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What we know about the “light anti-tank weapons” UK started supplying to Ukraine

A rocket of the NLAW complex, the type of anti-tank weapon the United Kingdom shipped to Ukraine. Photo: SAAB
What we know about the “light anti-tank weapons” UK started supplying to Ukraine
Article by: Yuri Zoria and Alya Shandra
Both the UK and Ukraine have stayed mum on the type of anti-tank weapons being delivered to Ukraine amid a growing military threat from Russia. However, a video of the weapons bring unloaded in Kyiv reveals they are NLAWs and that at least a thousand are already in Ukraine.

Russia has massed at least 100,000 troops near Ukraine with its latest deployment in Belarus near Ukraine’s northwestern borders. Meanwhile, Britain announced on 17 January of its decision to support Ukraine by supplying anti-tank weapons. The same evening, British C-17 transport aircraft brought military cargo to Ukraine.

Neither Britain nor Ukraine provided any details on the weapons supplied. However, a video of the weapons being unloaded in Kyiv on 19 January show they are NLAWs, or Swedish Main Battle Tank and Light Anti-tank Weapons.

The first reports in Ukraine on British RAF C-17 transport planes carrying anti-tank weapons to Ukraine appeared on the evening of January 17. In total, the aircraft flew five sorties to Boryspil Airport near Kyiv, taking a detour around Germany on their way from Britain.

Earlier that day in the British Parliament, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced that Britain was going to provide Ukraine with new defensive weapons,

“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armor defensive weapons systems,” Wallace told the House of Commons.

He also added that “a small number” of British troops were going to provide training to help Ukrainian forces in using these weapons.

“This support is for short-range and clearly defensive weapon capabilities; they are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia; they are to use in self-defense,” Wallace added.

On 18 January, Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Anatoliy Petrenko reiterated that the articles supplied by the UK will be used exclusively for defense purposes.

Both Ukraine and Britain didn’t spell out what types of weapons and how many of them were to be supplied.

However, according to open sources, on the morning of 19 January, six C-17A Globemaster III aircraft arrived from the Brize Norton base to Boryspil. It is estimated that the number of ATGMs has already exceeded 1,000 units, considering that 180 ATGMs (10 palettes, 18 NLAW units) fit aboard each flight, journalist Kateryna Kistol noted.

According to the estimates of Defence-ua, in 48 hours, the United Kingdom shipped more anti-tank weapons to Ukraine than all the NATO countries taken together since 2014.
Britain anti-tank weapons Ukraine
Snapshot from video of the British anti-tank weapons being unloaded in Kyiv on 19 January
Britain anti-tank weapons Ukraine
Snapshot from video of the British anti-tank weapons being unloaded in Kyiv on 19 January
Britain anti-tank weapons Ukraine
Snapshot from video of the British anti-tank weapons being unloaded in Kyiv on 19 January
Nlaw Britain Ukraine anti-tank weapons
Snapshot from video of the British anti-tank weapons being unloaded in Kyiv on 19 January

Speaking with Times Radio on 19 January, James Heappey, UK Minister for Armed Forces placed the number of light anti-tank missiles supplied to Ukraine at “several thousand.”

Britain’s anti-tank systems

According to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, the British Armed Forces use several portable anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM).

In addition to the well-known Javelins, which the United States already supplies to Ukraine, those are:

  • AT4
  • NLAW

The Javelin complex can’t be described as light. And modern modifications of this ATGM hit targets at a distance of more than 4 kilometers, which doesn’t fit the mentioned short range.

As for the MATADOR developed by Israel and Singapore, it is known that the British purchased MATADOR-MPs – a variety used against fortified positions and urban walls. Meanwhile, the Swedish anti-tank grenade launcher AT4, which is in service with Britain, was purchased in small quantities.

This makes the Swedish Main Battle Tank and Light Anti-tank Weapon (MBT LAW or NLAW) the most probable option, RFE/RL said. They were delivered on 19 January to Kyiv.


NLAW's in cargo bay of one of the British C-17 aircraft
A photo from the cargo bay of one of the British C-17 aircraft that landed in Ukraine on 17 January 2022 also shows cargo visually similar to NLAW. Photo:

NLAWs are in service in about 10 countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland. And, from now on, the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

NLAW, also known as MBT LAW, is a joint Swedish-British product developed by Swedish SAAB in cooperation with the British MoD in 2009.

It belongs to the new generation of ATGMs and has capabilities similar to the American FGM-148 Javelin in terms of penetrating tank armor, although the NLAW is less powerful and its combat range is much shorter (20-800 m).

Ukrainian military journalist Yuriy Butusov commented that the NLAW is one of the world’s best disposable anti-tank grenade launchers “that have no analogues in Russia” and “an ideal weapon for city combat.”

The main advantages of NLAWs include:

  • the principle of “fire-and-forget,” no lock-on signature required;
  • a small size (1 m long), weight (12.5 kg)
  • only 1 person needed for operation;
  • minimal time from target detection to engagement – approximately 5 seconds:
  • the possibility of hitting a tank or any armored unit from a distance of 20m (NLAW is the only system with this feature).

Watch an NLAW in operation on a training field in Lithuania:

Business Insider noted that the choice of route by the British planes carrying the military cargo to Ukraine was notable given that Germany had declined to export arms to Ukraine in December.

Additionally, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock reiterated the German commitment to resolving the Ukraine-Russia conflict exceptionally by diplomatic means without arming Ukraine.

Earlier, Germany also blocked NATO shipments of anti-drone rifles to Ukraine.

Further reading:

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