What is an anti-tank weapon and how do they work?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
New members of the Territorial Defence Forces train to operate NLAW anti-tank launcher. (Reuters)
New members of the Territorial Defence Forces train to operate NLAW anti-tank launcher. (Reuters)

The war in Ukraine has been a been marked by a strong resistance which it is believes the Russians did not anticipate and has left Vladimir Putin frustrated and angry.

The war effort has seen civilians take up arms against Russian troops, while the country has also been supplied with a significant amount of weapons from the West.

One of the most important aspects of this has been the thousands of anti-tank weapons that have poured into the country, but what are they and have they made a difference?

Which anti-tank weapons are being used?

Numerous allies - including the UK, Germany, France, US and Denmark - have supplied Ukraine with anti-tank weapons since the start of the conflict.

Each missile costs around £130,000, but that is nowhere near as expensive as the tanks they are fired at.

Numerous different types of anti-tank weapons have been handed to Kyiv, including Javelins and Next Generation Light Antitank Weapons (NLAWs).

Read more: Russia falsely claims pregnant beauty blogger caught up in hospital bombing is faking injuries with make-up

A Ukrainian service member fires a next generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW) supplied by Britain during drills at Ukraine's International Peacekeeping Security Centre near Yavoriv in the Lviv region, Ukraine, January 28, 2022. Ukrainian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A Ukrainian service member fires a NLAW supplied by Britain during drills in January. (Reuters)

Generally, the Americans have been supplying Javelins, while the Europeans have been providing NLAWs.

They are significantly more advanced than the basic RPGs the Ukrainians were equipped with in 2014.

How do anti-tank weapons work?

The basic premise of a modern anti-tank weapon is a small guided missile held by a single-use launcher.

The launcher has an advanced targeting computer attached to it and targets specific weak spots on tanks.

The computer does 95% of the work for the soldier, meaning all they have to do is pull the trigger and then get into cover.

Watch: Ukraine war: Drone footage shows Russian tank column retreat after artillery ambush

The weak spot is usually the turret or the area between the turret and the main body of the tank.

The armour-piercing missile usually completely disables a tank with a single shot.

Javelin missiles fire straight up into the air before arcing back down to hit the top of the tank and have a much longer range than NLAWs (4.5km compare to 1km).

They weigh around 12kg, which is carriable for a single soldier, but once the missile has been fired, the huge launcher is then useless.

Read more: What is a thermobaric 'vacuum' bomb and why is it so devastating?

An instructor shows a new member of the Territorial Defence Forces how to operate an NLAW anti-tank launcher during military exercises amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine March 9, 2022.  REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
The weapons reportedly do not take a long time to learn how to use. (Reuters)

NLAW's are also designed to be able to be taught how to use weapon to learn to use, reportedly taking around an hour.

With the fact they can be operated by one or two soldiers they have significantly advanced ground combat, making tanks' previous dominance much reduced.

Have they made a difference in Ukraine?

Although hard facts are difficult to confirm in such a fluid situation, it appears the supply of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine has caused significant damage to the Russian advance.

Numerous videos of the targeted missiles being shot at Russian armour have appeared on social media.

Even more pictures of destroyed tanks have circulated around the internet.

Russia has the largest number of tanks in the world, although many of these are fairly old Soviet models.

Ukraine claims to have destroyed 465 heavy vehicles (tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers) since the start of fighting.

TOPSHOT - Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on the side of a road in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. - Russia on February 26 ordered its troops to advance in Ukraine
A Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on the side of a road in Lugansk. (Getty)

Has Russia tried to counter this?

Although the Russians are losing lots of armour, videos in recent days appear to show them employing weapons to counter anti-tank missiles.

Several Russian tanks have been pictured with wire and steel "cope cages" attached to their turrets.

The purpose of these is to force the missile to explode just before impacting the actual turret itself, hopefully mitigating the damage.

The effectiveness of these cages is not yet known.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting