Launched from vehicles, tripods, and helicopters, the BGM-71 TOW missile, the abbrevation standing for Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile is a heavy anti-tank missile able to destroy most tanks at a range of 3 kilometers or greater.. The TOW 2B Aero replaces the wire with a radio link, much more appropriate for helicopter launch. It uses a go-onto-target guidance paradigm, under man-in-the-loop control.
Since its introduction in 1970, it has constantly improved in lethality, range, and guidance. When tanks began using reactive armor, the TOW warhead was rebuilt as a tandem charge, the first to set off the reactive armor and the second to penetrate. The weapon has done things never expected by its designers, such as pass through 6 feet of sand and kill a tank on the other side.
It is the long-range weapon of M2 Bradley and M3 armored fighting vehicles, can be mounted on a HMMWV, and on AH-1 attack helicopters. While it now must be controlled by an operator into the target, a fire-and-forget version is near deployment.
The first upgrades increased range, but, with the deployment of the AN/TAS-4 in 1980, the system became day-night.
BGM-71D TOW 2 was first delivered to U.S. Army and USMC units in 1983 increased the warhead. In 1987, production changed to the dual-charge BGM-71E TOW 2A. Complementing the E model is the BGM-71F TOW 2B, which is top-attack using explosively formed projectiles.
A BGM-71H variant, also known as TOW Bunker Buster, is a BGM-71E TOW 2A with a warhead optimized against concrete and masonry.