The BGM-71 TOW is a heavy anti-tank missile developed by Raytheon. Credit: US Army
The TOW missile system can be fitted on a tripod-mounted launch tube and military vehicles to launch missiles from ground.
TOW missile system has been in service since 1970. Credit: Jen Fumio

The BGM-71 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) heavy anti-tank missile weapon system is produced by Raytheon Systems.

The weapon system is used in anti-armour, anti-bunker, anti-fortification and anti-amphibious landing roles. TOW is in service with more than 40 armed forces and is integrated on over 15,000 ground, vehicle and helicopter platforms worldwide. The system was fitted with wireless guidance in 2010 and is being used by US Army, Marines and other customers.

In October 2015, Raytheon Systems Company introduced the TOW EagleFire launcher for firing the wire-guided as well as wireless radio frequency missiles. The next-generation launcher offers enhanced target acquisition and engagement.

The TOW EagleFire launcher is lithium-ion powered, allowing silent watch for nine hours. Other structural and technological improvements include ergonomic handgrips, integrated day and night visibility with range finding feature, and built-in-test capability.

Raytheon’s upgrade programmes improve the safety and survivability of the troops while extending the lifetime of the missile beyond 2050.

TOW 2 missile system development

The TOW missile system has been in service since 1970 and more than 700,000 TOW weapon systems were delivered to the US Army and allied military forces to date. Its production versions include TOW 2A (BGM-71E), which entered production in 1987 with over 118,000 missiles delivered. TOW 2B (BGM-71F) entered production in 1991 with more than 40,000 missiles delivered and is designed to complement rather than replace TOW 2A, TOW 2B Aero, and TOW 2A bunker buster (BGM-71H).

A production contract for the new extended-range TOW 2B Aero was awarded by the US Army in February 2004. The contract was for 976 missiles, delivered by December 2006. A US Army contract for more than 2,700 TOW 2B and TOW 2B Aero missiles (including practice rounds) was placed in July 2004. TOW 2B Aero with ITAS has been selected for the US Marine Corps’ next-generation anti-armour weapon system-heavy (AAWS-H) programme.

The TOW 2 missile system was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, which constituted the first operational firing of the TOW 2B missile.

Vehicle and air-mounted missile systems

The missiles can be fired from the ground using a tripod-mounted launch tube or installed on vehicles. The TOW missile system can be fitted as a single-tube pedestal mount on military vehicles or as two-tube or four-tube under-armour systems on vehicles such as the improved TOW vehicle M901, Desert Warrior, Piranha, US Marine Corps LAV, Dardo Hitfist and Bradley M2/M3.

Airborne TOW is in service in at least 13 countries. More than 2,100 units have been delivered and helicopters fitted with the TOW missile include the AgustaWestland Lynx, AgustaWestland A129, Bell Textron 206L, UH-1 Huey, Hughes 500MD helicopter, Eurocopter Bo 105 and Bell Textron AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.

TOW anti-armour missile

The missile has command to line-of-sight guidance. The weapons operator uses a telescopic sight to view a point on the target and then fires the missile. The missile has a two-stage ATK (Alliant Techsystems) solid propellant rocket motor. The operator continues to view and track the target through the sight. Guidance signals from the guidance computer are transmitted along two wires, which spool from the back of the missile to the control system on the missile. The Chandler Evans CACS-2 control system uses differential piston type actuators.

TOW 2 missile warheads are supplied by Aerojet of Sacramento, California, with production facilities in Socorro, New Mexico.

The missile is fitted with a high-intensity thermal beacon, which provides a long-wave infrared tracking source and a xenon beacon for short-wave tracking. This dual-tracking system provides increased resistance to electro-optical and infrared countermeasures.

TOW 2A anti-tank missile

For penetration of tanks protected with explosive reactive armour (ERA), TOW 2A is equipped with a tandem warhead. A small disrupter charge detonates the reactive armour and allows the main shaped charge to penetrate the main armour.

TOW 2A bunker buster missile

A ‘bunker buster’ variant of the TOW 2A, to defeat field fortifications, bunkers and urban structures, has been developed and fielded by the US Army. The TOW 2A bunker buster has a range of 3,750m. It is scheduled to arm the US Army’s anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) variant of the Stryker combat vehicle family.

TOW 2B anti-tank missile

TOW 2B operates in a ‘flyover shoot down’ top attack mode, unlike other versions which are direct attack. It features a dual-mode target sensor designed by Thales (formerly Thomson-Thorn) Missile Electronics, which includes laser profilometer and magnetic sensor, and a new warhead section, produced by Aerojet.

It resembles the TOW 2A but without the extendible probe and is armed with two explosively formed tantalum penetrator (EFP) warheads. The EFP warheads detonate simultaneously, one pointing downwards, the other slightly offset to give an increased hit probability. The warhead material is designed to generate pyrophoric effects within the damaged target.

TOW 2B Aero anti-tank missile

An extended range TOW 2B missile, TOW 2B Aero, has a range of 4.5km, which is achieved in only a few seconds longer than the flight time of TOW 2B to 3.75km.

