Army Infantry Improves Its Ability to Attack and Destroy Enemy Tanks

Kris Osborn

U.S. Army photo

Video Above: How Infantry Will Improve Tank Killing

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven Editor-in-Chief

(Washington, D.C.) A small group of maneuvering infantry soldiers will soon be able to target and destroy enemy tanks at night from distances up to 4.5 kilometers -- by firing portable, man-carried Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles engineered with a new generation of targeting optics.

The U.S. Army and Raytheon plan to enter production of a new Lightweight Command Launch Unit for the Javelin designed to bring a new level of “precision lethality to an infantry squad.” The new Lightweight CLU unit enables much greater standoff distance for infantry attacking tanks by doubling the attack range from 2.5km to 4.5km, developers said.

“You have to be able to speed up the kill chain, and detect the adversary before he can detect you. You want to get a launch shot off before he knows you are there. It all starts with sensing,” Tommy Boccardi, Javelin Domestic Business Development, Raytheon, told Warrior.

Army officials with the Javelin Product Office, Program Executive Office Missiles & Space say the new Lightweight CLU reduces weight by 30-percent and will enter production in 2022.

"Javelin's strategy is to incrementally develop, test, and integrate new technology into the system. Javelin recently completed a development program that included a new warhead, which improves lethality against soft targets," the Javelin Product Office told Warrior in a statement.

The Army has had Javelin anti-tank missiles for many years, yet without this targeting range, sensor fidelity and computer enabled “fast lock” for improving attacks on the move.

Of course Army units have a range of methods with which to attack tanks, such as firing tank rounds or using precision airpower. There may be many combat circumstances, however, wherein dismounted infantry are not traveling with larger mechanized armored units or have access to close air support. While the Army is now accelerating technologies aimed at providing Infantry Brigade Combat Teams with more mobile firepower -- with platforms such as its now-in-development Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle -- dismounted infantry regularly operate in high-risk, forward locations detached from larger mechanized units.

“The CLU sensor has a constant zoom so you don’t have to flip from a wide field of view to a narrow field of view. That is all done inside the sensors for you - precision targeting the entire time,” he said.

Using advanced symbology for at-range targeting, the CLU enables “slew-to-cue” attack using infrared sensing and advanced optics.

“Our doctrine is we visually ID before we shoot. In this case you have an electronic sensor providing targeting data to the gunner,” Boccardi said.

photo by Kris Osborn - Javelin Anti-Tank Missile and Lightweight Container Launch Unit

The new Lightweight CLU, therefore, introduces a new sphere of combat tactics by enabling infantry to operate in dangerous environments and attack enemy armored vehicles from safer, more protected ranges. Soldiers could use the terrain or urban environments to conceal their firing location before shooting at enemy tanks and repositioning to a new area. For example, a longer-range strike option for the Javelin allows dismounted infantry to attack armored columns from hidden positions, without exposing tanks or air assets to closer-in enemy fire. Scout or recon units could be fortified with a new measure of standoff mobile firepower as well.

The emerging Lightweight CLU weapon will first go to U.S. Special Operations Forces and Army Infantry Brigade Combat Teams before possibly reaching a wider distribution. Both Army Infantry and SOF often operate on foot in small units such as A-teams, recon units or soldiers tasked with clearing buildings in urban areas. Low Rate Initial Production of the Lightweight CLU is slated for 2021. There is also a command and control “networking” dimension to the CLU, as it can operate with a Sentinel radar in some instances and use its sensing systems to share targeting information.

Interestingly, using dismounted infantry to attack enemy tanks can be traced as far back as WWII, according to a 1985 essay from Fort Leavenworth’s U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Combat Studies Institute. The challenges of facing the fast-advancing offensive tactics used by Nazi Panzer tanks made defensive postures extremely difficult and complicated. During these years, the essay maintains, Allied forces discovered the merits of using dismounted infantry for “offensive” counterattack against the approaching tanks. In essence - meet “offense with offense.”

