Armor: Kurds Appreciate Old Tech


June 11, 2015: The Kurds of northern Iraq have their own army but not easy access to arms and ammunition supplies. The Kurds have a hard time getting weapons from the Iraqi government because of disputes over control of oil and corruption in the Shia Arab dominated government. Thus the Kurds have sought weapons from all available sources. Some Western countries have defied the Iraqi government and delivered badly needed weapons directly (usually via air) to the Kurds. One of the latest donors is Germany, which sent in 80 Milan ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) systems and nearly a thousand missiles.

While an older (1970s) technology, Milan has remained in production because it can still get the job done if used against lightly armored vehicles, older tanks or structures (bunkers, buildings and such). The Kurds need weapons like this to deal with the growing number of armored vehicles ISIL has captured from the Iraqi Army and police as well the ISIL use of vehicle suicide bombs. These are often used at night where they come roaring out of the darkness to attack a Kurdish checkpoint or compound. An ATGM can stop these suicide attacks more effectively than machine-gun fire.

The basic Milan is a 1.2 meter long, 125mm diameter, 7.1 kg (16 pound) missile. It has a minimum range of 400 meters and maximum range of 2,000 meters. At max range the missile takes about 13 seconds to reach its target. The missile is guided to the target by the operator via a thin wire. This is the SACLOS (semi-automatic command line-of-sight) system that was very popular in the 1970s. The launcher weighs 21 kg (46 pounds). The missile can penetrate about a meter (39 inches) of armor, making it effective against all but the most modern tanks (M-1, Challenger, Leopard 2). Since the 1970s, over 350,000 Milan missiles and 30,000 launchers have been built worldwide. More modern ATGM are wireless and require much less effort on the part of the operator but they are more expensive. Milans are now being phased out in favor of more modern designs.

Kurdish forces fighting in Iraq and Syria have also been seen using the Chinese HJ-8 ATGMs. Chinese weapons are widely available in the international black market for arms. If you have the money, there are groups that can get you all sorts of relatively cheap and pretty effective Chinese weapons, which are often pretty good copies of Western and Russian weapons. But sometimes older American weapons are copied. Thus the HJ-8 is the Chinese version of the American TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) system has been in service since 1970. Over 500,000 TOW missiles have been manufactured since its introduction and it remains in service with the United States and many other countries. All versions of TOW are shipped and fired from a sealed launch tube. That tube is placed on a MGS (Missile Guidance Set) that contains the gunner sight, with night vision, and operator guidance electronics. The MGS weighs 25 kg (55 pounds). The 1970 version of the missile weighed 19 kg (42 pounds) and had a 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) at targets up to 4,000 meters away.

The HJ-8 is nearly identical to TOW 2 in size, weight, range and, according to the Kurds, performance. Both TOW and HJ-8 use SACLOS guidance. The big problem with SACLOS is that the operator is often under fire and that sometimes makes it difficult to maintain aim. The following generations of anti-tank missiles were wireless and “fire-and-forget” which allows the operator to duck as soon as the target is identified by the MGS and the missile fired.





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