Coming Soon to a War Near You

Why should you want to know more about the AT-4 anti-armor weapons systems we are sending to Ukraine? Well, for one thing, we are sending over 6,000 of them. So that’s a lot of destructive power headed their way. And it’s just the beginning.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks past destroyed Russian tanks not far from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on April 3, 2022.  Photo Credit: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Cleaning Out Our Closet

As a matter of fact, the West has been giving Ukraine so many of this type of weapon some feel the donor nations might end up shorthanded as a result.

James Black, a research leader at RAND Europe, said in a recent interview that the European anti-tank industrial base was “not insignificant,” but “even if production lines can be increased with effort and money, there is an issue with people and skills because it takes time to grow that.”

He remarked that “anti-tank technology has not seen a huge amount of investment since the end of the Cold War” because it seemed unnecessary and therefore did not attract engineers. So “today there’s not a robust pipeline of people in the sector.” And that’s an excellent point; the Cold War would likely have been an armor-intensive conflict if it had gone hot. Therefore, many anti-armor pieces were produced in anticipation and held in storage for a number of years.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is depleting these stores rather quickly. It’s something to consider because it’s not like we can just start an assembly line again and start banging these things out, especially more sophisticated weapons systems like the Javelin.

The AT-4, on the other hand, is a relatively simple but effective anti-tank/light armored vehicle weapon. It’s likely the first anti-tank weapon that a new US Army recruit will learn to use during their initial training. These simple weapons will prove to be particularly helpful to Ukrainian reserve territorial defense units. Volunteers with no prior experience can act as force multipliers when armed with these weapons. Currently, they may be carrying no more firepower than an AK-47.

Combat footage of an AT-4 being used on a fixed target. Video courtesy of YouTube and Funker 530.

One Shot, One Kill

The AT-4 is a disposable, single-shot unguided launcher that fires an 84 mm round. It is rugged, light, and portable and can be slung to a shoulder, so the soldier can still carry a rifle. However, these are “one shot, one kill” (or “one miss”) weapons, so the operator must take special care to hit his target because the firing unit will be discarded after use.

At the cost of approximately $1,480 each, these things are a relative steal when compared to a Javelin round, which costs around $78,000. Of course, the two weapons systems don’t do the same amount of damage, but you get the idea. They are both shoulder-fired and are used to blow sh*t up.

The recoil-less AT-4 can be used against lighter tanks (it’s not that effective against main battle tanks) and armored personnel carriers, plus enemy bunkers and defensive emplacements.

They are manufactured by Sweden’s Saab Bofors Dynamics. They say they have made over one million AT4s over the years, with the US military ordering 600,000.

We (we being the US Army) were one of the first customers of the AT-4 in the early 80s after the Swedes improved the sights and added front and rear bumpers. This weapon has been around forever and is now being used by at least 20 countries.

When used in conjunction with other anti-tank weapons provided to Ukraine, it should prove to be an important adjunct to knocking back the Russian threat.