Tube Launched, Optically Tracked, Wire Guided, Anti-Tank Missile (TOW) is a US system that first entered US service in 1965. Its origin began with a 1962 US Army's Missile Command request for an Anti-Tank weapon to replace the AGM-22B and MGM-32 ENTAC wire guided missiles and the 106mm Recoilless rifle. Hughes Aircraft submitted the winning design and were awarded a contract to produce a Heavy Anti-Tank Assault Weapon (HAW) in 1963. Prototypes were delivered in 1965 and in 1966 the system was reconfigured to use a platform launcher. TOW became operational in 1970 with the US and West German Armies and since then over 500,000 missiles have been manufactured and sold to customers around the world.

It is a very powerful system that can defeat armor on all conventional modern Main Battle Tanks. It is also a second generation missile in that the operator no longer ‘flies’ the missile to the target using a control stick, but instead simply has to keep the aiming mark on the target whilst the internal guidance system does the rest.

The TOW missile, which weighs 28.1 kg, has a length 1.17 meters and a diameter of 15 cm. The 3.9 kg shaped charge high explosive (HEAP) warhead can penetrate 800mm of armor at a range of 3,750 meters (expected to be extended to 5,000 meters with the latest improvements).


Vietnam: First combat use of TOW anti-armor missile

On April 24 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, members of the US Army Missile Command, and two UH-1B helicopters; each mounting the XM26 TOW weapons system. After displacing to the Central Highlands for aerial gunnery, the unit commenced daily searches for enemy armor. On May 9, elements of the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) 203rd Armored Regiment were attacking the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Ranger camp at Ben Het; the team destroyed it's first three PT-76 tanks, breaking up the attack. 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.

Other Service

The TOW missile was continually upgraded, with an improved TOW missile appearing in 1978, TOW 2 in 1983, and TOW 2A/B in 1987. Even as recently as 2001, TOW improvement has continued.

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


Raytheon has taken over for Hughes in recent years, and now handles production of all current variants, as well as TOW development.

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 in November 30, 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. Although this missile has been in production since 2004, no US Army designation has yet been assigned.

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.

International variants

In British Army Air Corps (AAC) service TOW 2B is currently the standard Anti-Tank armament on Lynx helicopters fitted with a roof stabilized M65 sight.

Iran has reverse engineered and currently manufactures duplicate TOW missiles. These carry the Iranian designation of Toophan.

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, 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. 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, and the battery power source; 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.

See also

Related content

Designation sequence

BGM-71 - MIM-72 - UGM-73 - BQM-74 - BGM-75 - AGM-76 - FGM-77

External links

Pages with the same tags

United States tri-service missile and drone designations post-1962
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