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MBB B6810 Cobra 2000 (Germany)
Panzerabwehr Lenkwaffe (PAL - Anti-tank guided missile)

COBRA, was the most effective anti tank missile [Panzerabwehrraketen] in the 1950's, made by the German companies Oerlikon-Contraves and Bölkow GmbH. Bölkow Entwicklungen was a relatively new and growing research and production firm whose spectrum of interest ranges from space to lightplanes. Early military projects like the anti-tank missile COBRA of Ludwig Bölkow represented the first steps back into space-technology and programs.

Three distinct generations of ATGWs have been developed since the 1950s, with each generation largely corresponding to advances in guidance methods. The earliest, ‘first generation’ ATGMs operated on the ‘manual command to line-of-sight’ (MCLOS) principle, requiring an operator to manually guide the missile to target. The second generation includes an ATGM with a Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight (SACLOS), where the operator monitors only the target. The third generation includes ATGM with automatic guidance systems - fully autonomous after start-up (homing, the so-called “fire and forget” principle).

The first generation MCLOS (Manual Command to Line of Sight) includes an anti-tank guided missile with a manual guidance system, guided by the three-point method (sight - rocket - target). The operator (gunner) monitors both the target and the rocket and, using the control stick (“joystick”), transmits control commands to the ATGM (right / left, up / down). The first rocket of this generation was created during the time of WW2: in 1944-1945. in Germany, work was under way on the X-7 Rotkappchen (“Little Red Riding Hood”).

Broadly speaking, first generation ATGMs were guided to the target after launch by a wire in the rear of the missile. Independently of their relative effectiveness, a drawback of first-generation models was that the gunner had to remain in the same position while the warhead was in flight.

The earliest first-generation ATGWs were developed when advances in tank armor made traditional anti-tank guns, recoilless weapons, and rocket launchers less effective. During the Second World War the Germans employed the X7, the first MCLOS system and a precursor to modern ATGMs. After the war the French SS.10 and German Cobra, both modelled on the X7, were the first ATGWs available for export.

Cobra was launched directly from the ground rather than from a container, the downward-deflected motor nozzle "jumping" the missile clear of obstructions after launch. A plate is laid on the surface beneath the motor exhaust to prevent dust being produced on ignition. Up to eight missiles can be launched by one operator up to 70m away, using the normal 20m firing cable plus a 50m extension. More than 150,000 have been built. The missile was replaced by Milan rather than Mamba. Operators were Germany, Italy, Pakistan, Turkey (the missile is licence-built in the three last-named).

In the 1950s, it also became obvious that as far as conventional armament was concerned, the countries of the Warsaw Pact were vastly superior in terms of armoured vehicles. Before the Paris Agreements were signed in 1954, West Germany was not allowed to engage in armament projects or build up its own aviation industry. The German government, headed by KONRAD ADENAUER, however, had already entered into international negotiations regarding the accession of the Federal Republic of Germany to a European Defence Community (EDC) or another alliance (which was later to be NATO) before 1954, as the country was of great strategic significance as the borderland of the Western world.

During World War II, LUDWIG BÖLKOW was concerned, among other things, with high-speed aerodynamics in the company owned by WILLY MESSERSCHMITT. After the war, he founded the “Bölkow Engineering Office” in Stuttgart, where he developed construction methods. But his interest in aeronautical engineering had not disappeared. Against the backdrop of the Paris Agreements, the foundation of the German Armed Forces (officially founded on November 12, 1955) and the superiority of the Warsaw Pact in terms of military tanks, BÖLKOW found the task of devising an anti-tank defence system very tempting. Something, as BÖLKOW himself put it, “which cannot be seen by the tank driver, something small which lies on the ground and allows the infantry to destroy a tank from a distance of 2,000 metres”, “a cheap anti-tank weapon, […] cost-effective and of low weight”.

Germany was not allowed to build weapons after the war. The Swiss armourers Oerlikon was allowed. The idea for the “Contraves-Oerlikon-Bölkow-Rakete”, COBRA in short (with “Rakete” meaning missile), was born. So Oerlikon built the rocket engines and the warheads.

The drafting and development of the COBRA system began in 1954/55 at the Bölkow Engineering Office. The first test of the missile was conducted in 1956 on the shooting range of the Oerlikon company near Zurich, Switzerland, as this was not yet possible in Germany. The final assembly of the missile, the installation of the motors and further test runs also took place in Switzerland.

