Russia’s Kornet Missile Has a 20 Year History of Successes Destroying Western Tanks: Putin Praises ‘Ideal’ Combat Performance

During a meeting with military correspondents on June 14 Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the efficiency of the country’s primary man portable anti-tank missile system the Kornet, stating that there was a need for production of greater quantities as he hailed the successes of the country’s forces in destroying very large quantities of Ukrainian armour. Elaborating on its performance, the president stated: “several armoured vehicles and a tank were destroyed by the infantry using anti-tank weapons. Kornets work ideally, but we need more of them, and this will be done.” Footage showing the destruction of Ukrainian armour since the beginning of renewed offensives against Russian positions in early June have consistently shown strikes by attack helicopters such as the Ka-52, although the Kornet’s long history of over two decades of successes against Western tanks does provide significant support to Putin’s recent claims.

The Kornet is a light 28kg handheld missile system carried by infantry, and like the large majority of Russian weapons systems it saw the bulk of research and development work completed in the Soviet era. Entering service after some delay in 1998, older variants of the Kornet were first employed in combat during the Iraq War, where Iraqi special forces used them effectively against American Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles in 2003. They have similarly proven effective against Israeli Merkava tanks, including the enhanced Merkava IV variant, when deployed by Hezbollah in 2006, piercing the armour of at least two dozen tanks during an attempted Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon in 2006. Militias from the Islamic State terror group also used captured Kornets highly effectively to disable multiple Iraqi Army Abrams tanks from 2014, with some reports indicating that Kornets were also used by the militias to great effect against Turkish Leopard 2 tanks in Syria. The missile’s success has led both Iran and North Korea to develop indigenous variants, the latter around a decade earlier as the Bulsae-3, with Hezbollah operating both Iranian and Korean variants.

The Kornet’s advanced capabilities built on a long history of Russia developing world leading man portable anti-tank guided missile systems during the Cold War, with the Soviet Konkurs and Metis systems both considered world leaders in their times and having capabilities well ahead of their Western rivals. A notable feature of the missile is its tandem-charge warhead, with two HEAT charges separated by its rocket motor allowing for the second charge’s focal length to be increased and thus significantly improving its penetrative capabilities. The second warhead is particularly large which contributes to its survivability against countermeasures. The missile system’s day/night thermal sights with 12x/20x zoom notably surpass the capabilities of rival Western missiles, with laser beam guidance used to maximise precision. 

Enhanced variants of the Kornet have continued to be developed, most notably the extended range Kornet-EM which benefits from features designed to defeat explosive reactive armour as well as automatic target tracking capabilities. Although the Kornet remains a formidable and cost effective asset, its capabilities are increasingly considered to have fallen behind the cutting edge in particular against systems such as the American Javelin, Israeli Spike and Chinese HJ-12 which are considered the three closest contenders for global leadership in the field. These were all introduced years after the Kornet entered service and benefit from Fire and Forget capabilities which their Russian competitor lacked, with Russia having yet to develop a comparable missile system.