News Bulletins

The TOW Anti-Tank Weapons System: Leveling Up the Combat Game

In the 1960s, the U.S. military briefly introduced small French-designed and -built SS.10 (or MGM-21A) and ENTAC (MGM-32A) wire-guided missiles, which were used as anti-tank weapons. Not long after the U.S. Army began using the former, the latter took its place until 1968, when the missile game changed forever. 


In 1963, Hughes Aircraft began developing the XBGM-71A, later known as the Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) weapons system. By the time the ENTAC was phasing out, the TOW missiles were ready for action. With two times the range, an advanced semi-automatic guidance system, a more powerful warhead, and more versatility than previously seen in an anti-tank missile system, the TOW missiles quickly became the most commonly-used guided missile system in the world. 

The TOW System Modules, Specs, & Firing

The TOW anti-tank missile system consists of: 

  • Folding Tripod Mount

  • Daysight Tracker (with optional night sight capabilities)

  • Launch Tube

  • Traversing Unit (which includes the weapon trigger)


This system, although bulky, could be set up on the tripod and fired by infantry. It could also easily mount to a range of jeeps, including the M151, M113 APC, and the M966 and subsequent M1045 HMMWV models, and they enjoyed extensive use in the air as well.  


After sighting the target and pulling the trigger, the missile is propelled forward through the launch tube. When the weapon leaves the chamber, four forward wings and four tail stabilizers snap into position, and the flight motor fires, sending the missile to the target at a speed of 600 mph. 

A Brief History of Combat Use

  • In 1972, the TOW system was tested under combat conditions in the Vietnam War. The 1st Combat Aerial TOW Team mounted the TOW system to UH-1 Huey helicopters and hunted for armored vehicles, eventually destroying North Vietnamese tanks. Not long afterward, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Rangers defended Ben Het Camp against PAVN forces, destroying three PT-76 amphibious tanks. Just two months after initial combat testing, the TOW missiles racked up 24 confirmed kills of light and main battle tanks held by the enemy. 


  • During the Lebanon War of 1982, the Israel Defence Forces used TOW missiles to decimate Syrian T-72 tanks built by the Soviets. Iran also purchased these weapons before its Revolution and during the Iran-Contra Affair, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Army utilized them during the Iran-Iraq War.


  • In the nineties, TOW systems were utilized by U.S. and British forces during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm. They were also mounted to HMMWVs and used by U.S. military forces during the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War in the early 2000s. 


The Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided weapons system has been the most used missile system worldwide, with only variants being built by Raytheon, who bought out Hughes Aircraft in 2011. 


To learn more about the TOW anti-tank, -bunker, and -armor missiles, or to request expert steering box repair services and fuel pump repair services for army jeeps, call Army Jeep Parts today!