“The counterattack long has been termed the soul of the defense. Defensive action against a tank attack calls for a counterattack in the same general manner as against the older forms of attack . , . . There is no reason why anti-tank guns, supported by infantry, cannot attack tanks just as infantry, supported by artillery, has attacked infantry in the past,“ the essay, “Seek, Strike and Destroy: U.S. Army Tank Destroyer Doctrine in World War II, states. (Dr. Christopher Gabel).

Of course while tank-on-tank warfare and air-dropped precision fire are indispensable methods of countertank warfare, using infantry presents a few distinct advantages. Not only do infantry attacks upon heavy enemy armor keep mechanized forces at safer distances, but they also free up heavier forces for other tasks such as battlefield maneuver in ways that might be tactically beneficial. Also, it makes sense that these tactics were refined during WWII, given the linear, fast-attack, “blitzkrieg” tactics employed by the Germans; directly countering fast armored attack with armored vehicles introduces a host of difficulties, given the pace and density of assault utilized by Hitler with Blitzkrieg.

Finally, not surprisingly, the essay was written during the height of the Cold War - a time when major force-on-force warfare was the primary concern of war planners. Such is the case again today, as the Pentagon pivots toward its own major-rival war focus. Given this, the Army emphasis upon anti-tank targeting and attack is timely, as it further prepares the service to combat a large mechanized force. Of course while Javelin has uses for counterinsurgency in some respects, it is primarily an anti-tank weapon. The Javelin CLU, it seems clear, is being developed with Chinese and Russian tanks in mind. The Russian’s much-hyped T 14 Armata has not gone unnoticed by the Army, and many are of course familiar with China’s T 99. Much like emerging U.S. thermal sights, armor and advanced ammunition, these rival tanks are quite likely equipped with previously unprecedented armor protection, strike range and ammunition -- all factors which underscore the relevance of the Javelin CLU.

These major war combat preparations inspire much of the focus for Army Futures Command, an entity focused upon an anticipated future warfare environment. Gen. John Murray, Commanding General of Army Futures Command, said the U.S. needs to be ahead of major power rivals to deter warfare and...if needed..prevail in war.

“The Army calls out Russia as a near term threat and China, probably, a way down the road but not far in the future. This is consistent with what we are seeing in both countries in terms of their modernization and structural changes. Especially with China... the way they are revamping their training regime and really focused on taking away our advantages. It is not hard to understand where China wants to is all open source, in terms of where they want to be in 2030. Their modernization efforts are impressive with the investments they are making in things like machine learning, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. This drives where we want to be in the future… “ Murray said.


Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

--- Kris Osborn of WARRIOR MAVEN (CLICK HERE) can be reached at

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

WWII Germany, led in the East by men such as Balck and Von Mellenthin, DID NOT push the concept of mechanized units employing dismounts to support tanks because they found them to be unable to absorb the quantities of threat direct fire the tanks generated, being too slow to deploy ATGs in assault or ambush, too slow to keep up in harsh terrain of positional movements and needing direct escorts to return to friendly lines in the frequent raiding German tanks did in places like the Chir.

Flyout Distance doesn't always matter as much as LOS-R.

Modern tanks can easily incorporate multispectral, uncooled, UV/IR capable MAWS/MLDS systems as part of a cheap APS cuer capability (smoke or DIRCM, hard kill still needs radar but the radar doesn't have to be active with EO launch detection).

If you can see the enemy, they can see the brilliant pulse of launch plume energy coming from whatever prominence gives you sensor handoff from the CLU. And where a 1,000fps ATGW is not going to compete with a 1,000m/sec HEF round with possible prox fusing; the reality remains that it's always the second tank in the formation that kills the first gunner and thus the real issue in play must be how readily you can displace the CLU from the missile launch signature, completely. Vs. how many missiles you can rapid sequence-task to multiple AFV.

Nominally, this could allow you to do what the Israelis achieve with Spike: firing reverse slope with the gunner team a hundred meters down range on a wired link.

