Anti-tank guided weapons


Byline: Gordon Arthur / Hong Kong

The American bazooka, British PIAT and German Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust became household names in WWII. Shoulder-launched or fired from a prone position, they were obviously lighter and more portable than traditional towed anti-tank guns. Nowadays such rocket launchers have evolved into extremely capable anti-tank guided weapons (ATGW) indispensable to any military arsenal.

First-generation ATGW systems possessed a manual command-to-line-of-sight (MCLOS) guidance system, which required users to keep the crosshairs on their target all the way. They were superseded by the next generation featuring semi-automatic command-to-line-of-sight (SACLOS) guidance, and these ATGWs with improved range and better warheads are still commonplace. The user only had to keep the sight on the target. The fitment of night or thermal sights enabled better target detection under different weather/light conditions.

The newest third-generation ATGWs are fire-and-forget types that rely on laser, electro-optical imager seeker or W-band radar seekers in the missile nose. The advantage is that missiles need no further direction after acquiring the target. On the other hand, they are more vulnerable to electronic countermeasures than MCLOS and SACLOS systems. Modern missiles typically have shaped-charge HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) warheads designed specifically to penetrate conventional armour. However, the introduction of explosive reactive armour (ERA) on MBTs caused something of a revolution in terms of the tandem warhead. In order to defeat ERA, an initial smaller charge sets off the ERA and clears a path for a second charge to penetrate the armour proper. Another innovation is top attack, which aims to penetrate a vehicle’s thinner roof or upper-hull armour.

The cost of third-generation ATGWs runs to thousands of dollars, so ATGWs are generally bolstered by cheaper anti-armour rocket launchers such as the RPG-7. Apart from price, rocket launchers have operational flexibility and warheads can be selected as required. This article provides a quick overview of what ATGW and rocket systems are in use or on offer within the Asia-Pacific region.

American systems
An older American system is the BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missile. While it is potentially man-portable, its bulk means it is generally mounted on vehicles like the HMMWV, Bradley or Stryker. Raytheon has manufactured more than 660,000 missiles to date, with the latest types being the TOW 2A (BGM-71E) with tandem HEAT warhead and TOW 2B (BGM-71F) with top-attack capability. There is also the TOW Bunker Buster (BGM-71H) and TOW 2B Aero that the US Army ordered in 2004. The latter’s range extends to 4.5km. A wireless TOW 2B Aero version is also in production. US Army and US Marine Corps (USMC) units stationed in the region possess TOW systems, as does Taiwan (mainly on M1045A2 HMMWVs). Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand also operate the TOW, while Pakistan received some 3,300 TOW 2A missiles in 2006.

Much more portable and modern is the FGM-148 Javelin from Raytheon/Lockheed Martin, which has seen extensive combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its tandem HEAT warhead has a maximum range of 2,200m. The Command Launcher Unit (CLU) has an integrated day/thermal sighting system that allows dual employment for surveillance. Operators can select top-attack or direct-attack modes and the missile has an imaging infrared (IIR) seeker. The Javelin has achieved significant regional sales, with Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan amongst its users. A US arms package agreed in 2008 included 182 Javelin antitank missiles for Taiwan, bringing the national tally to 542.

Sweden’s most famous anti-tank system is the 84mm Carl-Gustaf M3 from Saab Bofors Dynamics, and it has attracted more than 40 militaries. Australia selected the M3 in November 2009 (437 M3s fitted with BAE Systems Heavy Weapon Thermal Sights) under LAND 40 Phase 2, and all had been delivered by late 2011. Other regional countries operating the Carl-Gustaf are India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Thailand. Howa Machinery Limited started producing the Carl-Gustaf in 1979, and some 2,720 were eventually produced in Japan. The Swedish manufacturer’s newest weapon is the 12.5kg NLAW (Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapon). With a 600m range, it possesses an overflying top-attack (OTA) capability. It has three users – Finland, Sweden and the UK. In 1996, Saab introduced the Bill 2, its heaviest ATGW system with OTA ability to defeat ERA.

Saab Bofors Dynamics also makes the 84mm AT4 used by Taiwan since 1983 and the USA since 1987. It is one of the world’s most widespread systems with 600,000+ produced to date. Although not designed to defeat the armour of an MBT, it can be used against lighter vehicles. It differs from the Carl-Gustaf as it is a disposable one-shot launcher. For greater utility in urban combat scenarios, the USA now only procures CS (Confined Space) versions.

Germany has achieved sales in Japan and South Korea with its Panzerfaust 3 (PzF 3). IHI Aerospace Company started license-producing the PzF 3 in Japan in 1990. The PzF 3-T possesses a tandem warhead to defeat ERA, but the latest variant is the PzF 3-IT-600 incorporating a computerised sight mechanism that extends its range to 600m. Developmental models include a Rückstoßfreie Granatwaffe (RGW) in 60mm and 90mm calibres for better application in urban and low-level warfare.

