March 27, 2003 -- When the U.S. Army recently lost a pair of its ultimate ground battle vehicles, the M1 Abrams tank, to Iraqi ground forces fighting in southern Iraq, the knock-out punch came from a weapon Iraq was not expected to have — a Russian missile called the Kornet-E.
What Is It?
The Kornet-E is an "export" version of an anti-tank missile developed specifically by the former Soviet army to counter the threat of modern battle tanks such as the Abrams, America's previously-uncontested "queen of the battlefield."
Weighing about 63 pounds, the Kornet and its guidance system can be easily carried and operated by one or two soldiers.
How Does It Work?
The Kornet operates similar to other so-called anti-tank guided missiles, or ATGMs, used by the United States and other armies.
Once the missile is set up on its tripod, a soldier looks through the weapon's optical sight for a target such as a tank. He then shines a laser beam on the target and launches the missile.
A rocket boosts the Kornet out of its sealed tube and follows the laser beam to the target.
The missile contains high explosives specially arranged within the warhead. Just before the missile impacts a tank's armor, the "shaped charge" explodes and produces a jet of heat that burns through the tank's metal skin.
When the jet burns through the armor and reaches the interior of the tank, the molten armor becomes super-hot fragments that kill the crew and detonate the tank's ammunition.
What’s So Different About Kornet, Then?
Modern tanks, such as the Abrams, counter the threat of most ATGMs with an exterior layer of so-called reactive or explosive armor — essentially, boxes of shaped charge explosives.
When an ATGM detonates against such armor, the tank "reacts" by automatically exploding its own charges. The force of the explosion is intended to push the intense heat from ATGM's lethal blast away from the tank's metal skin, protecting the crew inside.
But the Kornet defeats explosive armor by using dual warheads of shaped charges. The first destroys the tank's protective layer of explosives, allowing the second warhead to burn through the metal beneath, with catastrophic results.
According to military experts, the anti-tank version of the Kornet can penetrate up to 3.9 feet of armor and can be launched from as far away as 5,500 yards. Well-trained soldiers are able to launch up to two missiles per minute by merely discarding the used launch tube and attaching the system's laser-aiming device onto a new missile.
What Makes the Kornet an Additional Concern?
Unlike other anti-tank weapons believed to be in the Iraqi arsenal, the Kornet-E can be used against coalition tanks in any kind of weather, day or night. Its laser-guided system makes it extremely difficult to counteract, say military analysts.
Also, the launch of a Kornet is difficult to spot. Coupled with a hard-to-detect guidance system, analysts say the missile could be used against low-flying helicopters vulnerable to its high-explosive warhead.
What's more, the Kornet can carry another type of warhead called thermobaric or incendiary explosives. These munitions release a fine spray of fuel before denotation. The resulting explosion creates a rapidly expanding fireball that literally consumes all oxygen within an area.
Such missiles would be used against "soft" targets such as buildings, exposed infantry, or light- or non-armored vehicles such as trucks.
Additional information provided by Jane's Infantry Weapons.