Oft-forgotten missile system packs punch
Stars and Stripes June 17, 2007
RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Infantry and cavalry soldiers in South Korea spend most of their time firing rifles or big weapons attached to armored vehicles.
They don’t get much time firing missiles, but soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment received a crash course on operating one of the Army’s oldest tank killers last week.
The tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided missile was first used in Vietnam and has been used since in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it still isn’t heralded among combat arms soldiers.
"Basically, the TOW is the forgotten weapons system," said master gunner Staff Sgt. Steven Williams of Batesville, Ark. "Some guys have been in the Army 10 years and haven’t fired one."
It can be launched from a Humvee or a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but it isn’t a "fire and forget" weapon like some of the military’s more automated weapons. A gunner must line up the cross hairs of the sight accurately and then guide the missile as it flies to the target.
"You have to know about where the center of mass of your target is and make small, careful corrections," Williams said "Too much correcting, and the missile swings wide."
Bradley crewmembers are accustomed to the firing the vehicle’s 25 mm gun, which is a powerful sharpshooting weapon but has its limits against fortified targets.
The TOW missile, on the other hand, can destroy a tank a couple of miles away, if the soldier fires it correctly.
"It’s definitely a cool experience being able to wield that sort of strength," said Pvt. William McMillan of Everett, Mass.
Little things like the initial delay when the missile ignites and how it flies aren’t difficult to learn but must be practiced to understand, Williams said.
To make things more challenging, 4th Squadron soldiers had to fire practice missiles 1,600 meters away from targets, some camouflaged.
"It’s definitely harder to pick up a target in thermal (imaging)," said 2nd Lt. Eric DeLoria, of Ontario, Calif., who successfully fired a TOW missile for the first time. "Trying to find a camouflaged vehicle out there is tougher than a heated plywood target."