BGM-71 TOW
Overview
 
The BGM-71 TOW is an anti-tank missile. "BGM" is a weapon classification that stands for "Multiple Environment (B), Surface-Attack (G), Missile (M)". "TOW" is an acronym that stands for "Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command data link, guided missile". The TOW was first produced in 1970 and is one of the two most widely used anti-tank guided missiles in the world.
Initially developed by Hughes Aircraft
Hughes Aircraft
Hughes Aircraft Company was a major American aerospace and defense contractor founded in 1932 by Howard Hughes in Culver City, California as a division of Hughes Tool Company...

 between 1963 and 1968, the XBGM-71A was designed for both ground and heli-borne applications.
Encyclopedia
The BGM-71 TOW is an anti-tank missile. "BGM" is a weapon classification that stands for "Multiple Environment (B), Surface-Attack (G), Missile (M)". "TOW" is an acronym that stands for "Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire command data link, guided missile". The TOW was first produced in 1970 and is one of the two most widely used anti-tank guided missiles in the world.

Design and development

Initially developed by Hughes Aircraft
Hughes Aircraft
Hughes Aircraft Company was a major American aerospace and defense contractor founded in 1932 by Howard Hughes in Culver City, California as a division of Hughes Tool Company...

 between 1963 and 1968, the XBGM-71A was designed for both ground and heli-borne applications. The BGM-71 TOW wire-guided heavy anti-tank missile is produced by Raytheon Systems Company. The weapon is used in anti-armor, anti-bunker, anti-fortification and anti-amphibious landing roles. TOW is in service with over 45 armed forces and is integrated on over 15,000 ground, vehicle and helicopter platforms worldwide.

In its basic infantry form, the system comprises a missile in a sealed tube which is clipped to a launch tube prior to use. When required, the missile tube is attached to the rear of the launch tube, the target sighted and the missile fired. The launch motor (booster) fires through lateral nozzles amidships and propels the missile from the tube, at which point four wings indexed at 45 degrees just forward of the booster nozzles spring open forwards, four tail control surfaces flip open rearwards, and sustained propulsion is subsequently provided by the flight motor. An optical sensor on the sight continuously monitors the position of a light source on the missile relative to the line-of-sight, and then corrects the trajectory of the missile by generating electrical signals that are passed down two wires to command the control surface actuators.

The TOW missile was continually upgraded, with an improved TOW missile (ITOW) appearing in 1978 which had a new warhead triggered by a long probe that was extended after launch to give a stand-off distance of 15 in (381 mm) for improved armor penetration. The 1983 TOW 2 featured a larger 5.9 kg (13 lb) warhead with a 21.25 in (539.8 mm) extensible probe, improved guidance and a motor that provided around 30% more thrust. This was followed by the TOW 2A/B which appeared in 1987.

Hughes developed a TOW missile with a wireless data link in 1989, referred to as TOW-2N, but this weapon was not adopted for use by the US military. Raytheon
Raytheon
Raytheon Company is a major American defense contractor and industrial corporation with core manufacturing concentrations in weapons and military and commercial electronics. It was previously involved in corporate and special-mission aircraft until early 2007...

 continued to develop improvements to the TOW line, but its FOTT (Follow-On To TOW) program was canceled in 1998, and its TOW-FF (TOW-Fire and Forget) program was cut short on 30 November 2001 because of funding limitations. In 2001 and 2002, Raytheon and the US Army worked together on an extended range TOW 2B variant, initially referred to as TOW-2B (ER), but now called TOW-2B Aero which has a special nose cap that increases range to 4500 meters. Although this missile has been in production since 2004, no US Army designation has yet been assigned. Also, a wireless version of the TOW-2B Aero was developed that uses stealth one way radio link, called TOW-2B Aero RF.

The TOW missile in its current variations is not a fire-and-forget weapon, and like most second generation wire-guided missiles has Semi-Automatic Command Line of Sight
SACLOS
SACLOS is an acronym for Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight, a second-generation method of missile guidance. In SACLOS, the operator has to continually point a sighting device at the target while the missile is in flight...

 guidance. This means that the guidance system is directly linked to the platform, and requires that the target be kept in the shooter's line of sight until the missile impacts. This has been the major impetus to develop either a fire-and-forget version of the system or to develop a successor with this ability.

Launch platforms

The TOW is designated as a BGM by the US military. By its very definition, a BGM is a Multiple Launch Environment (B) Surface Attack (G) Guided Missile (M). The B launch environment prefix is used only when the system can be used essentially unmodified when launched from a variety of launch platforms.

