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Without the distraction of Vietnam the British Army remained focused on the threat to Europe. Having wrestled with the advantages of kinetic energy and guided missile antiarmor solutions (or both), they chose to go into first generation ATGMs in the 1960s. The result was the long lasting Swingfire missile. By 1963 s new generation of guided weapons is now coming in. Development had begun on Swingfire, a new anti-tank weapon for the Army. The Medium Range variant of the Swingfire anti-tank missile, on which £234,000 had been spent, was cancelled in November 1964. Critics argued that the Swingfire was too heavy and too expensive.

A significant step forward was taken by the starting of delivery in June 1969 of the new Swingfire guided weapon. By early 1970 the UK had purchased a limited number of the French SS11 missiles to fit to the current generation of Scout helicopters and was equipping units in B.A.O.R. with Swingfire fitted to the FV438 Armoured Fighting Vehicle. Mounted on highly mobile armoured vehicles, this long-range antitank guided weapon will have a very important rôle. Striker, an ITV-like ATGM vehicle with the Swingfire ATGM on the Scorpion chassis, in service with the British and Belgian armies in the 1977 timeframe, featured Swingfire. It is probable that Swingfire and Striker provided a model for the US to study while working on TOW and the ITV, respectively.

By 1969 there had been a fairly extensive disagreement between the British Army and the R.A.F. about who should arm helicopters designed, for tank busting or attack from air. Air cavalry the Americans called it — an evocative and descriptive phrase. When the argument was settled, and it would be the business of the Army to arm helicopters for tank busting. Having arrived at this point, the Army was naturally, in a hurry to arm the helicopters. What weapon should be used? There was a choice of two.

Either the British Army could buy the French SS11, or use Swingfire. The difference between the two was clear. Nord-Aviation absolutely depend on the order. It would, reduce the price to peanuts to sell the SS11. It was immensely important to that company. But it so happened that the SS11 is obsolescent. On the British side, Swingfire might or might not cost a little more. And it is a second-generation weapon, infinitely more efficacious, with a two to one cost-efficiency advantage over the French and with a guidance system which is so much better that it is not in the same league.

The SS11 was bought because it is the only proved system now available to meet an urgent operational requirement in B.A.O.R. The question of weapon systems for the next generation of helicopters would be considered in the light of all the operational and financial factors, and the capabilities of Swingfire would be taken into account. By 1972 work had started on the development of a version of the Swingfire anti-tank guided weapon adapted for fitting to helicopters. It is hoped that this will be the successor to the interim purchase of the French SS11 at present fitted to some Scout helicopters,

Swingfire is an anti-tank missile which owes its development to the Vigilant and Orange William projects. Swingfire used Thrust Vectored Control (TVC) to maneuver the missile after launch. A hard-hitting missile which can be fired from a vehicle or remotely fired from a portable ground-based launcher, (to preserve launch control concealment) the missile has proved highly successful. Swingfire was fitted to the Ferret Mk5 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and was also used by the armed forces of Belgium. An infantry-transportable version was also produced for use in open terrain, mounted on a 2-wheel trolley and capable of being fired by only one man.

To improve our night fighting capability—the importance of which was so well demonstrated in the Falklands lin 1982, by 1983 thermal imaging sights were being developed to fit both Chieftain and Challenger. In addition, thermal imaging night sights were being fitted to the Swingfire and Milan anti-tank guided missiles. That will enable them to be used more effectively at night and in conditions of poor visibility.

Swingfire was developed to be launched from other platforms:

  • Beeswing - Land Rover
  • Hawkswing - Lynx helicopter
  • Golfswing - small trolley or Argocat vehicle.

The Soviet Sagger AT-3 wire-guided anti-tank missile saw extensive use in the October war. Often mounted in sixes on the BRDM-I armored car, it weighs 11 kg, has a 2.7 kg warhead, and takes 25 seconds to reach its maximum range of 3000 meters. That is long enough to allow the intended target to seek cover or to distract the guider by taking him underfire. On the NATO side, similar missiles were the US TOW and the French- German Euromissile HOT, both of which were faster and had semi-automatic tracking features that permitted the gunner to track only the target rather than having to "fly" the missile into the target. The British Swingfire was less automatic, but its guidance could be offset from the launcher by 100 meters. All three had helicopter-mounted versions.

By 1986 Swingfire missiles, mounted on Striker CVR(T) vehicles, were planned to remain in service with armoured reconnaissance regiments until replaced by Long Range TRIGAT from the mid-1990s. However, it was concluded that retention of Swingfire mounted on the older FV 438 vehicle would not be the best use of resources, and it was decided that it should be withdrawn from service the year. There would be no immediate replacement for the Swingfire missile mounted on the FV438 vehicle. There was the option of replacing it with the long range TRIGAT missile when it became available in the mid-1990s, but it was too early to say what the precise deployment of LR TRIGAT would be.

The SWINGFIRE final follow-on order contract placed November 1987, and the TOW OTA (Overhead Top Attack) modified missiles contract placed October 1987. As of 1994 the United Kingdom continued to participate in the development of third generation anti-tank guided missile programs — both medium range and long range—known as TRIGAT, in collaboration with European partners.

As of 2004 both Swingfire and Milan missiles had an in-service life of 17 years. The life of a munition is constantly under consideration and work is ongoing while in-service to ensure the nature remains safe and suitable for use. When missiles reach the end of their in-service life they are disposed of either through being used for training purposes, or if that is not possible through a demilitarisation program.

In March 2002, a pallet of munitions was lost at the St. Thomas' Head range near Weston-super-Mare, which is operated by QinetiQ. The pallet is presumed to have been swept away by very strong spring tides. The pallet contained eight anti tank bar mines (with the fuses removed) and 20 warheads which had been removed from Swingfire missiles. Extensive searches were undertaken by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, HM Coastguard, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy Southern Diving Group (SDG) and QinetiQ. The pallet had not, however, been located. The SDG conducted two searches of the range area, consuming around 160 man-hours in March 2002 and about 220 man-hours in October 2002. QinetiQ carried out searches on foot and by boat and helicopter, expending a total of more than 110 man-hours. The RAF consumed a total of 15 man-hours on the task, including transit to and from the search area. The MOD did not have details of the resources consumed by either the Avon and Somerset Constabulary or HM Coastguard.

Swingfire was replaced with the Javelin in mid-2005. British troops got Javelin, one of the most advanced anti-armor missile systems in the world, four months ahead of schedule thanks to the work of the UK MoD, the US Javelin Joint Venture and the US Department of Defence. The announcement that the shoulder-launched missile has successfully entered service was made 28 July 2005 as industry and MoD officials witnessed a live firing trial on Salisbury Plain. The system was not originally expected to achieve its In Service Date (ISD) until November 2005 at the earliest. At the firing exercise troops fired the new weapon from a variety of situations, hitting target tanks from different ranges and from different fire positions, including trenches, vehicles and confined spaces.

Swingfire Specifications
Type Anti Tank Guided Missile; Wire guided; Command to line of sight
Length of Missile 1.06m
Body Diameter 37.3cm
Warhead Hollow charge high explosive
Propellant Solid Fuel
Weight of Missile 37kg
Minimum Range 150m
Maximum Range 4,000m

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Page last modified: 06-09-2013 18:39:39 ZULU