The UK-supplied pocket rocket leaving Russian tanks shocked and awed

Destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha.
A Ukrainian serviceman walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv. Credit: AP

ITV Senior International Correspondent John Irvine explains how UK-supplied pocket rockets are leaving Russian tanks shocked and awed.

One of the many reasons I thought Russia would never invade Ukraine concerned weapons.

Why, I wondered out loud to several military experts, would Putin continually delay things while the Western powers were supplying the Ukrainian Army with weapons the Russian Army were not familiar with?

Day after day, huge C-17 transport planes – for the most part, American and British - were landing at Kyiv airport crammed full of anti-tank missiles.

Javelin and NLAW are cutting edge, but the military experts assured me they wouldn’t change the complexion of the battlefield very much, so dominant were the Russians in terms of numbers and equipment.

The Kremlin’s primary invasion weapon has been the T-72 tank, and so far, it has not had a good war. Carcasses of T-72s litter many main highways north of Kyiv.

The rusting hulks indicate two factors that have proved decisive – their vulnerability when targeted by the imported missiles and said vulnerability has been exacerbated by their inability to go off-road because it is too muddy.

The UK-supplied NLAW is a one-use pocket rocket that’s as portable and handy to use as its name is cumbersome and clunky (Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon.)

And in the hands of brave Ukrainian soldiers willing to get within a couple of hundred yards of advancing Russian armoured columns, they have proved deadly. 

A Ukrainian serviceman walks next to the wreck of a Russian tank in Stoyanka, Ukraine. Credit: AP

Like Javelin missile systems, the NLAW missile prefers to explode over the top of thetank turret, where the armour is thinnest.

That line of attack has exposed another chink in the T-72’s defences. You’ve probably seen the pictures of tank turrets blown off the main body. It’s not the power of the NLAW blast that’s causing this violent disintegration.

Unlike Western tanks, the T-72 has no separate ammunition compartment to protect a crew during an attack. Instead, the shells are scattered around the Russian crew, in a carousel under the turret.

The subsequent detonation of these shells blows off the turrets, killing the three-person crews inside.

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Putin’s pliant media may be able to hide the truth of his absurd war from the Russian people, but Russian tankers know what’s going on.

The vulnerability of the T-72s appears to be noteworthy enough for the Russians to have lost most tanks, not to Ukrainian attacks but to crew abandonment on or near the battlefield.

The tanks were meant to project Russian Shock and Awe.  Instead, the reality has been Shock at NLAW.