Medium- or long-range missile whose primary purposes are to destroy armed vehicles and protect ground troops. An antitank guided missile (ATGM) can be directed to a target by several different guidance systems, including laser guiding, laser marking, television camera, or wire guiding. The most advanced units, such as the U.S. Javelin, are “fire and forget” missiles, meaning that once the ATGM is launched, it directs itself toward the target using digital-imaging chips. A soldier sights the target through an optical or infrared viewer attached to the missile’s launch tube. Once fired, the missile’s cameras take new images of the target, compare those images to what is stored in its memory, and guide the ATGM to the target. In addition to tanks and other armored vehicles, the ATGM can be used against fortified positions or low-speed aircraft.
The Javelin missile replaces the second generation of semiautomatic antitank missiles, such as the TWO2, which used a wire to guide itself to the target. The fire-and-forget technology of the Javelin removes the threat of detection for ground forces firing the missile. Soldiers firing earlier generations of ATGMs or antitank weapons without guidance systems exposed themselves to return fire from the targets. The newest generations of ATGMs can operate at ranges of 60–1,500 meters or more.
Several nations possess ATGMs, including Israel (SPIKE and Orev missiles), Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union (AT Swatter, Sagger, and Kornet missiles), China (Hongjian-8 missile), Pakistan (Anza and Bakar Shikan missiles), and the Palestine Liberation Front (which uses a version of the Hongjian-8).
Most ATGMs deployed since the early 1980s are very accurate (up to 90% accuracy). The United States has deployed ATGMs effectively against Soviet-made tanks used in Afghanistan, as well as in Iraq in its wars with those two nations. During the Iraq War of 2003, two U.S. Abrams M1 tanks, the so-called queens of the battlefield because of their high survivability, were destroyed by Iraqis using Soviet-built Kornet ATGMs.
U.S. Javelin and Gill ATGMs have had battlefield success in Iraq as well. Although the Kornet requires a crew to guide the missile to the target using a laser, it shares the dual-warhead design with the Javelin and Gill that is effective against the toughest battlefield armaments. Most of the new generation of ATGMs fly at high arcs and are able to attack their targets from above, avoiding detection and piercing the armament at the weakest point.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an advisory for a potential terrorist threat in which terrorists might use ATGMs against trucks or trains hauling nuclear waste or other toxic materials. Thus, the power of ATGMs also may be used effectively against the United States in the war on international terrorism.
Afghanistan, War in; Iraq War of 2003; Missiles; Tanks; Terrorism, War on International