In Switzerland, the missile was not adopted for service. The works were transferred to the West German Bolkow (later - part of MBB - Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm; hence the designation of the missile - Bo-810), which took up its fine-tuning, serial production and marketing.

In 1957, the consortium of involved companies (Bölkow Entwicklungen KG, Oerlikon Bührle & Co., Contraves AG) received an initial order from the German Ministry of Defence. And in 1961, the Bölkow 810 COBRA anti-tank missile with guidance system was ready for deployment.

Cobra was launched directly from the ground rather than from a container, the downward-deflected motor nozzle "jumping" the missile clear of obstructions after launch. A plate is laid on the surface beneath the motor exhaust to prevent dust being produced on ignition. Up to eight missiles can be launched by one operator up to 70m away, using the normal 20m firing cable plus a 50m extension.

The rocket arrived at the arsenal of the FRG in 1960. Under the license, the Cobra was also produced in Brazil, Italy, Pakistan and Turkey. In 1968, the production of the first model was completed, giving way to an improved “Cobra 2000” (range up to 2,000 m). In total, more than 170,000 missiles were fired. In addition to the above countries, “Cobra” was in service with Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Israel and Spain.

The final version of the COBRA was produced in 1978. Only a few years later, the German Armed Forces already deployed the next generation of anti-tank guided missile: MILAN (a follow-up development of the COBRA system) and HOT (the successor of the SS 11). Both had been developed by a joint venture of Germany and France.

The successor to Cobra, Mamba used the same warhead, control unit and simulator. The "jump-start" technique is, however, sustained throughout the missile's flight so that the operator does not have to maintain back pressure on his control stick. Also the missile is slower in the initial stages (to reduce minimum range) but faster at the end of the flight. Eleven missiles (some up to 120m away) can be connected to the same control unit, which has a X7 telescope and monocular eyepiece. Brazil was negotiating to build Mamba under licence. The missile did not enter full-scale production because of the growing disenchantment with wire guidance.

Bölkow, who after the war "wanted nothing more to do with weapons", developed a whole arsenal of missiles: Milan and Hot against tanks, Roland against Tiefflieger and Cormorant against ships. LUDWIG BÖLKOW himself was convinced that, by developing a successful anti-tank missile concept, he had contributed to ending the Cold War between East and West. LUDWIG BÖLKOW was a visionary designer and engineer and, as such, also a successful entrepreneur. He had his ideas, as well as those proposed by his staff, developed and realized in teamwork. The helicopter "BO 105", the airbag and the anti-tank missile "Cobra" are closely associated with his name.

After taking his degree, Bölkow was an engineer at Messerschmitt AG, from 1939 to 1945. He headed the development of the world's first operational jet-powered fighter that went into series production. When, in 1945, the young Messerschmitt engineer, Ludwig Bölkow, was taken into custody in western Germany, interrogated and presented with the opportunity to join the Allied aircraft industries, it seemed to his British and American captors that it would be sheer folly for him not to jump at the chance.

In 1948, he founded his own engineering office for construction and automation in Stuttgart where he developed innovative construction methods, large-sized automated machines and new construction machinery among other things. After sovereignty over its airspace was restored to Germany, Bölkow began to focus again on the design of defence missiles, airplanes and helicopters in 1955. In 1968, Bölkow merged with Messerschmitt, and one year later they formed the air and space company Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm. Ludwig Bölkow served as CEO of the German aerospace company Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm GmbH (MBB) until 1977. MBB was integrated into DASA, in 1989, before merging to form EADS in 1999. Ludwig Bölkow, one of the most successful engineers and entrepreneurs of the post-war era, was born in 1912 and died in 2003.

Developer Switzerland Contraves Bölkow
Years of development Since 1954
Manufacturer Bölkow
Years of production COBRA 1957-1968
Units produced ~ 170,000
Years of operation COBRA 1957-1968
Modifications COBRA-2000
Missile weight 10.3 kg
Length 950 mm
Diameter 100mm
Wing Span 480 mm
Warhead weight 2.3 kg
Shooting range 200—1600 m
Penetration 475-500 mm (normal to surface)
Control system manual, command, by wire Up to eight missiles can be connected to one control unit

Cobra ATGM Cobra ATGM Cobra ATGM

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Page last modified: 28-04-2019 18:50:11 ZULU