The Cost vs the Cost

Western-supplied Ukraine Stinger MANPADS, M141 BDM (SMAW-D), the NLAW, and the Javelin ATGM, are seen with transit cases.

As seen in this Wednesday’s DOD contract announcements:

Raytheon/Lockheed Martin Javelin JV, Tucson, Arizona, was awarded a $311,171,700 modification (P00074) to contract W31P4Q-19-C-0076 for full-rate production of Javelins. Work will be performed in Tucson, Arizona, with an estimated completion date of Nov. 30, 2026. Fiscal 2022 Foreign Military Sales (Jordan and Lithuania) funds and Army procurement appropriations funds in the amount of $311,171,700 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity.

Now, $311 million sounds like a lot, right? Well, according to the Pentagon, that only buys around 1,800 Javelins, putting the cost per missile in the $172K range.

The release on Thursday from the Pentagon on what they are billing as the “Javelin Replacement Contract” stressed this would be for replenishing U.S. stocks (some 8,100 have already been withdrawn to fight to Russians, a four-year stockpile at current annual production rates, and about one-sixth of the total ever made), as well as new missiles for Kyiv/Kiev and “international partner missiles”:

The Army awarded a production contract for $311 million on Sep. 13 to the Javelin Joint Venture (JJV) between Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Lockheed Martin for delivery of more than 1,800 Javelins that will serve as replenishment for those rounds from DoD stocks sent to Ukraine in support of their military and security forces.

“This award is a great example of our continued commitment to strengthening our domestic industrial base while supporting our allies and partners,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William A. LaPlante said. “As we use various authorities to replenish our own stocks, industry can expect a strong, persistent demand signal.”

This procurement is part of the Ukraine Supplemental appropriation. The contract includes Army Ukraine replenishment, Army FY22 procurement, and international partner missiles.

“This award demonstrates the Army’s ability to use the new authorities given to us by Congress to acquire critical capabilities for our Soldiers, allies, and partners rapidly and responsibly,” said Douglas R. Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology.

To date, the Javelin Joint Venture has produced more than 50,000 Javelin missiles and more than 12,000 reusable Command Launch Units. Javelin is expected to remain in the U.S. weapon arsenal until 2050 and is subject to continual upgrades to support evolving operational needs.

Current open source data leads to the realization that the Russians have lost some 1,122 tanks in Ukraine since February, with about 670 of those being destroyed. Most of these are T-72 variants. As the Ukrainians have few tanks of their own, these likely kills came from advanced anti-tank weapons such as Javelin mixed in with drone attacks, heavy mines, and lucky hits from 105/122/155mm artillery.

Of course, the cost of a Russian T-72, which first entered service in 1973, is a moving price that has varied widely over the years.

Back in 2016, you could buy a 1980s-vintage export model surplus from the Czech Army for just $50K USD

The T-72 has been around for a minute, as detailed by this mid-1980s DOD Graphic (DAST8512646 via the National Archives) however, it isn’t a cheap tank as fielded these days due to 21st-century upgrades.

On the other end of the spectrum, as recently as 2016, Moscow was paying about $1.1 million a pop just to upgrade older models in reserve to the new T-72B3 (Ob’yekt 184-M3) standard including a better powerpack and reactive armor while the Indians embarked on a similarly-priced program to bring their 30-year old T-72s into the 21st Century with new engines and night vision equipment.

When speaking of the near-newest T-90M (Ob’yekt 188) main battle tank, manufactured by Russia’s Uralvagonzavod plant with the new Shtora-1 countermeasures suite, third generation Kontakt-5 ERA, Kalina FCS and 125mm gun, you are in the $4 million range per hull range, at least in 2021 figures. The Russians have reportedly lost at least 23 T-90s in their Ukrainian summer vacation.

The bottom line is, when it comes to dollar-per-ruble, which side is spending more in the tank vs Javelin race, and is the attrition sustainable?

One thing not taken into account, however, is the life of Russian tankers, a thing that Moscow, at least, seems unconcerned with at the moment.

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