The M151 and M220 launchers are used by infantry, but can also be mounted on a number of vehicles, including the M151 jeep
Jeep
Jeep is an automobile marque of Chrysler . The first Willys Jeeps were produced in 1941 with the first civilian models in 1945, making it the oldest off-road vehicle and sport utility vehicle brand. It inspired a number of other light utility vehicles, such as the Land Rover which is the second...

, the M113 APC
M113 armored personnel carrier
The M113 is a fully tracked armored personnel carrier that has formed the backbone of the United States Army's mechanized infantry units from the time of its first fielding in Vietnam in April 1962. The M113 was the most widely used armored vehicle of the U.S...

, the M966 HMMWV and the M1045 HMMWV (which replaced the M966). These launchers are theoretically man-portable, but are quite bulky. The updated M151 launcher was upgraded to include thermal optics to allow night time usage, and had been simplified to reduce weight. The M220 was specifically developed to handle the TOW-2 series.

TOW systems have also been developed for vehicle specific applications on the M2/M3 Bradley IFV/CFV
M2 Bradley
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle is an American fighting vehicle platform manufactured by BAE Systems Land and Armaments, formerly United Defense.As with other infantry fighting vehicles, the Bradley is designed to transport infantry with armor protection while providing covering fire to suppress enemy...

, the M1134 Stryker ATGM carrier, and the now obsolete M901 ITV (Improved TOW Vehicle)
M901 ITV
The M901 ITV is a United States Army armored vehicle designed to carry a dual M220 TOW launcher. It is based on the ubiquitous M113 Armored Personnel Carrier chassis.- Equipment :...

; they are generally referred to as TOW Under Armor (TUA).

In helicopter applications, the M65 system used by the AH-1
AH-1 Cobra
The Bell AH-1 Cobra is a two-bladed, single engine attack helicopter manufactured by Bell Helicopter. It shares a common engine, transmission and rotor system with the older UH-1 Iroquois...

 series is the primary system deployed, but the XM26 system was developed for the UH-1, and a system was put into development for the later canceled AH-56
AH-56 Cheyenne
The Lockheed AH-56 Cheyenne was a single-engine attack helicopter developed by Lockheed for the United States Army's Advanced Aerial Fire Support System program to produce the Army's first dedicated attack helicopter...

 helicopter.

The M41 TOW improved target acquisition system (ITAS) is a block upgrade to the M220 ground/high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV)-mounted TOW 2 missile system. The TOW ITAS is currently being fielded to airborne, air assault, and light infantry forces throughout the active and reserve components of the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps where it is called the SABER. The ITAS, in addition to providing better anti-armor capabilities to antitank units, also has capabilities that make it an integral part of the combined arms team. Even when organized in heavy—light task forces, where the preponderance of antiarmor capabilities traditionally has resided in the heavy elements, TOW ITAS-equipped antitank units can not only destroy threat targets but also provide superior reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA), rear area protection, and urban operations capabilities.

The TOW ITAS consists of three new line replaceable units: the target acquisition subsystem (TAS), the fire control subsystem (FCS), and the lithium battery box (LBB); a modified TOW 2 traversing unit; the existing TOW launch tube and tripod; and a TOW Humvee modification kit. The TAS integrates into a single housing the direct view optics, a second-generation forward looking infrared (FLIR) night vision sight (NVS), missile trackers, and a laser range finder. TAS electronics provide automatic boresighting for these components, eliminating both tactical collimation and 180-day verification requirements.

Service history

In 1968 a contract for full scale production was awarded to Hughes, and by 1970 the system was being fielded by the US Army. When adopted, the BGM-71 series replaced the M40
M40 recoilless rifle
The M40 recoilless rifle was a lightweight, portable, crew-served 105 mm weapon intended primarily as an anti-tank weapon made in the United States...

 106mm recoilless rifle
Recoilless rifle
A recoilless rifle or recoilless gun is a lightweight weapon that fires a heavier projectile than would be practical to fire from a recoiling weapon of comparable size. Technically, only devices that use a rifled barrel are recoilless rifles. Smoothbore variants are recoilless guns...

 and the MGM-32 ENTAC
ENTAC
Entac or MGM-32A was a French MCLOS wire-guided Anti-tank missile. Developed in the early 1950s, the missile entered service with the French army in 1957...

 missile system then in service. The missile also replaced the AGM-22B
SS.11
SS.11 is the designation of the Nord Aviation MCLOS wire-guided anti-tank missile. In American service the missile was designated the AGM-22. The missile entered service with the French Army in 1956. Production of the SS.11 ceased some time in the 1980s but in 1978 168,450 missiles had been produced...

 then in service as a heli-borne anti-tank weapon.

