The BGM-71 TOW is a U.S. anti-tank guided missile. TOW stands for Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided. The TOW was first produced in 1970 and is the most widely used anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) in the world. The TOW missile has been continually upgraded, with an improved TOW missile appearing in 1978, TOW 2 in 1983, and TOW 2A/B in 1987. Even as recently as 2001, TOW improvement has continued. Current production TOWs can penetrate all currently known tank armor.Initially developed by Hughes Aircraft between 1963 and 1968, the XBGM-71A was designed for both ground and heli-borne applications. By 1970 the system was being fielded by the US Army. In 1972 TOW missiles was deployed operationally in South Vietnam in response to the North Vietnamese Army Easter Offensive, as part of the XM26 Armament Subsystem for the UH-1B helicopter. Several TOW missiles were used by US forces in Iraq in the July 22, 2003 assault that killed Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein.

Class Missile
Type Surface to Surface
Manufacturer Raytheon
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1970
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Canada View
Chad View
Colombia View
Denmark View
Egypt View
Ethiopia View
Finland View
Germany View
Greece View
Iran (Persia) View
Israel View
Italy View
Japan View
Jordan View
Kenya View
Kuwait View
Lebanon View
Morocco View
Netherlands View
Oman (Muscat) View
Pakistan View
Portugal View
Saudi Arabia View
South Korea View
Spain View
Sweden View
Switzerland View
Thailand (Siam) View
Tunisia View
Turkey (Ottoman Empire) View
United Arab Emirates View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) View
United States of America View
Vietnam View
Yemen View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Raytheon View
Hughes Missile Systems Company View
Boeing View
McDonnell Douglas View

Initially developed by Hughes Aircraft between 1963 and 1968, the XBGM-71A was designed for both ground and heli-borne applications. In 1997, Raytheon Co. purchased Hughes Electronics from General Motors Corporation, so development and production of TOW systems now comes under the Raytheon brand. The BGM-71 TOW wire-guided heavy anti-tank missile is produced by Raytheon Systems Company. The weapon is used in anti-armor, anti-bunker, anti-fortification and anti-amphibious landing roles. The TOW is in service with over 45 militaries and is integrated on over 15,000 ground, vehicle and helicopter platforms worldwide.

In its basic infantry form, the system comprises a missile in a sealed tube which is clipped to a launch tube prior to use. When required, the missile tube is attached to the rear of the launch tube, the target sighted and the missile fired. The launch, or "kick", motor (booster) ejects the missile from the launch tube, at which point four wings indexed at 45 degrees just forward of the booster nozzles spring open forwards, four tail control surfaces flip open rearwards, and sustained propulsion is subsequently provided by the flight motor (sustainer) which fires through lateral nozzles amidships and propels the missile to the target. An optical sensor on the sight continuously monitors the position of a light source on the missile relative to the line-of-sight, and then corrects the trajectory of the missile by generating electrical signals that are passed down two wires to command the control surface actuators.

The TOW missile was continually upgraded, with an improved TOW missile (ITOW) appearing in 1978 that had a new warhead triggered by a long probe, which was extended after launch, that gave a stand-off distance of 15 in (380 mm) for improved armor penetration. The 1983 TOW 2 featured a larger 5.9 kg (13 lb) warhead with a 21.25 in (540 mm) extensible probe, improved guidance and a motor that provided around 30% more thrust. This was followed by the TOW 2A/B which appeared in 1987.

Hughes developed a TOW missile with a wireless data link in 1989, referred to as TOW-2N, but this weapon was not adopted for use by the U.S. military. Raytheon continued to develop improvements to the TOW line, but its FOTT (Follow-On To TOW) program was canceled in 1998, and its TOW-FF (TOW-Fire and Forget) program was cut short on 30 November 2001 because of funding limitations. In 2001 and 2002, Raytheon and the U.S. Army worked together on an extended range TOW 2B variant, initially referred to as TOW-2B (ER), but now called TOW-2B Aero which has a special nose cap that increases range to 10,000 meters. Although this missile has been in production since 2004, no U.S. Army designation has yet been assigned. Also, a wireless version of the TOW-2B Aero was developed that uses stealth one way radio link, called TOW-2B Aero RF.

