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BGM-71 TOW: Wikis


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TOW fired from Jeep.jpg
A TOW missile being fired from an M151 MUTT.
Type Anti-tank missile
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service 1970–present
Used by See users
Production history
Designer Hughes Aircraft
Designed 1963–1968
Length 1.16–1.17 m (probe folded)
1.41–1.51 m (probe extended)
Diameter 0.152 m

Warhead weight 3.9–5.9 kg

Wingspan 0.46 m
up to 3,750 m 
Optically-tracked, wire-guided
1964 - First Concept Mock-up by Redstone Arsenal of purposed future HAW system (Heavy Antitank Weapon) which resulted in TOW

The BGM-71 TOW is an anti-tank guided missile. "TOW" stands for "Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire data link, guided missile".[1] The TOW was first produced in 1970 and is one of the two most widely used anti-tank guided missile in the world.[2]


Design and development

Initially developed by Hughes Aircraft 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-armour, 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.[3]

TOW missile.

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 (380 mm) for improved armour penetration. The 1983 TOW 2 featured a larger 5.9 kg (13 lb) warhead with a 21.25 in (540 mm) extensible probe, improved guidance and a motor that provided around 30% more thrust.[4] 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 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.[5] 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 an special nose cape 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. [6]

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 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

Tripod mounted unit in Konar Province, Afghanistan.

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, the M113 APC, 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, the M1134 Stryker ATGM carrier, and the now obsolete M901 ITV (Improved TOW Vehicle); they are generally referred to as TOW Under Armor (TUA).

In helicopter applications, the M65 system used by the AH-1 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 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 antiarmor 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 HMMWV 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 fullscale 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 106mm recoilless rifle and the MGM-32 ENTAC missile system then in service. The missile also replaced the AGM-22B 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.[7] The team consisted of three crews, technical representatives from Bell Helicopter and Hughes Aircraft, members of the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command, 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.[7] On the 2nd of May 1972 the TOW made history as being the first time an American-designed and made guided missile in combat by a US soldier, when US Army UH-1 Huey helicopters firing TOWs destroyed North Vietnamese tanks near An Loc.[8] On 9 May, elements of the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) 203rd Armored Regiment were attacking the ARVN (Army Republic of South Vietnam) Ranger camp at Ben Het; the team destroyed its first three PT-76 tanks, breaking up the attack.[9] During the battle for the city of Kontum, 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.[10][11]

Other service

Several TOW missiles were used by U.S. forces in Iraq in the July 22, 2003 assault that killed Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein.[12]


Raytheon 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[13]
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 600 mm 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 800 mm
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 1,000 mm ( behind ERA )
(and layer of ERA)
BGM-71F BGM-71D variant; TOW-2B top-down attack variant using explosively formed penetrators 1.168 m no data
BGM-71G BGM-71F variant; different AP warhead; 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

Time to target at maximum range is 20 seconds therefore giving an average speed of 187.5 m/s [14]

International variants

Photo Gallery


See also


  1. ^ Official US Army history of TOW 9th paragraph
  2. ^ there is a dispute today as to whether it is the TOW or the many versions of the Russian AT-3 Sagger either produced under license or reversed engineered world wide
  3. ^ Gunston, p. 156.
  4. ^ Gunston, p. 157.
  5. ^ 2001 fiscal year military budget. Retrieved on 3 August 2009.
  6. ^ some reports state the TOW-2B Aero RF is in production for Pakistan, because of a brief section to Congress on foreign military sales
  7. ^ a b Starry
  8. ^ US Army official TOW history Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama
  9. ^ Starry/Dunstan
  10. ^ Dunstan
  11. ^ some books and videos have stated that the TOW was fired in Vietnam from AH-1 Cobra helicopters. The first Cobra/TOW helicopters were not operational till 1976
  12. ^ News on the Middle East. Retrieved on 3 August 2009.
  13. ^ Pakistan Military Consortium ::
  14. ^
  15. ^ The Finnish Defence Forces: Presentation of equipment. Retrieved on 3 August 2009.
  16. ^ Military army ground forces equipment Morocco Army Moroccan Equipements militaires armée forces terrestres Maroc marocaine
  17. ^

Related content

The Saber system

External links


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