But particularly against moving formations at speed, it might also include an optronics suite with sufficient sophistication to be able to hand off range/crossing rate trackfiles as salvo-launch 'torpedo spreads' which the missiles then lobbed into, looking for independent hits.

i.e. The missile gets smarter, able to do LOAL, not just the sight. This is AIM-9L vs. AMRAAM level differentiation in terms of a strapdown independent mission capabilities set: multi on multi.

Equally importantly, such an approach it would allow for rapid vehicle integration on all manner of light and heavy vehicles, including FAVs and Technicals, enabling the system to be readily deployed with USSOCOM assets.

And in turn means you don't have to dismount at all as the EO aperture is both a standalone surveillance tool and a rapid shoot and scoot alternative to lugging the missile and CLU into the bushes as a means of it's intended (period Cold War) replacement of dragon in gapfilling for NATO tank forces facing overwhelming threat armor numerical superiorities. NATO infantry was not supposed to Team Yankee accompany the armor but rather allow the Abrams to mass and maneuver independently.

This is closer to the WWII Wehrmacht appreciation of Infantry as place holders at the base of a killsack with ATG in fixed outpost or linear defenses while the armor lawnmowered the threat, rolling it up from behind. You read the terrain, 'as the water flows', allow the break through, and then kill enemy when he comes.

Such is something to consider when you realize that the very artillery you mention as being something infantry work with as much as against, in attacking other infantry positions, has been shown capable, in Ukraine, of overmatching APC and even tanks which are foolish enough to come within range of a drone to debus troops or form protective overwatches of manned positions. To the point where the Ukrainians no longer believe that IFV or manned frontal garrisoning is survivable against modern cluster or EB equipped saturation attack by smart indirect fire.

Taking us right back to winter 1942-43 and the need to 'night march' without being seen to stage dawn attacks which save Balck's men's lives in defeating 2-3 Soviet armored corps and something like 1,200 tanks in 30 days. As first and foremost a defeat of the enemy expectation of combat lane attack as much as literal presence within the direct-fire battlespace.

Shoot and scoot, from non predictable positions, uncovered by drone surveillance orbits (i.e. interpositional and surprise raids, behind enemy AAs) may be the thing of the future whereas overreliance on single-point superiorities to as the ability to shoot up enemy vehicles from longer distances than he can see you simply fails the most basic of 'are you aware?' combined arms leveraging of the battlefield around supported assets.

In turn, going deep suggestst unmanned engagement, before the prestaged (bypassed) infantry can even see the enemy on predictable axes of attack.

Clever as the Javelin is, as a concept, it seems likely that MMP, Spike and even some of the larger FOG-MPM, Jumper etc. weapon classes are the wave of the future. Simply because they allow for much longer ranges with NLOS support of LOAL acquisition/tracking handoff and second shot stepping.

If you are going to use self-homing capabilities, the question you must ask is how this could be used to 'TWS' stack engagements for very rapid, multi target, attacks from UGCV, off a low profile, exceptionally fast, engagement system with possible IR defeat to get in close before firing weapons which are heavier than man portable systems as a function of supporting KEP/EFP warheads and/or high speed closure to break through APS system design.

T-14 level system engineering is unaffordable by any contemporary army. But Afghanit, as a plug'n'play RWS mount, vastly more useful in AT operations than an HMG, might not be. Roll that APS back by coming in overtop the engagement envelope (50-150ft) and/or salvo launching multiple, 2,500fps or better weapons to punch flank armor, and the nature of anti-armor mission might change towards a whole other level of operational doctrine choices related to disaggregated force ambush tactics at both close and long ranges.

Wherever the LOS break supports the near (UA)/far (Ukrainian Steppe, 8nm distant) horizon choice.

Karl -Moderator
Karl -Moderator

Thank you for your expertise as you bring a useful and important perspective to the discussion. Can you envision any scenario in which infantry could help defend against enemy tanks? Or do you think that gets overstated, and that armored ground assets and air attack are better counter-tank options? Warrior would love to hear your thoughts - Karl Warrior Maven moderator.