Army Wants to Replace the Cold War-Era TOW Missile with a New Longer-Range Tank Killer

TOW missile
U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), fire the TOW missile system during a live fire at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Oct. 24, 2018. (Capt. Justin Wright/U.S. Army)

U.S. Army maneuver officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, want to replace the venerable tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided, or TOW, missile with an advanced projectile that can kill enemy tanks at more than twice the range.

The Army fielded the first TOW missile system in 1970. It was initially wire-guided, so soldiers had to remain stationary and vulnerable to the enemy as the missile tracked to the target. The current TOW, which has a range of about 3,750 meters, has a fire-and-forget operation.

The service wants the future Close Combat Missile System-Heavy, or CCMS-H, to retain many of the TOW's advantages but have the capability to kill the most advanced enemy battle tanks out to 10,000 meters, Mark Andrews, chief of the Combat Capabilities Branch at the Maneuver Requirements Division, told an audience Wednesday during the Maneuver Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate's Industry Day.

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"This close-combat missile is intended to be fired from a combat vehicle such as a Bradley ... and potentially even a next-generation combat system," Andrews said. "We want to increase range to the maximum set possible given the capability. So, if we can get out to 10K or plus-10K, we want to be able to achieve that."

Army maneuver officials used the industry day to give defense firms an idea of the advanced capabilities the service hopes to see over the next decade. The Army wants to field the CCMS-H sometime between 2028 and 2032.

"We want to be able to shoot on the move and ... we want the missile to get there quicker than it currently takes our TOW missiles to [travel] max distances," said Andrews, who did not provide the TOW's maximum flight time.

The Army also wants troops to be able to lock the new missile on target before and, if necessary, after launching, he said. It should also be maneuverable so it can go after enemy vehicles hiding behind cover.

The new missile, however, should retain some characteristics of the TOW, Andrews said.

"We want to retain our current TOW form factor. ... We have thousands of launchers out there that we just don't want to have to replace," he explained, adding that the new missile should have the TOW's current 40-meter minimum arming distance. "We want to be able to arm early; we want to retain the current arming distance that the TOW missile has."

If possible, the CCMS-H should be able to share targeting information with other combat vehicles in an infantry company or cavalry troop, he added.

"So, an adjacent vehicle could take your targeting data and you could pass it to them, and they could fire the missile because they are best postured to fire that missile," Andrews said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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