Vigilant (Visually Guided Infantry Light ANti Tank missile) was developed by Vickers-Armstrong to provide an anti-tank missile for the British Army in the early 1960s. Its High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) warheads could defeat over 500mm of armor plate. The missile was held in a launcher which doubled up as a transport container, along with a combined sight, battery and controller with which to fire, and control it in flight. The controller could be connected to the launcher via wires, which allowed the operator to initiate the missile firing a safe distance away from the launch site. It could also be mounted and fired from Land Rovers. Once launched, the wire guided missile was tracked onto its target by the operator and steered using a thumb operated joystick.
During the Cold War tanks assumed the main role in ground combat. Therefore, the development of various types of antitank missiles to cope with tanks, armor, and tank clusters at different distances, as well as attacks on in-depth targets, naturally antitank missiles receive greater attention.
British researchers started work on shaped charges in detail in the years before the Great War. Interest in shaped charges then declined and it was not until the late 1930s that serious efforts were made to exploit them for military purposes, in particular shaped charges with lined cavities. In November 1940 the British were equipped with the world's first hollow charge, anti-tank rifle grenade. In fact, it was the first hollow charge, anti-tank projectile of any kind. The success of British APDS ammunition and the invention of HESH meant that there was no priority requirement for hollow charges until the advent of guided weapons when studies expanded again.
By mid-1960 Britain had ordered a number Malkara anti-tank missiles, and a larger number were planned to be ordered later. Malkara is air-portable and a most lethal and accurate weapon; and it was then expeed to be operational by the end of 1961. There ere several possible infantry anti-tank weapons of this kind which were being considered, and the MoD had ordered 100 Vickers Vigilant anti-tank weapons for assessment by the infantry. Trials of Vigilant and the assessments of other light anti-tank missiles began in November 1960. In December 1961, the Secretary of State for War John Profumo decided to adopt Vigilant for the British Army. It was planned to be in service in 1963. Trials of the Vickers Vigilant anti-armor missile showed use of the missile against Centurion tanks, and demonstrated the portability of the missile by soldiers from the Parachute Regiment.
The Vigilant was man-portable, whereas the French SS.11 had to be carried on a jeep or in some other way. The SS.11 was an earlier generation proven weapon which was immediately available in numbers for use. Skeptics thought it seemed a little ridiculous that there would be Marines going from a commando carrier with an anti-tank weapon which was not man-portable but which must have some sort of carrying vehicle and required one kind of ammunition, when they would be followed up a matter of hours or days later by Army men landing from an assault ship with the Vigilant, which was man-portable and fires different ammunition.
By early 1963 the Vigilant anti-tank weapon was in quantity production and would go into service later that year. Development had begun on Swingfire, a new anti-tank weapon for the Army. By early 1965 the Vigilant anti-tank guided missile had been issued to some infantry units in B.A.O.R. and further issues to B.A.O.R. and the Strategic Reserve was made this year as well as to units of the Royal Armoured Corps. By 1969 the Swingfire guided weapon was in production. This long-range weapon, which would be mounted on highly mobile armoured vehicles, will greatly added to British anti-tank capability.
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