The United States' BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile system is a SACLOS-guided missile system that has been used and copied by many countries around the world.
To operate a SACLOS (semi-automatic command to line-of-sight) system, the operator maintains the target in his sights. The missile system's on board computer responds to commands from the sight unit via a trailing wire.
Although the BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missile system can be fired from a tripod, it is a large system and is usually platform mounted on suitable vehicles, including APCs and helicopters.
When the TOW missile is launched from a tripod, the launch tube is mounted pre-loaded and is replaced after it is fired. TOW missiles are fin stabilized.
A TOW missile can engage targets from 109.4 yards (100m) to a maximum of 4,101 yards (3750m) away.
Development of the TOW (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided) missile system began in 1962, but the anti-tank weapon did not enter service with the US army until 1970.
Since that time, the TOW missile system has been in service with the armies of more than 40 countries.
The TOW anti-tank missile system has undergone a number of improvements in order to maintain its combat effectiveness against modern MBTs and to counter developments in explosive reactive armor (ERA).
These improvements have resulted in larger diameter HEAT warheads with telescopic stand-off probes that increase the anti-tank weapon's effectiveness against composite armor and ERA.
The 5.98 inch (152mm) diameter BGM-71E TOW-2B missile is believed to be able to penetrate 35 inches (900mm) of armor behind a layer of ERA.
The BGM-71H TOW-2B is designed to be used against fortified structures, such as bunkers.
The TOW anti-tank missile system was used during the Vietnam War, during the 1990/1991 Gulf War and during the 2003 Gulf War.
During the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, American President Ronald Reagan was accused of illegally authorizing the shipment of TOW missile systems to Iran, via Israel, in return for the release of hostages held by Iranian terrorists and to fund the Contras, rebel groups in Nicaragua.