The TOW missile in its current variations is not a fire-and-forget weapon, and like most second generation wire-guided missiles has Semi-Automatic Command Line of Sight guidance. This means that the guidance system is directly linked to the platform, and requires that the target be kept in the shooter's line of sight until the missile impacts. This has been the major impetus to develop either a fire-and-forget version of the system or to develop a successor with this ability.

In October 2012, Raytheon received a contract to produce 6,676 TOW (wireless-guided) missiles for the U.S. military. Missiles that will be produced include the BGM-71E TOW 2A, the BGM-71F TOW 2B, the TOW 2B Aero, and the BGM-71H TOW Bunker Buster. By 2013, the U.S. Marine Corps had retired the air-launched TOW missile.

In 1968, a contract for full-scale production was awarded to Hughes, and by 1970 the system was being fielded by the U.S. Army. When adopted, the BGM-71 series replaced the M40 106 mm recoilless rifle and the MGM-32 ENTAC missile system then in service. The missile also replaced the AGM-22B then in service as a heli-borne anti-tank weapon.

Vietnam: first combat use of TOW anti-armor missile

On 24 April 1972, the U.S. 1st Combat Aerial TOW Team arrived in South Vietnam; the team's mission was to test the new anti-armor missile under combat conditions. The team consisted of three crews, technical representatives from Bell Helicopter and Hughes Aircraft, members of the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command, and two UH-1B helicopters; each mounting the XM26 TOW weapons system, which had been taken from storage. After displacing to the Central Highlands for aerial gunnery, the unit commenced daily searches for enemy armor. On 2 May 1972, U.S. Army UH-1 Huey helicopters firing TOWs destroyed North Vietnamese tanks near An Loc. This was heralded as the first time a U.S. unit neutralized enemy armor using American-designed and built guided missiles (in this case against an American-made M-41). On 9 May, elements of the North Vietnamese Army's 203rd Armored Regiment assaulted Ben Het Camp held by Army of the Republic of Vietnam Rangers . The Rangers destroyed the first three PT-76 amphibious light tanks of the 203rd, thereby breaking up the attack. During the battle for the city of Kontum, the TOW missile had proven to be a significant weapon in disrupting enemy tank attacks within the region. By the end of May, BGM-71 TOW missiles had accumulated 24 confirmed kills of both PT-76 light and T-54 main battle tanks.

On 19 August, the South Vietnamese 5th Infantry Regiment abandoned Firebase Ross in the Que Son Valley, 30 miles southwest of Da Nang, to the North Vietnamese 711th Division. A dozen TOW missiles were left with abandoned equipment and fell into Communist hands.

1982 Lebanon War

The Israel Defense Forces used TOW missiles during the 1982 Lebanon War. On 11 July Israeli anti-tank teams armed with the TOW ambushed Syrian armored forces and destroyed 11 Syrian Soviet-made T-72 tanks. This was probably the first encounter of the American anti-tank missile with the newer Soviet tank.

1985 Iran–Iraq War

In the Iran–Iraq War, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army used TOW missiles purchased before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, as well as those purchased during the Iran–Contra affair.

Of the 202 AH-1J Internationals (export variant of the AH-1J SeaCobra) that Iran purchased from the USA, 62 were TOW-capable. Iranian AH-1Js managed to slow down advances of Iraqi tanks into Iran. During the "dogfights" between Iranian SeaCobras and Iraqi Mil Mi-24s, Iranians achieved several "kills", usually using TOW missiles.

