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Anti-tank guided missile


The TOW is one of the most widely used anti-tank guided missiles

Entered service 1970
Armor penetration 430 mm
Range 3 km
Missile length 1.16 m
Missile diameter 0.15 m
Missile weight 18.9 kg
Warhead weight 2.63 kg
Warhead type HEAT
Guidance Wire-guided


   The BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) is a heavy anti-tank missile. It was developed by Hughes Aircraft Company during the mid and late 1960s. It was designed both for ground and heliborne applications. Production contract was awarded in 1968. First fielded in the 1970, the TOW is one of the most widely used anti-tank guided missiles. It is still going strong after nearly forty-five years of service. Currently the TOW anti-tank missile and its variants are used by more than 45 countries around the world.

   The TOW has destroyed tanks, mostly Russian, during the war in Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Iran-Iraq War, Gulf War, and now Syria. It proved itself as a very effective weapon.

   In the basic infantry form the missile is carried in a sealed container. It is clipped to the launcher before the launch. The missile is wire guided. First production missiles had a maximum range of 3 000 m. Although it was estimated, that the basic TOW missile could penetrate 500-600 mm or Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA), according to now unclassified study it penetrates only 430 mm.

   The TOW missile has semi-automatic guidance. It is not a fire-and-forget type weapon. It requires the shooter to keep the target in the line of sight until the missile impacts. Once the missile is launched the optical sensor on the sight continuously monitors the position of missile in relation to the target. The sensor corrects the trajectory of the missile by sending electrical signals that are passed on by two wires. The communication by wires with the missile can not be jammed by the enemy. The latest versions of the TOW are wireless.

   In the basic infantry form the TOW launcher is mounted on a portable tripod. It is serviced by a crew of three soldiers, including commander, gunner and assistance gunner. The launcher can be disassembled and transported by the crew. The TOW launchers are typically used by separate anti-tank companies for heavy anti-armor work.

   Also the TOW launcher is widely carried on various vehicles, and even helicopters. The launcher can be mounted on HMMWVs. It is employed as the main anti-tank weapon by M2 infantry fighting vehicle and M3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicle. Also there are dedicated anti-tank missile carriers, based on the Stryker (M1134) and LAV-25 (LAV-AT). The M1134 is used by the US Army, while the LAV-AT is used by the US Marine Corps. Also there is an obsolete M901 anti-tank missile carrier, based on the M113 armored personnel carrier chassis, that is still in used by some countries.

   In 1997 the Hughes Aircraft Company was taken over by Raytheon. So development and production of this anti-tank missile now comes under Raytheon brand.




   BGM-71A, a basic missile of the TOW. It has a range of 3 000 m and penetrates 430 mm of RHA;

   BGM-71B. It has improved range to 3 750 m. This missile flies faster and has a longer wire. Otherwise it is similar to the basic BGM-71A;

   ITOW (Improved TOW), or BGM-71C. It was adopted by the US Army in 1976. This missile has improved shape-charged warhead. It also has an extensible probe that triggers detonation of the warhead and provides optimum detonation distance. The probe is extended after the launch. This missile penetrates 630 mm of steel armor.;

   TOW-2 is an upgraded version of the TOW. It entered service with the US Army in 1983. This weapon system is composed of new BGM-71D missile, new reusable launcher, missile guidance set, and sight system. The launcher is lighter. It is compatible with all previous TOW missiles. It has thermal optics and can be used at night. The new missile has a larger warhead (5.9 kg) with extensible probe, as well as improved guidance. The TOW-2 missile is available in several versions;

   TOW-2A or BGM-71E. It appeared in 1987. It has a tandem warhead and is intended to defeat tanks with Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA). It penetrates 900 mm of armor behind ERA;

   TOW-2B or BGM-71F is a top-attack missile. It appeared in 1987. This missile explodes above a tank to penetrate its thin top armor. It has a maximum range of 4 200 m. Its warhead weights 6.14 kg. This missile lacks extensible probe;

   BGM-71G is a top-attack missile with different warhead. It also lacks extensible probe;

   BGM-71H is a bunker-busting missile. It is used against buildings or fortified structures. This missile has a range of 3 750 m;

   Toophan is an Iranian reverse-engineered version of the TOW.


Video of the TOW anti-tank guided missile








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