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Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

Anti-tank guided missile

Anti-tank guided missiles are designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles

 
 

   The Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM), also called anti-tank missile or Anti-Tank Guided Weapon (ATGW), is the bane of modern tanks. Long-ranged, stunningly accurate, and equipped with a warhead capable of penetrating all but the best composite armor, this class of missiles strikes fear in the heart of every tank crew.

   The anti-tank guided missile can be traced back to the end of World War II. Assailed by far superior forces, Germany was desperate for a weapon to take out airplanes. They developed the X-4 air-to-air missile—the first of its class. A spin off of this was an anti-tank guided missile design concept. However, it had a number of problems and never entered service.

   But the idea lived on. France soon developed the SS.10, which entered service in 1955. More designs soon followed. The first anti-tank guided missiles, termed “first-generation”, typically had a range of up to, though generally less than, 2 000 meters. They had wires attached, which allowed the operator to steer the missile. This, of course, meant that range was always severely limited (the missile had to be in the operator’s line-of-sight to be effective) and highly trained operators were necessary for a good chance of a hit.

   Beginning in the 70s, the second generation arrived. Besides incorporating obvious improvements like better warheads, these missiles required somewhat less from the operators. All they needed to do was keep the sights on the target, as opposed to directly aiming the missile. One of the first of this class was the ubiquitous helicopter-carried Hellfire.

   The most recent generation of anti-tank guided missiles are “fire and forget” weapons. This means that the operator needs only to lock the missile’s laser, infrared, or radar sensors on the target and fire the missile. After that, the missile homes in on its target without any further input, though this makes it somewhat more vulnerable to countermeasures.

   As the years have gone by, ATGMs have gotten more compact and easier to carry around, with this perhaps epitomized by the US Javelin and similar weapons.

   Essentially all anti-tank guided missiles use a High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) warhead. This type of warhead is lightweight and very effective. A small “spike” protrudes from the tip, allowing its shaped explosive charge to detonate before reaching the target. This enables the warhead to form a superheated jet of molten metal capable of slashing through all but the best armor.

   At one time, HEAT warheads like those found on anti-tank guided missiles were believed to make tank armor useless, except against small arms fire. The Soviet T-64 main battle tank changed that forever by introducing composite armor. Even though the concept of composite armor was pioneered in the United States, The T-64 was the first widespread tank to use such armor. Its composite armor consisted of a layer of steel (or some other hard metal), a layer of hard plastic, and another layer of steel. The HEAT warhead would penetrate the first steel layer, but would shatter the plastic and lose so much energy that the second steel layer could stop it. Various enhancements have been made since then to this basic and effective concept.

   While modern ATGMs still have a chance of penetrating composite armor, that chance is slim. Thus, some missiles like the Javelin utilize a top-attack approach. Instead of hitting the tank head on, they strike through the much thinner armor on top. This method is highly effective.

   Another effective means of defeating anti-tank guided missiles is Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA). These lightweight “tiles” of armor explode when they’re hit by an ATGM. This dissipates the HEAT warhead and protects the tank. However, missiles can easily be fitted with a tandem warhead—one that explodes twice. The first is tiny and serves only to activate the ERA. The second is the real power and with no ERA to stop it, has a good chance of success.

   Recent advances in tank innovation may be making the ATGM as we know it obsolete. Tanks like the Merkava Mk.4 Meil Ruach, T-14 Armata, and K2 Black Panther utilize integrated Active Protection System (APS). This tracks incoming missiles and shoots them down before they can hit. In 2014, APS-equipped Merkava Mk.4s survived dozens of Hamas Kornet missile attacks. But the ATGM is a too effective weapon to be simply made useless by this new advancement. Whether the future ATGMs have a higher speed or deploy countermeasures, it is almost certain that they will adapt and remain the terror of the tank.

 

Important ATGMs

 

   MILAN: it is one of the most successful missiles ever made, with numerous exports and untold numbers of successes. This missile was jointly developed by France and Germany.

   Kornet: this widely exported Russian missile features a nearly unmatched range as well as one of the deadliest warheads ever made. It has proved itself even against the massively armored Merkava tanks.

   Konkurs: a missile that dates back to the 1970s in the Soviet Union, the Konkurs is one of the most exported ATGMs ever.

   TOW: fielded in 1970, the US-developed TOW is probably the most widely used ATGM ever and deservedly so, because of its superb combat record and the numerous improved variants that have preserved its deadliness well into the 21st century.

   Hellfire: this air-launched weapon has wreaked destruction on enemy tanks in almost every conflict fought since its introduction in the 1980s.

 

The Tiger

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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Anti-tank guided missile

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