have what is sometimes referred to as “escalation dominance”: they, not the Americans, control how much the conflict can escalate and how fast. For example, Russia can provide more anti-tank weapons systems covertly and in just a few days than the US could in many months. Furthermore, the Russians could choose to respond to any Javelin deployments not only by sending their own anti-tank systems, but by responding “asymmetrically” or even covertly. The range of Russian options is large and includes non-military measures. Would it not be ironic if, after years of anti-Russian sanctions supposedly aimed at discouraging Moscow from backing the separatists, the delivery of anti-tank weapons to the Ukraine would finally convince the Kremlin to do that which it had refrained from doing before but which it can still very much could do: throw its full weight behind the Novorussians and actively begin destabilizing the Nazi-occupied Ukraine, but this time for real. If they realize that there is nothing to lose, that nobody in the West is serious about finding a negotiating solution, the Russians might even recognize the two Novorussian republics and send in their military forces, but this time in full view of the media, with waving flags interviews at the border. What would the US do in this case? Send in more weapons? Send in NATO forces? Nobody in Europe has any stomach for that, not even the Poles, and that would leave the US very much alone in a policy everybody would oppose.
The truth is that this entire notion of sending in Javelins is pure political propaganda and doing so, at best, makes no difference and, at worst, could result in a sharp escalation on the ground. Thus, either way, this entire idea makes no sense whatsoever. This is just a way for the Neocons to further humiliate Trump and his naïve plans of working with the Russians. It also is a way to toss the nationalist Ukrainian émigré lobby a short-lived pipe dream about defeating the separatists (in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine the Javelins are presented as super-weapons which totally terrify Putin, of course). There is no doubt in my mind that the US military and intelligence communities fully understand the futile and potentially dangerous nature of this idea, but they simply cannot say so openly.
The slowly fossilizing cold warriors in the US are having dreams about sending in Javelins to the Ukraine the way the CIA sent Stinger missiles into Afghanistan which, according to the official narrative in the USA, was a key contributor to the Soviet defeat. This narrative is comprehensively counter-factual on too many level to discuss in detail right now, but I will just mention a few of the key fallacies underlying this dream beginning with the assumption that the Ukie Junta is comparable to the Afghan Mujahideen (or, for that matter, that the Novorussian forces are comparable to the Soviet ones). Also forgotten is the fact that while the Soviets did initially suffer heavy losses from the introduction of the Singers, they did adapt and develop effective counter-measures and counter-tactics to them. Finally, in Afghanistan the Soviet had an overwhelming material and technological advantage against the Afghans, which can hardly be said about the Novorussians. This is all nonsense: the Stingers did not defeat the Soviets and the Javelins won’t defeat the Novorussians.
In the meantime, there are plenty of reasons to fear for the future of the two Novorussian republics. For one thing, the steady flow of weapons and experts from the West into the Nazi-occupied Ukraine could eventually result in a meaningful increase in Ukronazi capabilities. Furthermore, in specific but key areas, such as reconnaissance and targeting, the Junta forces have made a lot of progress. And then there are sheer numbers. Right now, the force correlation is roughly 3:1 in favor of the Ukronazis. That, by itself, is not good. So the real question is how well the Novorussians have prepared themselves and whether they have finally succeeded in correcting the many problems they have had for years. At least one recent report suggests that they have not. I honestly don’t know, but I hope that we will never find out.
The delivery of Javelins to the Junta could be a game changer, not in militarily terms, but in political terms. It would signal that the US is not interested in a negotiated solution and that the Europeans can’t rein in the US Neocons. This would be as substantial as it would be bad. Right now some Americans are suggesting that these weapons would be kept back in the western Ukraine as a reserve against a hypothetical Russian attack. This is laughable. If, truly, the Russians (from Russia) were to attack, 200 or so Javelins near Ivano-Frankovsk or Lvov won’t make any difference (and neither would they on the line of contact for that matter). Furthermore, this obsession with hardware is really unhelpful and childish, which is what one would expect from politicians, of course, but which serious adults should not engage in. Finally, I would argue that these Javelins are not really aimed at the Novorussians but that they are aimed at Donald Trump. As soon as this fact is taken into consideration, everything else falls in place.