Vietnam: first combat use of TOW anti-armor missile

On 24 April 1972, the US 1st Combat Aerial TOW Team arrived in South Vietnam; the team's mission was to test the new anti-armor missile under combat conditions. The team consisted of three crews, technical representatives from Bell Helicopter and Hughes Aircraft
Hughes Aircraft
Hughes Aircraft Company was a major American aerospace and defense contractor founded in 1932 by Howard Hughes in Culver City, California as a division of Hughes Tool Company...

, members of the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command
United States Army Aviation and Missile Command
The United States Army Aviation and Missile Command is primarily responsible for life cycle management of army missile, helicopter, unmanned ground vehicle and unmanned aerial vehicle weapon systems. The central part of AMCOM's job involves acquisition and sustainment support for aviation and...

, and two UH-1B helicopters; each mounting the XM26 TOW weapons system, which had been taken from storage. After displacing to the Central Highlands for aerial gunnery, the unit commenced daily searches for enemy armor. On the 2nd of May 1972 the TOW made history as being the first time an American-designed and made guided missile was used successfully in combat by a US soldier, when US Army UH-1 Huey helicopters firing TOWs destroyed North Vietnamese tanks near An Loc. On 9 May, elements of the NVA
NVA
NVA is a three-letter acronym for:*National People's Army, or Nationale Volksarmee, the army of former German Democratic Republic*Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie, a Flemish political party also known as New-Flemish Alliance...

 (North Vietnamese Army) 203rd Armored Regiment were attacking an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Ranger camp at Ben Het; the team destroyed its first three PT-76
PT-76
The PT-76 is a Soviet amphibious light tank which was introduced in the early 1950s and soon became the standard reconnaissance tank of the Soviet Army and the other Warsaw Pact armed forces. It was widely exported to other friendly states, like India, Iraq, North Korea and North Vietnam. Overall,...

 tanks, breaking up the attack. During the battle for the city of Kontum
Kontum
Kon Tum is the capital town of Kon Tum province in Vietnam. It is located inland in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam, near the borders with Laos and Cambodia....

, the TOW missile had proven to be a significant weapon in disrupting enemy tank attacks within the region. By the end of May, TOW missiles had accumulated 24 confirmed tank kills.

Other service

The TOW was used effectively during multiple engagements during Operation Desert Storm. Several TOW missiles were used by U.S. forces in Iraq in the July 22, 2003 assault that killed Uday Hussein
Uday Hussein
Uday Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti , was the eldest son of Saddam Hussein from his first wife, Sajida Talfah. He was the brother of Qusay Hussein. Uday was for several years seen as the heir apparent of his father; however, Uday lost his place in the line of succession due to his erratic behavior and...

 and Qusay Hussein
Qusay Hussein
Qusay Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti was the second son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He was appointed as his father's heir apparent in 2000.- Family :...

.

Variants

Raytheon
Raytheon
Raytheon Company is a major American defense contractor and industrial corporation with core manufacturing concentrations in weapons and military and commercial electronics. It was previously involved in corporate and special-mission aircraft until early 2007...

 has taken over for Hughes in recent years, and now handles production of all current variants, as well as TOW development.
Designation Description Length Diameter Wingspan Launch weight Warhead Armor penetration (est.) Range Speed
XBGM-71A/BGM-71A Hughes Tube launched Optically tracked Wire command link guided (TOW) Missile 1.16 m 0.152 m 0.46 m 18.9 kg 3.9 kg (2.63 kg HE) HEAT 430 mm (exact value) 65–3,750 m 278 m/s
BGM-71B BGM-71A variant; improved range
BGM-71C BGM-71B variant; Improved TOW (ITOW) w/ improved shaped-charge warhead 1.41 m (probe extended)
1.17 m (probe folded)
19.1 kg 630 mm (exact value)
BGM-71D BGM-71C variant; TOW-2, improved guidance, motor and enlarged main warhead 1.51 m (probe extended)
1.17 m (probe folded)
21.5 kg 5.9 kg
(3.6 kg HE) HEAT
900 mm
BGM-71E BGM-71D variant; TOW-2A optimized to defeat reactive armor with tandem warheads 22.6 kg 900 mm ( behind ERA )
(and layer of ERA)
BGM-71F BGM-71D variant; TOW-2B top-down attack
Top attack
A top attack device is designed to attack armoured vehicles from above, as the armour is usually thinnest at the top. Ideally, it will penetrate perpendicular to the attacked surface. The device may be delivered by a missile, artillery shell, or even an emplaced munition...

 variant using explosively formed penetrators
1.168 m no data
BGM-71G BGM-71F variant; different AP warhead
Armor-piercing shot and shell
An armor-piercing shell is a type of ammunition designed to penetrate armor. From the 1860s to 1950s, a major application of armor-piercing projectiles was to defeat the thick armor carried on many warships. From the 1920s onwards, armor-piercing weapons were required for anti-tank missions...

