Trump Sends Tank-Killing Missile To Fight Russia in Ukraine, But What Can It Do?

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The Trump administration approved the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Getty Images

The Trump administration approved the sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine on Friday as it continues to fight pro-Russian forces in the eastern part of the country, a move that has angered the Kremlin and signifies the U.S. government's escalating involvement in the conflict. 

The decision to sell the Javelin missiles also comes not long after the Trump administration approved a limited weapons sale between American manufacturers and Ukraine of Model M107A1 sniper systems, ammunition and associated equipment. 

​“The United States has decided to provide Ukraine enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told The Wall Street Journal on Friday. 

Related: Trump 'oblivious' to 'dangers' Russia poses in Ukraine, former U.S. ambassador says

The price of the sale was not revealed. 

The Ukraine conflict has taken somewhat of a backseat to other global issues in 2017, but it still rages on in a stalemate. Since it began in 2014, the combat in Ukraine has claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced more than 1.6 million people, according to the United Nations. There are roughly 40 armed clashes per day as a supposed ceasefire is habitually violated in a conflict that has stretched more than three years. Russia has faced tough economic sanctions over its activities in Ukraine, such as the annexation of Crimea, but this has had little impact on its military actions. 

Related: War in 2018: What will happen with North Korea, Syria and Ukraine?

John Herbst, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, recently told Newsweek that providing Javelin anti-tank missiles to Kiev could significantly improve the situation for Ukraine, which had previously sought the weapons. "The Russians have used tanks effectively to take Ukrainian territory and kill Ukrainians," Herbst said. "Javelin anti-tank missiles would make it much more dangerous and difficult to do that."

The missiles are lightweight, powerful, expensive, and highly regulated due to their reliability in hitting targets, according The National Interest. The U.S.-made missile, which first entered service in 1996, has proven itself reliable across multiple battlefields, including Iraq and Afghanistan. It's fired from the shoulder and tracks targets via infrared (heat signature). Instead of targeting the front or sides of tanks, which are thick with armor, the missile flies in an arc and hits the top of tank where the armor is weak (see video below for a demonstration). 

The State Department approved the sale of Javelin missiles in November to Georgia, which waged a war with Russia in 2008 and continues to fight with its northern neighbor over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The sale, worth $75 million, included 410 Javelin Missiles and 72 Javelin launch units. 

In the wake of the announcement of the new arms sale to Ukraine, Russia suggested it would exacerbate the conflict and serve as an impediment to any peacekeeping efforts, The New York Times reported. But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko defended the move in a Facebook post, thanking President Donald Trump for his support. 

"I am grateful for the leadership of President Donald Trump, clear position of all our American friends, and for strong bipartisan support of Ukraine," Poroshenko wrote in the post on Friday. "Along with strengthening the sanctions against Russia, this step is an adequate response to the continuation of the occupation of the Ukrainian territory, the failure of Moscow to fulfill its commitments, and the continued pouring of heavy weaponry in Donbas."

"American weapons in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers are not for [going on the] offensive, but for stronger rebuff of the aggressor, protection of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians," the Ukrainian leader added. 

Poroshenko further described the arms sale as "a transatlantic vaccination against the Russian virus of aggression."