Meet the TOW Missile: Western-provided military aid might be Ukraine’s best chance at defeating Russia.
While the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank weapon system, the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, and the M142 HIMARS rocket system are widely considered to be the most advanced American systems delivered to Ukraine, one significant anti-tank missile is often left out of the analysis.
The BGM-71 TOW has played a critical role in thwarting Russia’s advances, and it will now help Kyiv steward its counteroffensive.
The U.S. Will Deliver More TOWS
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Defense announced its latest security assistance package to Ukraine — the Biden administration’s 42nd drawdown of equipment for Kyiv since summer 2021. The U.S. has committed more than $41 billion in assistance to aid Ukraine’s defensive efforts since Russia began its invasion, and Reuters recently confirmed that the Pentagon has allocated an additional $10.8 billion in security assistance for Kyiv.
July’s aid package includes a range of systems intended to help Ukraine’s counteroffensive. In addition to Patriot munitions, AIM-7 missiles, Howitzers, Stinger anti-aircraft systems, and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, the U.S. is delivering more Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missiles.
Introducing the TOW Missile
Introduced in the early 1970s, the TOW is one of the most widely used anti-tank guided missiles. Since its first use in combat during the Vietnam War, the TOW has become a staple for U.S. and foreign armored vehicles. Over the five decades that the TOW has been in service, numerous variants have emerged, all fitted with new and improved capabilities. Variants include the TOW2A (BGM-71E), the TOW 2B (BGM-71F), the TOW 2B Aero, and the TOW 2A bunker buster (BGM-71H).
As described by its current producer Raytheon, “The TOW missile enables ground forces to achieve overmatch against adversary armored and wheeled systems, regardless of the environment or conditions. It is an essential and complementary capability in a layered ground-force defense, providing reliable and precise anti-armor attack, battle proven in highly contested environments.”
The TOW missile system can be fitted on a range of military vehicles, including the TOW vehicle M901, the U.S. Marine Corps LAV, the Desert Warrior, the Piranha, and the Bradley M2/M3. More than 40 countries today use the advanced anti-tank guided missile system — it is likely integrated on more than 15,000 ground and aerial platforms.
Along with the Javelin, Next-Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapon, and other platforms, the TOW missile has proven to be effective in decimating Russian MBTs. While the TOW may be less recognized than its counterparts, it has undeniably helped, as Moscow’s modern tank fleet has been slashed, according to some reports, by more than 50%.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.