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Anti-tank guided missile

Swingfire ATGM

The Swingfire was the primary British anti-tank guided missile during the Cold War

Entered service 1969
Armor penetration 800 mm
Range 4 000 m
Weight 27 kg
Missile length 1.07 m
Missile diameter 0.17 m
Fin span 0.39 m
Warhead type Shaped Charger
Warhead weight 7 kg
Guidance system Wire, MCLOS (or SACLOS)


   Co-developed by Fairey and BAC, the Swingfire Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM) was one of the most numerous and important missiles used by British forces during the Cold War, and it was widely exported. This missile's peculiar name is a reference to the distinctive steep turn it performs when launched.

   Development of the Swingfire began in November 1959, as a follow-up of the abortive Orange William ATGM. Work proceeded quickly, with the first test launch performed in late 1960, though it would be another two years before a contract to manufacture the Swingfire was forthcoming. Production eventually began in 1966, but the Swingfire was not declared operational until June of 1969.

   The Swingfire project was not uneventful. In addition to the aforementioned setbacks and delays, escalating costs of the Swingfire were met with fierce criticism. The project dodged cancellation repeatedly throughout the 1960s, but didn't escape unscathed; an increased-range version of the Swingfire was cancelled in November of 1964, after only 234 000 had been spent on it. Another blow to the program in later years was the cancellation of a helicopter-launched version (see below), following a disagreement between the Army and the RAF over the jurisdiction of helicopters in the anti-armor role.

   Nevertheless, the Swingfire gradually became a major component of the British Army's arsenal, found several export sales, and gradually supplanted the obsolete Vigilant and Malkara ATGMs. It was destined to see more than four decades of service, three of them with the UK.

   The Swingfire is launched from a rectangular metal canister, commonly referred to as a "bin". The number of bins carried depends on the platform (see below), while reloads are carried in transport containers. There are four trapezoid-shaped fins on the Swingfire, which are wrapped around the missile until its launch, whereupon they unfurl into a 90-degree crucifix shape typical of most ATGMs.

   Guidance of the Swingfire is by wire, with a Manual Command Line Of Site (MCLOS) interface. This interface allows the missile to be guided from a position well away from the launcher itself. This was later replaced by a Semi-Automatic Command Line Of Sight (SACLOS) guidance system in some Swingfire launchers, as part of the "SWIG" (Swingfire With Improved Guidance) upgrade. The missile is controlled in flight using a simple joystick.

   It is possible for the Swingfire to be controlled from a location more 50 m away from the launcher, and up to either 30 m above or 15 m below. As such, the Swingfire has the advantage of not only being remotely controllable, but also in being able to launch from completely behind cover.

   The Swingfire missile utilizes the K33 warhead, a 7 kg shaped charge munition rated to penetrate 800 mm of RHA steel equivalent. An impact fuse with a crush switch is used to detonate the warhead. As this warhead lacks a precursor charge, it's utility against armored vehicles protected by reactive armor is questionable.

   Propulsion is by a single-stage, solid propellant rocket motor with 7 kg of fuel. This rocket motor is unusual for an ATGM, as it has a thrust-vectoring nozzle (commonly called a "Jetivator" in promotional material) that enables extremely sharp turns at low speeds; in fact, the Swingfire turns up to 90 degrees during its launch to level-out onto its attack profile. Once level, the Swingfire reaches its full speed of 185m/sec in moments, reaches a maximum range of 4 000 m, and is capable of 45-degree turns. A 90-degree turn in the horizontal during the launch phase is also possible. The minimum range of the Swingfire is 150 m, at which point in flight the warhead arms.

   The Swingfire was deployed into several conflicts, including the Persian Gulf War and the Invasion of Iraq. Though as luck would have it, none were ever launched in combat. The Swingfire was still considered satisfactory in these deployments however, due to its timely arrival, reliability, and readiness rate.

   Just as with its inception, the Swingfire's retirement in the UK was the subject of a fierce controversy from 2003, again due to the cost of the missile. Although this time, it was the Swingfire that was cheaper --- at 7 500, the Swingfire was nearly 1/4 the cost of the FIM-148 Javelin intended to replace it. Nonetheless, the Javelin was eventually procured by the British Army in 2005, and the remaining Swingfires were retired over the course of the same year.

   Production of the Swingfire ceased in 1993, by which time 46 650 missiles had been manufactured. The missile and launcher were also manufactured in Egypt, as well as the UK. A single missile costs 7 500 new, but the manufacturer no longer offers new rounds.

   The current operators of the Swingfire as of late 2015 include Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. NTI claims that Iraq also operates the Swingfire. It was also operated by Belgium, Portugal, and the UK, though these nations have retired their Swingfire inventories.




   Swingfire: Basic production model, designed for use in armored vehicles.

   Beeswing: Variant for launch from light trucks. Used on the Land Rover.

   Hawkswing: Helicopter-launched version. Used on the Lynx.

   Golfswing: Designed for launch from infantry-towed trolleys. Also carried by the Argocat.


Launch Platforms


   FV102 Striker: CVR(T) variant with five launch tubes. Used by Belgium and the UK.

   FV 438 Swingfire: FV430 variant with two launch tubes. Used only by the UK.

   FV712: Ferret Mk.5 with four launch tubes. Used mainly by Belgium.

   Land Rover: One Tonne Land Rover with four launch tubes.

   Argocat: Tows a Golfswing trolley, with two Swingfire tubes.

   Lynx (helicopter): Was meant to carry the Swingfire, but this plan was not operationally implemented.

   Numerous other potential launch platforms were evaluated, including the chassis' of the Centurion, Chieftain, Saladin, and Saracen, but none of these were adopted.



   Article by BLACKTAIL

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