Two modifications are made to the TOW 2B. A longer wire is required for the longer range and a new aerodynamic nose has been fitted to allow stable, controllable flight to the extended range, while using the current propulsion system.

TOW 2B RF anti-tank missile

Another development of the TOW 2B Aero, the wireless TOW 2B RF is in production. TOW 2B RF is modified with a one-way, stealthy radio-frequency command link, which dispenses with the wire link and gives a range of 4.5km. The system is compatible with current launchers.

ITAS improved target acquisition system

In 1999, Raytheon Company was awarded a US Army full-rate production contract for the TOW improved target acquisition system (ITAS) for the HMMWV launcher and the ground mounted TOW. ITAS uses a thermal imager based on a standard advanced dewar assembly (SADA II) focal plane array, eye-safe laser rangefinder, and a gunner-aided target tracker. ITAS improves target recognition range performance and hit probability.

Between 1999 and 2003, the US Army procured 709 ITAS systems. In April 2005, a contract for the resumption of system production was awarded. The system has been fielded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. ITAS has also been bought by Canada for new LAV III vehicles armed with TOW missiles.

TOW FF fire-and-forget missile

In September 2000, the US Army awarded an EMD (engineering and manufacturing development) contract for a wireless TOW fire-and-forget missile to Raytheon Systems Company. However, the US Army cancelled the project in 2002.

TOW FF was to have an advanced imaging infrared staring focal plane array seeker.

Elevated TOW anti-tank missile

An elevated TOW system (ETS) has been developed by an international consortium consisting of Raytheon, GM Delco, Indra of Spain, and E. Falck Schmidt of Denmark.

The system, based on a Danish M113 armoured personnel carrier, uses an elevating mast fitted with a pod containing a lightweight launcher and four TOW launch tubes. In August 1999, the ETS successfully completed demonstration firing tests at the Danish Army Training Centre in Denmark.

Orders and deliveries

Kuwait requested the sale of 436 (292 TOW 2A, 144 TOW 2B) TOW missiles in August 2005.

The US Army placed the first production contract, with five one-year options, for the new wireless version of the TOW 2B RF missile in September 2006.

The US Congress was notified of the proposed sale of 2,000 TOW 2A missiles to Pakistan and 2,000 TOW 2A missiles to Israel in October 2007.

In November 2007, Canada placed an order for 462 TOW 2A RF bunker buster missiles, the first export order for this missile variant.

Kuwait requested the sale of 2,106 TOW 2A RF and 1,404 TOW 2B RF missiles in January 2008.

Egypt requested the sale of 6,900 TOW 2A missiles to replace its ageing inventory in September 2008.

In July 2010, the US Government placed a $55m contract with Raytheon to deliver TOW missiles to Saudi Arabia under a foreign military sales agreement.

Raytheon Technical Services received a $77.9m contract in March 2012 to deliver logistics and engineering support for subsystems and related equipment of the US Army TOW missiles.

In October 2012, Raytheon was awarded a $349m five-year contract to deliver 6,676 new wireless TOW missiles to the US military.

Saudi Arabia signed two foreign military sale (FMS) agreements with the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in December 2013. The first FMS, worth $170m, covers 750 BGM-71 2B TOW missiles, seven Fly-to-Buy TOW2B missiles, 1,000 BGM-71 2A TOW missiles, seven Fly-to-Buy TOW2A missiles, and the support equipment.

The second FMS, worth $900m, covers 9,650 BGM-71 2A TOW RF missiles, 4,145 BGM-71 2B TOW Aero RF missiles, 91 TOW-2A Fly-to-Buy missiles, 49 TOW-2B Fly-to-Buy missiles, and the associated equipment.

An international customer signed an FMS agreement worth $750m with the US Government for the TOW 2 missile systems in April 2014.

Raytheon and Thales signed a 27-month development and five-year production agreement to upgrade the TOW missiles, in June 2014.

Oman requested an FMS of 400 TOW 2B Aero missiles and related equipment worth $51m in January 2016.

Jordan signed an agreement with the US for the supply of TOW missiles in May 2016. The US State Department cleared the sale of TOW 2A missiles and technical support to Morocco in December 2016. The company won a $21m contract from the US Army to develop a new propulsion system for the TOW missile in October 2018.

The company received a $101m three-year contract modification to deliver additional TOW missile systems to the US Army in May 2019.

In September 2019, the US Administration approved the request of Morocco for the sale of 2,401 BGM-71-4B TOW 2A RF missiles and 28 BGM–71–4B–RF, and 400 M220A2 TOW Launchers and/or 400 M41 Improved Target Acquisition System (ITAS) launchers. The $776m deal also includes the sale of missile support equipment and training.

Raytheon received a two-year contract modification worth $398.3m in September 2020 to manufacture TOW missiles to the US Army.

Other operators of the TOW missiles include Bahrain, Lebanon, Croatia, and Taiwan.