Armor: Chinese Laser TOW Tryout


April 8, 2021: China recently revealed a new ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) which appears larger than earlier ones and uses top-attack warhead technology. It was later reported that a version of this new missile had been revealed, called the ATF-11, and better photos were provided. It appears that the larger vehicle mounted missile and the new portable version are the same and are in fact a laser guided version of the American TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided). The ATF-11 was is not the first Chinese missile to use top-attack tech. That showed up in the 1980s when they introduced the HJ-8, which is nearly identical to the American TOW 2 in size, weight, range and, according to the users, performance. The ATF-11 appears to be a laser guided version of the HJ-8. There were American and Israeli laser-guided (wireless) TOW missiles but they never seemed to be worth putting into service. That same fate may await a Chinese laser-guided HJ-8.

Both TOW and HJ-8 use SACLOS (Second-generation semi-automatically command guided to line-of-sight) 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 (Missile Guidance Set) and the missile fired.

After 2000 Chinese HJ-8 ATGMs were widely available in the international black market for arms. If you had 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. The HJ-8 is the Chinese version of the American TOW system, which has been in service since 1974 while HJ-8 showed up in 1985. 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  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 new Chinese missile was not named, but was shown mounted in a multiple cell launcher on an armored vehicle. No performance details were given but it is similar in size to TOW, and presumably capable and probably using “fire and forget” tech as well as an advanced target seekers.

China has been producing copies of Western designs for decades. In 2014 they introduced the HJ-12, which is similar to the American Javelin or Israeli Spike. The HJ-12 is portable and its control unit only weighs five kg (11 pounds) so that the entire system weighs 22 kg (49 pounds) and can be carried by infantry.




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