European Antitank Guided Missiles (ATGM)
As armored combat vehicles added more protection and ascended in importance on the battlefield, so did systems designed to stop them gain importance. The umbrella term antitank (AT) originally denoted systems specifically designed to destroy tanks. Today it is more broadly constructed. Modern combat is combined arms combat. Mechanized forces include other armored combat vehicles, such as armored reconnaissance vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, etc. In order to address the whole spectrum of threats on the modern battlefield, new systems are being developed and older systems redesigned.
The emergence of the tank in World War I led to the development of the first infantry weapons to defend against tanks. Anti-tank rifles became commonplace in the inter-war years and in the early campaigns of World War II in Poland and the Battle of France, which saw renewed use in the form of the British .55in Boys anti-tank rifle - also used by the US Marine Corps in the Pacific. The French campaign made it clear that the day of the anti-tank rifle was ending due to the increasing thickness of tank armour. Nevertheless, anti-tank rifles continued to be used by the Soviets on the Eastern Front with two rifles, the 14.5mm PTRS and PTRD, and were still in widespread use in 1945. They served again with Korean and Chinese forces in the Korean War, and some have even appeared in Ukraine in 2014-15.
Antitank guns (AT guns) include towed and self-propelled AT guns (aka SPAT or tank destroyers). A number of guns were designed as field guns, with multi-role capability as both artillery and antitank guns. The modern focus on maneuver warfare has brought a slight decline in development of uniquely antitank guns. Thus, the 85-mm D-44 gun, which can be used as artillery, is effective for use in an antitank role. Although recent systems have been developed, the number fielded has not kept pace with production of armored combat vehicles. Nevertheless, their effectiveness and selected armies' continued reliance on linear positional battles and protracted defenses have kept a large number of these systems in inventories. Based on numbers fielded and likelihood of their threat to US forces, only towed antitank guns were included.
Antitank guided missiles (ATGMs) are the singular greatest threat to tanks today. These systems are distinguished from other antitank weapons in that they are guided to the target. Most employ SACLOS guidance. An operator holds crosshairs on the target, and the missile tracker directs the missile to that point. There are a wide variety of countermeasures (such as smoke and counter-fire, due to long flight time and operator vulnerability) for use against ATGMs. Thus, a 90% probability of hit is a technical figure, and does not mean a 90% probability of success. On the other hand, there are a variety of counter-countermeasures which the ATGMs, launchers, and operators can use to increase the chance for success. Tactics, techniques, and procedures in the antitank arena are critical to mission success.
Armor protection for many modern tanks has outpaced some older AT weapons. However, ATGMs offer improved size, range, and warhead configurations to destroy even the heaviest tanks. Notable trends include increased proliferation and variety of man-portable and portable ATGM launchers.
In tactical missiles, the history, geography, military tradition, and spending levels have all helped determine the emphasis of each of the four major producers. These considerations led to the relative emphasis of the US on air warfare, naval air defense, and fixed-site air defense, while the European land powers bordering enclosed seas -- France and the FRG -- emphasized anti-tank weapons, mobile air defense and antd-ship weapons. Finally, the UK emphasized air defense of the island and naval warfare.
European missiles for defending against ground forces were almost all focused upon the immediate tank battle -- a variety of frontline anti-tank missiles for US, UK, France, and FRG. The European lead in anti-tank guided weapons is evident. The Europeans were into production with second generation weapons before the US fielded its first in Shillelagh in the 1960s. In anti-tank weapons only two types, man-portable and heavy, existed until the development of helicopter borne weapons in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the 1955-64 decade, the French developed high-altitude SAMs but their concentration (more apparent when production data are examined) was on anti-tank guided missiles. First, they developed man-portable wire guided weapons perfecting the German World War II beginning in the SS.11 and Entac; then bigger weapons for vehicle carriage and air launch such as the SS.12 and AS.12. The lone West German weapon of its period, Cobra, was a simple Entac-type weapon which was exported in large numbers to Latin American countries.
In the 1965 to 1974 period wire-guided infantry-deployed weapons had gone through two generations in European NATO forces in the decade. During the period, the French and Germans cooperated in developing the Milan third-generation, man-portable anti-tank weapon and began on Hot -- a medium range anti-tank missile mounted on land vehicles and helicopters. Co-development and production was handled through Euromissile, a consortium -- with minimal management responsibilities -- created for the purrose of marketing the missiles. The British developed Swingfire, their own mechanized anti-tank system. The areas coming to completion in the 1975 to 1980 period were the co-development of a European Tow-iompetitor in Hot by Euromissile, and two versions of Roland.
In this field, the appearance of new tank armor technology in the 1970s has rendered all of the weapons in this list fairly ineffective against future tanks, with a correspondiing premium on developing effective guided weapons of new design. The current weapons, both European and US are, however, effective against almost all existing Soviet tanks.
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