Modelling > Engineering Dept.

ATGMs of the Cold War

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Logan Hartke:
So, I'm trying to read up on the various ATGMs of the Cold War and the relative merits and it struck me that the British were—by the late Cold War—using just about everything on the Western market but the HOT (as far as I know). They were using Swingfire and MILAN missiles on their AFVs and TOWs on their helicopters. Similarly, the Germans were using HOT, MILAN, and TOW missiles on their AFVs and helicopters at the same time.

How did these missiles compare to each other? Can anyone give me a basic, layman's terms rundown of them?

What I've gathered is that TOW and HOT were very comparable, with HOT mainly being a European alternative. HOT was probably the better missile at certain points in its development, had a better warhead, and supported European industry. TOW, however, was faster, cheaper, integrated on more platforms, and available earlier.

MILAN is a smaller, lighter missile than most of the others, able to be fired from smaller platforms and definitely the best choice for infantry.

Swingfire is intriguing. The British during the Cold War advertised it heavily and everything I've read seems to indicate that the missile gave a good account of itself. It offered more options for firing from behind cover, remote guidance, etc. It packed a huge warhead and seemed to be a good fit for the Cold War battlefield. So why didn't it succeed? Well, as far as I can tell, it was never integrated on as many platforms (helicopters, for example), it was probably more expensive than the TOW, and it was slooowww. When you have to guide a missile all the way in, you want it to get there sooner than later. You might miss more often with a slower missile, but you'll survive more often to fight another day on a high-intensity battlefield.

TOW seems to be the cheap, cheerful, "does what it says on the tin" option. No nonsense, next day shipping available, etc. The convenience, cost, and proven reliability seem big selling points.

Is that admittedly very basic assessment roughly correct?



Everything you've said is correct, here's some more details and quirks:

HOT: HOT is essentially a scaled-up MILAN, but one important difference is that HOT doesn't have a "pop" motor launch it downrange before the main motor fires. Instead, the main motor fires from the moment you pull the trigger, which means it can only be fired from enclosed vehicles or aircraft: if you tried to fire it from a shoulder mount (not that such a thing is available), you'd get your face burned off. The main reason for this was to get it out of the rotor downwash of a helicopter as soon as possible. At least in it's initial versions, HOT had a slight range advantage over TOW: 4000m vs 3750m.

MILAN: MILAN does have a "pop" charge, which launches the tube backwards off the rail at the same time it launches the missile forwards, which can complicate AFV mounts and makes it unsuitable for helos. MILAN is excellent as an infantry, light vehicle or pintle-mount weapon though: it's smaller and shorter-ranged than TOW, being more to the US Dragon missile, but without the latters wierd propulsion system. The British Army only used it briefly from Spartan APCs, finding it too tall and difficult to reload, and although remote vehicle mounts do exist, they've never had much popularity since HOT can be adapted to very small AFVs.

TOW: TOW is basically the biggest missile that can be practically fired from an open tripod mount: the original spec was written as a guided missile replacement for the 106mm recoilless rifle. As such, it covers a capability range that overlaps MILAN and HOT, but with less portability/concealability than the former and less absolute performance than the latter. Sales-wise it gets the usual commercial and political leg up from being American and produced in vast quantities, but even if it didn't, it would still deserve respectable sales based on it's solid performance.

Swingfire: Swingfire is a bit of an oddball: all the others are "2nd generation" ATGWs with SACLOS guidance (Semi-Automatic Command to Line Of Sight: goes where you point the cross-wires) whereas Swingfire is a "sophisticated 1st generation" missile with MACLOS guidance (Manual Command to Line Of Sight: you fly it like a radio-controlled plane). This has pros and cons. On the pro side, the launcher can be remote from the control unit and the missile can be flown round corners, over walls etc.. giving a lot of flexibility in skilled hands, and immunity to the IR jammers that seek to confuse SACLOS systems' automatic missile-trackers (goniometers). The con is the need for those skilled hands: Swingfire's thrust-vectoring and proportional control system make it easier to fly than other MACLOS ATGWs, but it still has to be relatively slow and it still needs MUCH more training than any of the others. Essentially it's a professional specialists weapon: lethal in skilled hands, but you can't give it to conscripts or guerillas and expect them to get results after ten minutes reading the manual.

Swingfire gets it's name from it's thrust vectoring steering system which allows it to make a 90 deg turn straight out of the launcher and steer accurately at very short ranges, unlike other MACLOS missiles that have a "gathering" distance of several hundred metres. However this means it needs to be slow in the first part of it's flight, and this is why it was never integrated onto helicopters: they did test it (it was called Hawkswing), but it couldn't get out of the downwash fast enough to avoid getting batted wildly off course.

The principle reason why Swingfire didn't sell better was cost. The TVC system in the missile needed a lot of precision-machined parts, and the proportional control system that made it easier to fly also needed an expensive 1960s computer in the control station. The British Army used it on three platforms: FV.438 with 2 launchers and 14 rounds, Striker with 5 launchers and 10 rounds and Ferret Mk.5 with 4 launchers and 6 rounds. I think some CVR(T) system customers also took Striker (I know Belgium did) and a lightweight version called Beeswing was sold the Egypt, with four launchers on the back of a Landrover. The Beeswing launchers were too heavy to carry, but they could be moved by hand using a small two-wheeled trolley, which was given the unofficial (I think) name "Golfswing" because it was about the size and shape of a golfer's bag.

All this from memory, so ususal caveats.

Logan Hartke:
Thanks, Weaver! That is helpful. I remember seeing something like that about HOT/MILAN regarding the "pop" motor, but I'd forgotten about it when I was looking at missiles again recently.



Warrior IFV with MILAN launch post.

I came across this recently when the Swingfire came back on my radar.

The Technical Data section mentions a "Mk.2" warhead during the Arab-British Dynamics era although nothing further of it was made in the story.

I apparently didn't think things through when I first thought of a Swingfire with Spike-inspired tandem warhead (the launchers it uses don't strike me as lending themselves well to any length growth of the ordnance itself) - without outright starting from scratch...... might a smaller precursor shaped charge mounted on an extendable nose probe immediately ahead of the main warhead (à la TOW 2A or Panzerfaust III-IT) be a better scheme?


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