1991 Gulf War

The TOW was used in multiple engagements during Operation Desert Storm in the 1991 Gulf War. During the war, both the M2 Bradley Infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and the M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle (CFV) carried TOW missiles. The M2 can also carry an additional 7 rounds, while the M3 can carry an additional 12 rounds. Both M2 and M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles destroyed more Iraqi tanks during the war, than M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks did.

The British Army also deployed TOW-armed, Westland Lynx helicopters to the conflict, where they were used to attack Iraqi armoured vehicles. This was the first recorded use of the missile from a British helicopter.

1993 Somalia

On June 5, 24 Pakistani soldiers were slaughtered by members of Mohamed Farrah Aidid's Habr Gdir militia; some were skinned. Subsequently, the United Nations called for the arrest of those responsible. Weeks later they would formally place the blame on Aidid, leader of the Habr Gidr clan. Ever since, U.N. troops had been hunting Aidid. There had been worsening incidents, with fighting back and forth. On 12 July, three months prior to the Battle of Mogadishu, the United Nations and United States attempted to defeat Aidid's organization by attacking a strategy meeting of his native Habr Gidr clan under Operation Michigan. The Washington Post described the event as a "slaughter" in which a "half-dozen" AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters fired 16 TOW missiles and 2,000 rounds from their 20 mm cannons into the meeting of the elders, intellectuals, poets, religious leaders, and senior combat commanders. The first TOW missile destroyed the stairs, preventing escape. In the aftermath, it was revealed that Aidid was not in the meeting. The Red Cross claimed that 54 people had been killed, as against Admiral Jonathan T. Howe who report that 20 had died, and Aidid’s SNA, which produced a list of 73 people whom they claimed had been killed. The reference originates from a New Left Review source, associated with the World Peace Foundation

2003 Iraq War

10 Humvee-mounted TOW missiles were used by U.S. forces in Iraq, in the 22 July 2003 assault that killed Uday and Qusay Hussein. Although the T0W missiles are used against tanks, these missles were used on the house the two men were in.

2011 Syrian Civil War

The weapon was spotted as early as April 2014 in at least two videos that surfaced showing Syrian opposition forces in the Syrian Civil War using BGM-71 TOWs, a weapon previously not seen in use by the opposition. Such a video, showing a BGM-71E-3B with the serial number removed, can be seen in a 27 May 2014 episode of the PBS series Frontline.

In February 2015, The Carter Center listed 23 groups within the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army that have been documented using US supplied TOWs.

A sudden influx of TOWs were supplied in May 2015, mostly to Free Syrian Army affiliated factions, but also independent Islamist battalions; as a requirement of being provided TOWs, these Syrian opposition groups are required to document the use of the missiles by filming their use, and are also required to save the spent missile casings. Groups provided with TOWs include the Hazzm Movement, the 13th Division, 1st Coastal Division, Syria Revolutionaries Front, Yarmouk Army, Knights of Justice Brigade, and the 101st Division. Free Syrian Army battalions widely and decisively used TOWs in the 2015 Jisr al-Shughur offensive.

General Information
Developed by USA
Deployed by Bahrain, Botswana, Canada, Chad, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, UK, USA, Vietnam, Yemen
Development Year 1965
Deployment Year 1970
Platform the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, the improved TOW vehicle, the Humvee and the AH-1F Cobra helicopter, and a dismounted ground mode.
Launcher sealed launch tube
Contractor Raytheon Corps., Hughes Missile Systems(prime contractor), Boeing Corp.,McDonnell Douglas Missile Systems Co.(second source)
Manufacturer 620,000 (all version, as of 1998)

Dimensions and Performance
Length 1.174m(2A), 1.168m(2B)
Body Diameter 15.24cm
Wing/Fin span 35cm
Launch Weight 21.5kg
Range 65-3,750m(2A), 200-3,750m(2B)
Speed 360m/sec

Propulsion solid rocket motor
Engine 2-stage M114 booster-sustainer rocket engine
Warhead 15.4cm shaped charge
Guidance wire-guided with SACLOS

End notes