Armor: Sand Soldiers Seek Wireless TOW


August 2, 2010: A newly developed wireless version of the American TOW anti-tank missile has made its first export sale, to Saudi Arabia. Raytheon's radio controlled TOW was developed for use on AH-1 helicopter gunships, but the Saudis have bought over a thousand of these wireless (RF) TOWs for ground use by their National Guard (a tribal militia formed to protect the royal family).

This is not the first wireless TOW, however. Work on such missiles dates back to the 1990s. But the U.S. Army never adopted any of them. Israel developed its own wireless version (MAPATS, or "Laser TOW") in the 1980s. The Israeli TOW uses a laser designator and has a range of 4,000 meters. MAPATS weighs 29.6 kg/65 pounds, compared to 22.7 kg/50 pounds for the latest wire guided version. MPATS evolved into a different missile in the 1990s. The new wireless U.S. TOW will be lighter than MAPATS.

TOW has been in service since 1970, and over 500,000 have been manufactured. All versions are shipped, and fired from, a sealed launch tube. The 1970 version weighed 19 kg/42 pounds and had an 3.9 kg/8.6 pound warhead. The latest version (TOW 2B, or BGM-71F) weighs 22.7 kg/50 pounds and has a 6.2 kg/13.5 pound warhead that can defeat ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor). The last time TOW destroyed tanks was in 2003, during the Iraq invasion, but it is currently being used against enemy strongholds in Iraq and Afghanistan. TOW has gotten high praise from users throughout its four decades of use, and appears to have a decade or more of life left in it.


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