Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the type of helicopter from which the Jordanian military launches TOW missiles.
AMMAN, Jordan — Raytheon is developing a new launcher for its tube-launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided (TOW) missiles.
The TOW missile program has been around for 52 years and has gone through many evolutions, Phil Alvarez, a senior manager for missile systems at Raytheon, told Defense News at SOFEX, a special operations conference in Jordan.
"The company took a look at the market, what customers, particularly international customers have, what launchers, and we looked at the feasibility of what systems are used by the US, and it's kind of limited and we said, 'What is the middle ground we can provide as far as capability at a price point these international customers could afford,'" Alvarez said.
And so the TOW Eagle Fire launcher was born.
The older launchers — the M220s — have a "pretty well-defined" capability when it comes to detection, identification and engagement range and it only performs during the day, according to Alvarez.
Then there's the Improved Target Acquisition System (ITAS) launcher, which is a long-range system with a lot of capability, but is expensive to own and operate and is only releasable to certain countries.
The Eagle Fire launcher has about 75 percent of the capability of ITAS and costs about one-third of the price, Alvarez said.
The new launcher is fully digital, has the capability to see at night, and is powered by lithium ion batteries or a vehicle's power source. The battery life is extended from two hours to nine hours.
The cost of ownership was also greatly reduced from previous systems, Alvarez noted, because Raytheon was able to develop the launcher with just five line replaceable units. The older launcher had more than 10 LRUs.
With fewer LRUs, the time to train and to maintain the launcher will be greatly reduced and will save millions of dollars on extensive training, according to Alvarez.
The launcher is capable of firing both old wired TOW missiles — there are tens of thousands of those out there — and the new RF transmitter TOW missiles.
Raytheon announced at SOFEX that Jordan has signed an agreement with the Pentagon to buy RF TOW missiles. Raytheon will begin delivery this year. Jordan has had wired TOW missiles in its inventory for nearly 30 years and fires them from Cobra attack helicopters as well as from a tube.
Over 40 countries own TOW missiles and Raytheon has delivered over 690,000 of them worldwide, so the interest in a new launcher with a more reasonable price point is likely to be high.
TOW missiles are expected to be in service beyond 2025, according to Raytheon.
Alvarez said Raytheon expects to finish developing the launcher in 2018. The launcher had its first firing demonstration at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, in September and quietly made its debut in October at an international users conference.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.