When Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forces into Ukraine a year ago, most observers expected a quick victory for the invaders.
Those early predictions of Russian success have not materialized, for what experts cite as a variety of factors, including higher morale and superior military tactics on the Ukrainian side but also – crucially – the supply of Western armaments.
While recent headlines have made much of the potential for Western battle tanks or Patriot air defense systems to influence the war’s outcome, these systems have yet to be used in combat in Ukraine.
But there are other weapons that have already helped to change the course of the war. Here are three key ones that the Ukrainians have used to devastating effect.
At the very beginning of the war, fighters on both sides were expecting Russian armored columns to begin rolling into the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv within days.
The Ukrainians needed something that could blunt that attack – and found it in the form of the Javelin, a shoulder-fired, guided anti-tank missile that can be deployed by a single individual.
Part of its appeal lies in its ease of use, as manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which co-developed the missile with Raytheon, explains: “To fire, the gunner places a cursor over the selected target. The Javelin command launch unit then sends a lock-on-before-launch signal to the missile.”
The Javelin is a “fire and forget” weapon. As soon as its operator takes the shot, they are able to run for cover while the missile finds its way to the target.
This was particularly important in the early days of the war as the Russians tended to stay in columns when trying to enter urban areas. A Javelin operator could fire from a building or behind a tree and be gone before the Russians could fire back.
The Javelin is also good at targeting the weak spot of the Russian tanks – their horizontal surfaces – because its trajectory after launch sees it curve upwards then fall on the target from above, according to Lockheed Martin.
‘Fire and forget’: See the US weapons being used in Ukraine
This could be seen in images early in the war of Russian tanks with their turrets blown off. Often, it was a Javelin that had done the damage.
Indeed, so great was the Javelins’ impact that two-and-a-half months into the war US President Joe Biden visited the Alabama plant where they are made to praise the workforce for their help in defending Ukraine.
“You’re making a gigantic difference for these poor sons of guns who are under such enormous, enormous pressure and firepower,” Biden said at the time.
There was one other advantage to the Javelins, particularly pertinent at the start of the war: they were politically acceptable.
“Their low cost and defensive usage make them politically easier for other countries to provide,” Michael Armstrong, an associate professor at Brock University in Ontario, wrote on the Conversation. “By contrast, governments disagree about sending more expensive offensive weapons like warplanes.”
The full US Army name is the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. It’s “a full-spectrum, combat-proven, all-weather, 24/7, lethal and responsive, wheeled precision strike weapons system,” the US Army says.
That’s a mouthful, but to put it more plainly, HIMARS is a 5-ton truck carrying a pod that can launch six rockets almost simultaneously, sending their explosive warheads well beyond the battlefield’s front lines, and then quickly change positions to avoid a counterstrike.
“If Javelin was the iconic weapon of the early phases of the war, HIMARS is the iconic weapon of the later phases,” Mark Cancian, senior adviser for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International studies, wrote in January.
HIMARS fires munitions called the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) that have a range of 70 to 80 kilometers (about 50 miles). And their GPS guidance systems make them extremely accurate, within about 10 meters (33 feet) of their intended target.
Exclusive video shows Ukrainian drones targeting Russian positions
Last July, Russian reporter Roman Sapenkov said he witnessed a HIMARS strike on a Russian base at Kherson’s airport in territory Moscow’s forces had occupied at the time.
“I was struck by the fact that the whole packet, five or six rockets, landed practically on a penny,” he wrote.
HIMARS has had two key effects, Yagil Henkin, a professor at the Israel Defense Forces Command and Staff College, wrote for the US Marine Corps University Press.
The strikes have forced “the Russians to move their ammunition depots farther to the rear, thereby reducing the available firepower of Russian artillery near the front lines and making logistical support more difficult,” Henkin wrote.
And using the long-range rockets to hit targets such as bridges has disrupted Russian supply efforts, he said.
The HIMARS system is manufactured and patented in the United States by Lockheed Martin.
The Turkish-designed drone has become one of the world’s best-known unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) due to its use in the Ukraine war.
It’s relatively cheap, made with off-the-shelf parts, packs a lethal punch and records its kills on video.
Those videos have shown it taking out Russian armor, artillery and supply lines with the missiles, laser-guided rockets and smart bombs it carries.
“Viral videos of the TB2 are a perfect example of modern warfare in the TikTok era,” Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, wrote on the Atlantic Council’s website.
The Bayraktar TB2 was not a “magic weapon,” but it was “good enough,” he wrote.
He cited as its weaknesses its lack of speed and vulnerability to air defenses. Battlefield statistics appear to bear that out. Seventeen of the 40 to 50 TB2s that Ukraine has received have been destroyed in combat, according to the Oryx open source intelligence website.
Turkish drone is so effective, Ukrainian troops are singing about it
But Stein says the number of losses are outweighed by the low cost of the drone, which means they can be relatively easily replaced.
Indeed, a plan to set up an assembly line for the drones in Ukraine was in the works even before the war. And using the drones potentially has saved the lives of Ukrainian pilots who would otherwise have had to carry out the missions.
Recent reports from Ukraine indicate the TB2 may be playing less of a role as Russian forces figure out how to combat it, yet its fans say it delivered when Ukraine’s position was most precarious.
Its videos of Russian kills were “a great morale booster,” Samuel Bendett, adjunct senior fellow at the Center of Naval Analyses Russia Studies (CNAS), told CNN early in the war.
“It’s a public relations victory.”
The TB2 even had a music video made about it. That’s the status it has attained among Ukrainians.