BGM-71 TOW

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BGM-71 TOW mounted on M220 launcher with daysight tracker, AN/TAS-4A night sight and FCS with inserted battery module - 152mm
BGM-71 TOW mounted in M65 launcher on AH-1W - 152mm
BGM-71 TOW mounted on Humvee with daysight tracker - 152mm. The launcher is not in a ready-to-fire configuration, since the fire control system is not mounted

The BGM-71 TOW series are SACLOS (semi-active command line of sight) missiles, and the US military's principle ground-based heavy antitank missile system. TOW was first produced by Hughes Aircraft in 1970 to replace the US' inventory of increasingly obsolete French-designed MGM-21A and MGM-32A MCLOS missiles and the M40 Recoilless Rifle, and the TOW series are currently manufactured by Raytheon. TOW stands for for "Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided" (or "Wireless" for the RF variant), making it perhaps the most contrived acronym in history. BGM (multiple launch environment ground-attack guided missile) is the code used for all TOW missile variants other than training rounds with dummy warheads but live motors: these are BTM-71 (multiple launch environment training guided missile).

While much lighter than the M40 recoilless rifle it replaced, the infantry TOW launcher is still an extremely large and heavy crew-served weapon, weighing about 270 pounds fully assembled, and incorporates a series of components, breaking down into a sighting unit, launch tube into which encased missiles are inserted, a traversing unit (which includes the bridging clamp with the umbilical data connector for the launcher to communicate with the missile), a tripod for ground use, and a separate fire control subsystem (FCS) module with either an inserted battery unit (except the latest FCS module for the M41 launcher, which does not have a socket for a battery) or a larger and longer-lasting silver-zinc battery power source (BPS) module. The BPS and FCS modules link to each other, with the FCS linked to the launcher via the coil cable that comes from its underside. For ground vehicle use, the BPS can also function as a power conditioner to accept voltage from the vehicle's own battery, and instead of a tripod mount, the traversing unit is mated with a base on the vehicle's hatch or a telescopic base for APCs. The Bradley IFV has a twin TOW box launcher that cannot be used dismounted from the vehicle and has all the control systems integrated into it, and there are also integrated launcher systems for attack helicopters.

The missiles are typically wire-guided, though an RF-guided wireless TOW does exist: this can be fired from any launcher, since the equipment for communicating with the missile in flight is encased in the launch tube. The guidance system uses an IR beacon on the missile's tail to track it, while a visible light beacon assists the operator in keeping track of the missile's location while using the day sight. The operator designates the target using the crosshairs in the scope for the entire flight time of the missile, with the fire control system calculating flight corrections to steer the missile to the designated point. See this link for some notes on the firing procedure.

The original production BGM-71A Basic TOW, BGM-71B and BGM-71C Improved TOW (ITOW) used an M151 launcher, which was later upgraded to the M220 launcher for the BGM-71D TOW-2 in the 80s. Later M151 models and the M220 used a dual sighting system with a mandatory daysight tracker and optional gas-cooled night sight which clamped onto the top, the AN/TAS-4, which was later updated to the AN/TAS-4A. The new ITAS (improved target acquisition system, referred to as SABER by the US Marine Corps) system, designed in the late 90s, has a redesigned launcher unit, the M41, which features a single combined sighting unit with a combined eyepiece (older TOW launchers having a separate eyepiece for the night sight) with a built-in laser rangefinder, an electronic cooling unit for the night sight that does not require gas cartridges, and automatic boresighting, along with a new traversing unit with improved controls (replacing the scattered controls and traversing knobs with controls mounted on a pair of handgrips), an improved fire control system, and longer-lasting lithium-ion power source (LPS) and charger. The companion upgrade for the Bradley is the Improved Bradley Acquisition Subsystem (IBAS). The newest version, M41 ITAS-FTL (Far Target Location) mounts a GPS-based PADS (position attitude determination subsystem) unit on top of the sighting unit for receiving precise coordinate data and using the TOW launcher as a designator for other weapons.

