TOW Missile in Vietnam

Today, the US designed TOW missile is almost ubiquitous, being used by more countries than you can shake a stick at. It’s also in use by the Free Syrian Army rebels in that nasty little civil war they have going on.

But in 1972, the TOW was brand spanking new. The Army had its eye on the stupendous fleets of Warsaw Pact tanks in Europe, and wanted to get a good idea of just how well TOW would work, particularly mounted on a helicopter.

As it happened, the famous Easter Offensive of the Vietnam War broke out just about the same time that TOW was ready for operational testing. While we generally think of the Vietnam War as one fought by infantry supported by artillery in jungles or rice paddies, there was a shift in the Easter Offensive. The US had spent the years from 1964 to 1972 perfecting counter-insurgency warfare. But the the North Vietnamese Army in 1972 launched an entirely conventional, mechanized, invasion of South Vietnam. Large numbers of tanks, APCs and fleets of trucks supported the invasion. The Army of the Republic of Vietnam was ill equipped to deal with that mechanized threat. Only the prompt and massive application of American airpower staved off the invasion.

And one small part of that was the combat debut of TOW, mounted on UH-1B gunships.

XM26_Drawing

towviet2

The success of the interim XM-26 TOW armament system would inspire the Army to mount a similar system on its fleet of AH-1 Cobra gunships, which would be the primary attack helicopter in the Army fleet until introduction of the AH-64 Apache and its Hellfire missile in the late 1980s.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpzXVvemY0s]

TOW Missile Live Fire

A platoon of Bradley’s from 2-12 Cav conduct a TOW missile live fire at Graf in Germany.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ugsYLGXSmY]

That’s a heck of a lot of missiles. Back in my day, you’d be lucky to be allocated one missile, maybe two, for an entire platoon.

You’ll notice a small pop just before launch. When the gunner squeezes the trigger, that sends power to the missile, spins up the missile gyros, and activates the thermal battery to provide internal power to the missile.

It’s also pretty cool to see the guidance wires strung out, and the automatic wire cutting function. The impact fuze not only detonates the warhead, but it also sends the wire cut signal back to the launcher.

Secondary

As we’ve noted a time or two, the steel armor of a combat vehicle doesn’t burn. But damn near everything else on board will. Artillery self propelled guns are especially vulnerable. As soon as one round cooks off, the rest are sure to go in a sympathetic detonation.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blcMsqIi4J8]

H/T: Funkers 350

Syrian Rebels use a TOW Missile to snipe a tank

Via Funkers 350.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwQmO1YoR1M]

 

Where did the FSA get the US made TOW missile system? Probably not from us. But there are literally dozens of nations that use it, and it can’t have been too hard for someone to slip pretty fair numbers of the TOW system and some older missiles to the rebels. You could fit the whole thing in a car.

And you’ll notice it’s pretty dirt simple to assemble and operate (at least, during daylight, against a single stationary target).

Notice also the relatively long time of flight for the shot. The TOW is a fairly slow missile, with a time of flight of up to 23 seconds out to its maximum range.

And finally, notice also that the tank (my eyes are failing, I can’t tell if it’s a T-55 or a T-62) has plenty of secondary explosions in the aftermath. Tanks may be a steel box on treads, but they’re also packed with stuff that loves to burn.

Tow Missiles and EFPs

We’ll get around to doing a fuller history of the TOW missile, but here’s a taste for now.

What you see is a TOW2B missile attacking a Soviet built tank on the test range. You will notice the missile never hits the tank, but rather flies over the tank. When it is directly overhead, two warheads detonate, both flinging an EFP towards the top of the tank, where historically the armor is thinnest.  You see the missile warheads go off, followed almost instantaneously by the ammo and fuel inside the tank detonating. That’s why the turret goes flying off.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKqRsgm4CQc]

Here’s what a regular HEAT warhead on a earlier TOW does to a Bunker.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fU0ZmOCG500]