In 1970, the US Army adopted the latest anti-tank missile system BGM-71A TOW. It could be used in a portable or self-propelled form, its operation was not difficult, and a guided missile could fight modern tanks. Over time, this ATGM repeatedly modernized with the growth of the main characteristics. In addition, the list of customers and operators has been constantly expanding.
The first to enter service was an ATGM with a basic missile type BGM-71A. It implemented the basic principles that determined both the high combat capabilities of the complex and influenced its further development. In the mid-seventies, the BGM-71B missile was adopted, which had minimal differences from the base sample.
The BGM-71A / B missiles were built according to the normal aerodynamic design; they had a length of 1,17 m and a starting weight of 18,9 kg. The head of the hull was given over to the warhead, behind it was a solid-fuel engine with side oblique nozzles, and the tail compartment accommodated control equipment. The first types of missiles developed speeds of up to 280 m / s and carried a warhead weighing 3,9 kg (2,4 kg of explosive), penetrating up to 430 mm of armor.
At TOW, a semi-automatic guidance system with a wired control system was used from the very beginning. The ATGM operator had to keep the aiming mark on the target, and the automation independently determined the position of the rocket along the tracer and kept it on the desired trajectory. On board the missile, the commands were transmitted over a thin cable. On the BGM-71A there was a coil with 3 km of wire; in modification "B" managed to wind an additional 750 m.
Both missiles were intended for use on land ATGMs and as part of the armament of helicopters. In the latter case, BGM-71B was considered more convenient with an increased flight range, which reduced the risks for the carrier helicopter. However, this did not exclude the use of both modifications on any available platforms. Both in the USA and in other countries, TOW ATGMs were actively used on a wide variety of vehicles.
By 1981, the US military mastered the updated Improved TOW ATGM with the BGM-71C missile. The main innovation was an improved warhead demolition system. Contact fuse placed on a telescopic rod in front of the head of the rocket. After the start, the bar opened and the fuse was removed from the warhead, providing an optimal distance of detonation. Due to this, penetration at the same charge mass was brought up to 630 mm. The controls have improved, but the principles of action have not changed.
In 1983, the production of the ATGM BGM-71D TOW-2 began. It introduced modern digital control systems with increased resistance to countermeasures. The rocket became heavier and received an enhanced 5,9-kg warhead with a penetration of at least 850 mm; An extended three-section fuse bar was also used. Due to the use of a more powerful engine, the flight characteristics of a heavier rocket remained at the level of previous samples.
In the second half of the eighties, the army received a missile BGM-71E TOW-2A, capable of hitting armored objects with dynamic protection. To initiate a remote sensing, a 300-g lead charge is installed on the fuse rod; its presence is compensated by the ballast weight in the tail of the rocket. The main warhead remains the same, but detonation algorithms have been finalized. The on-board equipment was improved, a new pulse tracer was used.
Missiles of the family, from left to right: BGM-71A, BGM-71C, BGM-71F, BGM-71B and BGM-71E. Photo US Army
In the early nineties, the BGM-71F missile appeared with a fundamentally new military equipment. She received two warheads with a total mass of 6,14 kg, emitting so-called impact core down when flying over the target. The combination of magnetic and laser target sensors determines the presence of an armored object, after which both charges are triggered with a minimum interval. The defeat of the target is made in the least protected projection. The specifics of the use of such a rocket forced to refine the guidance of the ground part of the ATGM. Due to the new engine and coil with cable, the range was brought up to 4,5 km.
Since the mid-nineties, work was underway to create a rocket with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead to destroy protected structures. The finished product BGM-71H appeared only in the middle of the two thousandth. It is capable of hitting targets at ranges up to 4,2 km and punching reinforced concrete structures with a thickness of 200 mm.
In the 2s, new anti-tank systems appeared called the TOW-XNUMXB Aero. In these projects, it was possible to increase the flight range and some other characteristics. In addition, one of the projects involved the use of radio command control instead of wired. It was assumed that such an ATGM variant has great prospects in the context of helicopter armament.
In production and operation
ATGM family TOW entered service with the United States in 1970, and soon began their export. Production of modern modifications continues to this day; serial products go to the US Army and foreign customers. Some deliveries were carried out as part of full-fledged commercial contracts, others in the form of military assistance.
For half a century, several tens of thousands of TOW launchers have been produced in all versions, from portable to aviation... The total number of missiles manufactured is at the level of 700-750 thousand pieces. The bulk of these products remained in the United States. Iran made a small contribution to the total output. At one time, he bought American ATGMs, and after the revolution, he set up their unlicensed production - this is how the Tufan products appeared.
Currently, TOW different versions are in service with more than 40 countries. In addition, in recent local conflicts, weapon actively used by various non-state and illegal armed groups. In general, at the moment, TOW family missiles are one of the most popular anti-tank weapons in the world.
Reasons for popularity
ATGM BGM-71A TOW entered service with the U.S. Army due to the successful balance of all the basic characteristics and compliance with customer requirements. It was a fairly simple and reliable complex, capable of combating the characteristic threats of its time. Due to this, TOW quickly became the main ATGM of the American army.
The complex had a high modernization potential, and it continues to be used until now. Old modifications gradually gave way to new ones, which made it possible to obtain an increase in combat qualities without all the difficulties associated with the complete replacement of weapons. The most important factor was the compatibility of anti-tank systems with various carriers, including fundamentally different classes.
The technical staff of the ILC carries out the installation and alignment of the M220 launcher for the aircraft version of the TOW. Photo by US MC
The reasons for the popularity of BGM-71 abroad are obvious. The United States offered the Allies a good and inexpensive modern anti-tank missile system, and they took the opportunity. Commercial success among partner countries has become good advertising, and other states have become interested in the complex.
As for local conflicts of recent times, in them the spread of TOW is associated with its availability in a particular region. Irregular formations use only those weapons that they can get on their own or from allies. The latter factor, for example, explains the widespread occurrence of TOW in Syria.
However, in recent decades, the situation on the ATGM market has been changing, and TOW products are gradually losing popularity. On the international market there are several other lines of similar weapons, built on other principles and having the most serious advantages. Even later TOWs cannot always compete with modern Spike or Cornet complexes.
The secret in a successful combination
BGM-71 TOW is a good anti-tank system, which for several decades has remained relevant from a technical point of view. In addition, he shows what results a favorable combination of a successful design, sufficient characteristics, economic and political factors can produce. Without all this, TOWs would hardly have become so popular and widespread.
The development of TOW ATGM continued for several decades and gave very interesting results. However, half a century has passed since the first samples of the family appeared, and much has changed since then. The missiles of the BGM-71 family no longer fully meet modern requirements and may require replacement. However, while the rejection of TOW is not expected. These weapons are supplemented with modern samples, but are not decommissioned. So do developed armies and various gangs. It seems like a half century anniversary история and the evolution of the ATGM family will not end.