The Hidden Dangers of Discarded TOW Missile Wires

Aiden Starling

Updated Wednesday, April 17, 2024 at 8:32 AM CDT

The Hidden Dangers of Discarded TOW Missile Wires

The Intricate Wiring System of TOW Missiles

TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missiles are a widely used land guided missile system, known for their precision and effectiveness. However, behind their impressive capabilities lies an intricate wiring system that presents unique challenges and potential hazards.

When servicing TOW missiles, rewiring the capstan blocks can be a tricky task. These capstan blocks, located at the front of the missile tube, serve as crucial components for the wire guidance system. The wires run from the rear of the missile through these blocks, allowing for precise control and guidance during flight.

The Hazards of Unloading Fired TOW Missiles

Unloading a fired TOW missile requires extra caution due to the presence of squibs, small explosive charges, in each capstan block. When the missile is fired, these squibs are activated and cut the wires, effectively separating the missile from its guidance system. As a result, the cut wires from the missile often fall out on top of the vehicle from which it was launched.

In training scenarios, fired wires are commonly wrapped around a stake near the firing point and collected at the end of the day. However, in non-static firing situations, the wires are usually discarded. This practice can lead to potential hazards if not properly managed.

The Unique Properties of TOW Missile Wires

The main US land guided missile, TOW, utilizes a thin copper wire to transmit inputs to the missile. Surprisingly, this copper wire is slightly thinner than a human hair, highlighting the precision and delicate nature of the system. In combat situations, the copper wire is typically left behind as it is not considered a hazard. Over time, the discarded wire would gradually be covered with sand, reducing its visibility.

Environmental Concerns and Cleanup Efforts

Some US training bases, such as Fort Cavazos (formerly Fort Hood), have faced challenges with the accumulation of discarded TOW missile wires. These bases had miles of thin copper wire scattered across their live fire areas, posing potential risks. Additionally, depleted uranium armor-piercing tank rounds were also found on the ground, further emphasizing the need for proper cleanup.

At Yakima Firing Range, private soldiers were responsible for collecting the wires from TOW missiles shot downrange by cobras. These wires were barely visible on the ground, requiring soldiers to use sticks to snag and spool them. It is important to note that the wires are sharp and can cut through gloves or boot laces, adding an additional layer of danger.

The Importance of Environmental Stewardship

The impact of discarded TOW missile wires goes beyond military operations. In some cases, the wires can pose a threat to wildlife, such as grazing cows. Copper wire, if ingested, can be harmful to animals. Therefore, it is crucial to clean up the wire to prevent harm to the surrounding environment and its inhabitants.

The intricate wiring system of TOW missiles presents unique challenges and potential hazards. Proper management and cleanup efforts are essential to mitigate environmental risks and ensure the safety of both military personnel and wildlife. By addressing these concerns, we can continue to harness the power of TOW missiles while minimizing their impact on the environment.

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