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The Main Battle Tank and Light Armour Weapon (MBT LAW), developed by Saab Bofors Dynamics, was selected in May 2002 for the UK Army next-generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW) programme.
The portable, short range, fire-and-forget system entered service in 2009 to replace the British Army’s existing Insys LAW-80 system that is reaching the end of its operational life.
The development is a joint venture between Sweden and the UK, and the UK MoD Defence Procurement Agency will procure the systems for Sweden.
The UK government has delivered more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons including NLAWs and Javelin missiles to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, for deployment against Russian forces during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.
MBT LAW anti-tank missile system development
Both launcher and missile development are carried out at Saab Bofors Dynamics facilities at Eskilstuna and Karlskoga in Sweden using the expertise gained on anti-armour systems such as the Carl-Gustaf system, the AT4 CS confined spaces weapon and the Bill anti-tank missile.
Thales Air Defence is the major UK partner, leading Team MBT LAW which includes 14 UK subcontractors for the manufacture of the weapon system. Final assembly and test is carried out at the Thales Air Defence facilities in Belfast.
The missile’s inertial measurement unit is manufactured by BAE Systems at Plymouth. BAE Systems constructed a new semiconductor facility at Plymouth to manufacture the silicon rate sensors within the IMU. The new facility duplicated the production line at BAE Systems’ joint venture company, Silicon Sensing Systems, in Japan.
FR-HiTEMP, Titchfield, is responsible for the manufacture of the control fins and actuators. Raytheon Systems Limited, Glenrothes, and Thales Missile Electronics, Basingstoke, manufacture electronics assemblies and the proximity fuse. National Plastics Aerospace, Coventry, is responsible for the plastic and composite mouldings. Skeldings, based in Smethwick, manufactures the system’s special purpose springs.
Express Engineering of Gateshead, Portsmouth Aviation, EPS Logistics Technology, Leafield Engineering of Bristol and Metalweb in Birmingham are also major partners in the MBT LAW consortium.
MBT LAW anti-tank weapon information
The soldier can bring the missile system from the carry position to the firing position and make it ready to fire in under five seconds. The soldier discards the launcher after firing and can retain the night sight if needed.
The 115/150mm calibre launcher is of composite material construction. The launcher is fitted with the gunner’s optical sight, a foldaway launch device, handles and firing mechanism, battery package, carrying straps and a firing support. A mounting rail attached to the launcher is for attaching any night sight.
The gunner can break off and start up a combat sequence any number of times. The missile can be deployed at targets at ranges down to 20m and to over 600m. The missile can also be launched immediately without tracking when an unexpected target appears.
The MBT LAW has a soft launch and can be fired from confined spaces such as from inside buildings and vehicle hatches, and from all positions and angles up to ±45°. The flight time to a 400m range is less than two seconds. The initial muzzle velocity is 40m/s. The maximum missile velocity is below the speed of sound.
Guidance system of NLAW
In the predicted line-of-sight (PLOS) mode, the gunner tracks the target for three seconds and the missile’s guidance electronics makes a record of the gunner’s movement as he aims and computes the flight path to the predicted position of the target.
It is unnecessary for the gunner to consider the range or angular speed of the target. After launch the missile flies autonomously to the target. The missile’s position in its trajectory always coincides with the target irrespective of range.
Modes of operation
The soldier selects top attack mode to engage tanks and armoured vehicles in order to strike the least armoured area on the vehicle’s roof. In the overfly top attack (OTA) mode, the missile flies at about 1m above the line of sight. The missile’s sensor initiates the warhead above the roof of the target.
The soldier can select the direct attack (DA) mode to engage light vehicles, buildings and bunkers. In direct attack mode the missile flies directly along the line of sight towards the target. The missile fuse system is disconnected, and the warhead detonates upon impact, after a short delay.
NLAW warhead characteristics
The missile has an active magnetic and optical sensor activated proximity fuse. The sensor data is analysed to match the known relevant target criteria before warhead initiation. The missile warhead is activated even against aluminium targets and partially concealed targets.
In conventional overflight missiles a keyhole effect resulting in reduced penetration into the target is caused by a shaped charge jet which develops during the missile flight. The MBT LAW warhead, similar to the BILL 2 missile warhead, incorporates a dynamically compensated shaped and copper lined charge to retain the penetration characteristics. The charge is 102mm in diameter.
The training package for the UK MoD includes drill rounds, an indoor trainer, a laser-based short-range and field trainer, a weapons effect simulator, dummy rounds and an ammunition technical officer’s (ATO) training package.
An indoor trainer (IDT) is for use in a dismounted close combat trainer (DCCT), both systems being supplied and manufactured by FATS Ltd Lincoln, UK and Atlanta, USA. The laser-based short-range and field trainer (SR&FT) supplied by Thales Air Defence Systems includes the common weapon replica fitted with NOPTEL laser technology.
The weapon effect simulator (WES) which also uses the common weapon replica, is based on the technology of Saab Training Systems’ BT 46 laser simulator used to simulate the weapon characteristics of a number of weapon systems. It is used for force-on-force training in the British Army’s tactical effect simulator exercises (TESEX) for example on the UK MoD training grounds at Salisbury plain.
Orders and deliveries of NLAW
In December 2005, the Swedish government also awarded a contract to Saab Bofors for the series production and delivery of the NLAW, designated RB (Robot) 57 by the Swedish forces. Deliveries of the systems that were built in the UK started in 2009.
In December 2007, Finland placed an order for an undisclosed number of NLAW systems. An additional (undisclosed) number were ordered in December 2008.
The Finnish Defence Forces placed a €32m (SEK295m) contract with Saab for the NLAW anti-tank weapons in June 2015. Finland also ordered an undisclosed number of NLAWs in October 2017.
Saab received an order worth SEK1.035bn ($121.5m) from the Swiss Federal Office for Defence Procurement, to deliver NLAWs to the Swiss Army, in June 2017.