; not produced
no data no data no data no data
BGM-71H BGM-71E variant; “bunker buster” variant for use against fortified structures no data no data no data no data


Original armor penetration estimates were 600 mm for BGM-71A/B and 700–800 mm for BGM-71C. However, according to a now declassified CIA study "U.S. INTELLIGENCE AND SOVIET ARMOR" written by Paul F. Gorman (Major General, USA), the true penetration values against vertical target much lower—just 430 mm for basic TOW and 630 mm for Improved TOW (see graph US ATGMs vs. Soviet Tank on page 18 of mentioned document, available through Freedom of Information Act).

Time to target at maximum range is 20 seconds therefore giving an average speed of 187.5 m/s.

International variants

  • Iran
    Iran
    Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

     has reverse engineered and currently manufactures duplicate TOW missiles. These carry the Iranian designation of Toophan
    Toophan
    Toophan is an Iranian anti-tank missile that is a reverse-engineered copy of the US military TOW missile. The Toophan's payload is a 3.6 kg high-explosive anti-tank warhead that can penetrate up to 550mm of steel armor. The range is 3,850m, the top speed 310m/s...

    .

Operators


|-valign="top"
|: Military of Cameroon
Military of Cameroon
The Cameroonian Armed Forces generally has been an apolitical force where civilian control of the military predominates. Traditional dependence on the French defense capability, although reduced, continues to be the case as French military advisers remain closely involved in preparing the...

: Canadian Forces
Canadian Forces
The Canadian Forces , officially the Canadian Armed Forces , are the unified armed forces of Canada, as constituted by the National Defence Act, which states: "The Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada and consist of one Service called the Canadian Armed Forces."...

 Produced under license
|-most carried by Humvee 3,300+ TOW-2A delivered in 2006.
| Somalia
Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

: Lynx
Westland Lynx
The Westland Lynx is a British multi-purpose military helicopter designed and built by Westland Helicopters at its factory in Yeovil. Originally intended as a utility craft for both civil and naval usage, military interest led to the development of both battlefield and naval variants...

 helicopter only
|}

See also

  • Swingfire
    Swingfire
    Swingfire was a British wire-guided anti-tank missile developed in the 1960s and produced from 1966 until 1993.-Development:Swingfire was developed by Fairey Engineering Ltd and the British Aircraft Corporation. It replaced the Vickers Vigilant missile in British service...

  • Euromissile HOT
    Euromissile HOT
    The HOT is a second-generation long-range anti-tank missile system developed originally as an effort to meet a joint German-French Army requirement, by the then German firm Bolkow and the French firm Nord, to replace the older SS.11 wire guided...

  • AT-4 Spigot
    AT-4 Spigot
    The 9K111 Fagot is a SACLOS wire-guided anti-tank missile system of the Soviet Union. "9M111" is the GRAU designation of the missile. Its NATO reporting name is AT-4 Spigot.-Development:...

  • AT-14 Kornet
  • M47 Dragon
    M47 Dragon
    The M47 Dragon is an American shoulder-fired, man-portable anti-tank missile system. It has since been phased out in US service, in favor of the newer FGM-148 Javelin system.-Description:...

  • M72 LAW
    M72 LAW
    The M72 LAW is a portable one-shot 66 mm unguided anti-tank weapon, designed in the United States by Paul V. Choate, Charles B. Weeks, and Frank A. Spinale et al...

  • AT4
    AT4
    The AT4 is an 84-mm unguided, portable, single-shot recoilless smoothbore weapon built in Sweden by Saab Bofors Dynamics...

  • Joint Air to Ground Missile
    Joint Air to Ground Missile
    The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile is a U.S. military program to develop an air-to-surface missile to replace the current BGM-71 TOW, AGM-114 Hellfire and AGM-65 Maverick missiles...

  • History of UAVs decoys
  • List of U.S. Army Rocket Launchers By Model Number

External links

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