TOW is the world's most widely exported ATGM system, being found in the arsenals of 36 countries by the 1980s. An Iranian copy, Toophan, is also widely exported and often misidentified as an authentic TOW system.

Contents

Specifications

(1970 - present)

  • Type: Guided missile launcher
  • Caliber: 152mm (5.98 in)
  • Weight: 204 lbs (92.5 kg) (empty M220 launcher with TOW 2 mods and AN/TAS-4A fitted) + 52.8 lbs (23.9 kg) for TOW-2 FCS module with inserted battery pack (21 lbs (9.5 kg) for separate BPS with power conditioner) and ~ 60 lbs (27.2 kg) for missile
  • Length: 42.5 in (108 cm) (empty launcher), ~ 50 in (127 cm) (encased missile)

The BGM-71 TOW and variants can be seen in the following films, television series, video games, and anime used by the following actors:

Film

Title Actor Character Note Date
Iron Eagle Enemy soldiers Mounted on AH-1F Cobra helicopters 1986
The Delta Force Delta Force Operators Launch tube only, without missile casing or sight 1986
Fire Birds US Army soldiers Mounted on AH-1S Cobra helicopters and M2 Bradley 1990
The Pentagon Wars US Army soldiers Tripod-mounted on truck and M2 Bradley 1998
Hulk US Army soldier Mounted on Humvee 2003
War of the Worlds US Army soldiers Mounted on Humvees 2005
War of the Worlds US Marines Mounted on Humvees 2005
The Tiger and the Snow US Army soldier Mounted on Humvees 2005
Superman Returns Henchman Mounted on ship, modified to fire kryptonite missile 2006
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen US Army soldiers Mounted on M2 Bradley 2009
Battle: Los Angeles US Marines Mounted on AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters 2011
Man of Steel US Army soldiers Mounted on M2 Bradleys 2013

Television

Show Title Actor Character Note / Episode Air Date
The Sentinel Sunrise Patriots terrorists Tripod-mounted, "Siege" (S01E02) 1996
Over There Mounted on M2 Bradley, "Embedded" 2005

Video Games

Game Title Appears as Mods Notation Release Date
Time Crisis II Mounted on VAB armoured personnel carrier, unusable 1997
Half-Life Mounted on M2 Bradley, non-playable 1998
Crisis Zone Mounted on M2 Bradley, unusable 1997
Time Crisis II Mounted on VAB armoured personnel carrier, unusable 2001
Conflict: Desert Storm 2002
Time Crisis: Crisis Zone Mounted on M2 Bradley, unusable 2004
Battlefield 2 Tripod and vehicle-mounted 2005
Project Reality With thermal imaging Tripod and vehicle-mounted 2005
Steel Beasts With thermal imaging Mounted on various military vehicles 2000
ArmA II Tripod and vehicle-mounted 2009
America's Army Appears to be a TGT (TOW Gunnery Trainer) Tripod mounted, non-playable 2002
Battlefield: Vietnam Mounted on M151 MUTT 2004
Joint Task Force Mounted on Humvee 2006
World in Conflict Mounted on M2 Bradley 2007
ArmA: Armed Assault 2007
Call of Duty: Black Ops Anachronistic M41 ITAS mounted on even more anachronistic 2011 Jeep Wrangler, shown firing MCLOS TV-guided missiles 2010
Battlefield 3 M220 tripod mount with AN/TAS-4A 2011
Battlefield Play4Free Tripod and vehicle-mounted 2011
Battlefield 4 M220 tripod mount with AN/TAS-4A 2013
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Mounted on World Marshal Gekko unmanned vehicles 2013
Black Mesa "TOW Launcher" Missing bridging clamp, incorrectly shown as laser guided Ground mounting 2012 / 2015

Anime

Title Character Note Date
Digimon Tamers JGSDF soldiers Mounted on AH-1 Cobra helicopters 2001 - 2002
Black Lagoon Neo-Nazis Tripod-mounted 2006



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