The other notable European missile system is the MBDA MILAN. The MILAN has proved extremely popular with some 360,000 missiles produced over the years. The latest variant is the 1,920m-range MILAN 3 with tandem HEAT warhead. MBDA also developed the MILAN ER (Extended Range) missile featuring a new ADT (Advanced Technologies) firing post. Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) in India has built some 30,000 MILAN missiles under license, and the last contract in 2008 covered 4,100 MILAN-2Ts. They are presently mounted on locally built Flame launchers.

The newest kid on the block is the Rafael Spike with five principal versions: SR with 800m range; MR with 2.5km range; LR with 4km range; 8km-range ER (for airborne applications); and 25km non-line-of-sight (NLOS). Rafael has made a splash on the international market with export markets alone ordering 20,000 missiles to date. The newest family member is the Mini-Spike at just a third of the price and weight of the Spike-LR. Singapore was the first regional Spike user after it ordered 1,000 LRs in 1999, these being built under license by ST Dynamics. The Singapore Army integrated twin Spike launchers onto Light Strike Vehicles (LSV). On 6 September 2011, South Korea signed up for 50 Spike NLOS missiles to man positions on outlying islands such as Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea. These are ready to target North Korean artillery pieces.

India and Thailand are both reported to be evaluating the Spike-MR. India has a requirement for 321 launchers, 8,356 missiles and 15 training simulators, with the Spike competing against the Javelin.

For a long time China has been self-sufficient in ATGW production. The most common system is the Hongjian-8 (HJ-8) from NORINCO. The second-generation “Red Arrow-8”, the equivalent of the American TOW, has been in People’s Liberation Army (PLA) service since 1987. The HJ-8E has a tandem HEAT warhead and 4,000m range, while the HJ-8F has two warheads (HEAT and HE) for use against bunkers. The newest missile type is said to be the HJ-8H with 6km range. A lightweight launcher (HJ-8L) weighing only 22.2kg has an improved anti-jamming capability.

An improved third-generation version known as the HJ-9 has a 5.5km range. Its launch tube is heavier than that of the HJ-8 (37kg compared to 25kg). The HJ-9A uses semi-active millimetre-wave radar guidance and it has been seen mounted on 4×4 vehicles and armoured vehicles, although it is believed to be dismountable. The PLA also fields the recoilless PF98 (Type 98) rocket launcher that fires an HE or tandem HEAT projectile out to 1.8km. The complete tripod-mounted system with day/night sight system weighs 29kg and measures 1.191m long. Alternatively, the PF98 can be fired from the shoulder.

The HJ-8 has been produced under license by Kahuta Research Laboratories in Pakistan as the Baktar-Shikan since the late 1990s. Up till 2010, Pakistan had manufactured some 20,350 missiles. This system has been mounted on Pakistani APCs and helicopters, plus the Muslim country has exported it to Bangladesh, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

Russian systems
Russia offers an extremely wide range of capable ATGMs. One of the most up-to-date systems is the 9M133 Kornet (AT-14 “Spriggan”), this tripod-mounted system having a 5,500m range. It features either a tandem HEAT or thermobaric warhead. Based on Russian experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s, where anti-armour warheads proved less than ideal against caves and bunkers, Russia developed the thermobaric warhead.

A major user of Russian ATGWs is India with the tandem-warhead Tula KBP 9M113M Konkurs-M. Because the third-generation Nag missile from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was behind schedule, India ordered 15,000 Konkurs-Ms (AT-5 “Spandrel”) to fill the gap.

The 9K115-2 Metis-M (AT-13 “Saxhorn-2”) is a man-portable second-generation system that requires a crew of three. Hezbollah used the Metis-M against Merkava tanks in the 2006 Lebanon War. Local users include Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.

Local developments
Several Asian countries have developed indigenous missile systems. The Indian Army has an authorised holding level of 81,206 ATGMs but it presently possesses less than half this total. India has been focusing on the fire-and-forget Nag ATGM for many years. Validation trials for the behind-schedule Nag (Sanskrit for “Cobra”) from the DRDO and BDL occurred in 2010. The Nag will be mounted on BMP-2 vehicles, and in the future a lighter infantry-portable variant will be developed. Its maximum range is 6,000m.

LIG Nex1 in South Korea is currently developing the next-generation Medium-Range Infantry Missile (MRIM), its designer claiming the man-portable system will rival the Javelin’s and Spike’s performance levels. Japan has a long pedigree in producing ATGWs, primarily under the auspices of Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Japan’s newest system is the Type 01 Light Anti-Tank Missile (LMAT) inducted a decade ago. So far more than 1,073 have been produced to supplement 410 Type 87 Medium Anti-Tank Missiles (MMAT).

As well as the Spike, Singapore has been co-developing the 90mm MATADOR disposable weapon with Israel. Based on the German Armbrust, it is extremely light and produces a limited back-blast. HEAT or HESH warheads are selectable, and its combat debut occurred with Israeli forces in 2009. The Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST) in Taiwan exhibited its Kestrel anti-armour rocket launcher at last year’s TADTE show in Taipei. Kestrel will be a low-cost replacement for GIAT APILAS systems procured in 1997. It is expected the 400m-range Kestrel will soon be inducted into the Republic of China Army.


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