New Family of Missiles for the Infantry


Man-portable and vehicle-mounted Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) have shown value across the combat spectrum.  Even in conflicts without significant armor threats, these missiles have been used as long-range bunker busters and anti-personnel munitions.  Uday and Qusay Hussein reportedly died in their house under an intense TOW barrage.

Uday and Qusay Hussein's house under attack by TOW missiles

ATGMs also form the cornerstone of anti-armor capabilities for light and medium units, and significantly enhance the anti-armor firepower of heavy units.


The US Army has been stuck in a missile rut for some time now.  After the failures of EFOG-M and Netfires/NLOS-LS, the Army appears content to produce minor updates to Javelin and TOW anti-tank missiles.

However other countries, notably Israel, have moved on in dramatic fashion.

The Rafael Spike family of missiles has expanded to include five distinct variants.


Rafael Mini-Spike

Mini-Spike launcher and missile tubes

Designed to be carried and operated by one soldier, with another carrying reloads, this missile was designed to attack light structures and personnel.  A HEAT warhead could be developed to defeat light armor.   With a range of up to 1,200m, Mini-Spike could have been an interesting "guided RPG-7".  Development was discontinued.

Spike SR

Spike SR

Spike SR was designed to supplant or replace unguided, disposable munitions like the AT-4.  With a range of 1,500m and a light, semi-disposable CLU, it can be issued as a unit of ammunition to any personnel, rather than just to dedicated anti-tank personnel. It uses IR-based, Fire-and-Forget guidance, with a direct-attack, tandem, HEAT warhead (~105mm diameter).  It's direct-attack mode probably means it will have difficulty penetrating the thickest armor of the most capable MBTs out there, but side and rear attacks should be very lethal. 

Think of it as a 1.5km-range, fire-and-forget, RPG-29.

Spike MR/LR

Spike MR/LR launcher plus missile mockup

Spike MR is roughly equivalent to the US Javelin missile.

Spike LR uses the same missile as Spike MR but adds a fiber optic cable to permit "Lock On After Launch" (LOAL) and "Fire-Observe-Update" targeting modes, in addition to Fire-and-Forget.  Both use a top-attack profile to defeat MBT frontal armor.

The Spike MR/LR CLU is heavier than the latest Javelin CLU, but includes a tripod.

A new version, Spike LR2, increases its range to 5.5km (ground launched), 10k (air launched), adds improved IR and daytime seekers, a multi-purpose warhead option, an RF datalink option, and networked remote missile handoff. 

Spike ER

Spike ER launcher

Spike ER is the TOW-sized variant in the Spike lineup.  However, it has nearly twice the range of TOW (8km vs ~4.5km for TOW-2 Aero) and the same LOAL/Fire-and-Forget/Fire-Observe-Update targeting modes of Spike LR, due to its fiber-optic cable.  The missile itself is somewhat larger and heavier than TOW.    It has both anti-structure and anti-armor warheads and uses a top-attack profile to defeat MBT frontal armor.

Spike NLOS

Spike NLOS

Spike NLOS is a 25km range anti-armor/anti-structure missile with the same flexible targeting modes as Spike ER and Spike LR, but uses an RF datalink instead of fiber-optics.  In theory, this means it's more susceptible to jamming and RF interference, but in practice it's unclear how problematic this is.  Advanced antenna designs and signal processing can improve resistance to jamming significantly. 

All of the missiles above, with the exception of Mini-Spike, are in production and in use around the world. 

Proposal #1 - Guided Light Anti-Armor Weapons (GLAWs)

Develop a new family of man-portable missile (Guided Light Anti-Armor Weapons - GLAWs).  All would use a mix of guidance options to hit specific price points and capabilities.  These might include,

  1. Predicted Line of Sight (PLOS - from Predator SRAW)
  2. RF-command  guidance (SACLOS, preferably TOW 2-compatible), 
  3. IIR/EO with  LOAL/Fire-and-Forget/Fire-Observe-Update options.
All GLAWs would interface with an improved Javelin CLU as well as a common, very light, semi-disposable CLU using cell phone camera technology.

The family includes a Light, Medium, and Heavy weapon.

GLAW VariantsLightMediumHeavy
Supplements/SupplantsM72 LAWAT-4/8, MAAWs, Urban Assault WeaponPredator SRAW
Diameter (mm)7090105-140
AUR Weight (kg)2-4~8~10
Range (m)>600 (PLOS/SACLOS)
1500m IIR
1500 1500
WarheadsHE, HEAT, ASMHEDP, Tandem HEAT, ASM Tandem HEAT, Bunker Buster, Top Attack
Penetration (mm RHAe)>300>600>1000 (HEAT) or Top Attack

* PLOS - Predicted Line-of-Sight, SACLOS - RF Semi-Active Command Line-Of-Sight

All GLAWs can be fired without the CLU using PLOS-only guidance, or with the CLU with PLOS or SACLOS guidance.

These weapons would supplant MAAWS, AT4 and lighter LAW rockets.  One could argue Javelin covers the requirement for the large weapon, but it is a very expensive munition, and requires an expensive CLU.  Javelin systems are only issued two or three CLUs per company.

On the other hand, GLAW can be issued down to the squad, fire-team level, and has a wide variety of effects, including anti-tank, and anti-structure.

In addition to man-portability, GLAW is a useful addition to light vehicle armament.

A multi-round, GLAW box launcher can be built for CROWS Remote Weapon Stations on Strykers and other vehicles to give them a multi-shot, intermediate-range, anti-bunker, anti-armor punch.

Mini-Typhoon RWS with Spike missiles
Ideally the box launcher would support combinations of small, medium and large missiles and/or Javelin LR (e.g. 4 x small and 1 x large/Javelin).

Proposal #2 - Javelin LR

Javelin launch

Enhance the existing Javelin CLU to fire an updated missile with a fiber optic cable for LOAL/Fire-Observe-Update guidance, and increased range. Add ability to fire GLAWs from the Javelin CLU.

Javelin has already demonstrated an enhanced, 4km range using the existing CLU and missile, so 4-5km should be the goal for Javelin LR.

Proposal #3 - TOW ER

TOW missile family

Develop a new missile that fits in the existing TOW missile tube, to be fired from an enhanced version of the existing TOW CLU.   This missile would add a fiber-optic cable to permit the Spike LR/ER guidance modes, and top attack capability.  If possible, add the ability to fire GLAWs as well from the new CLU.   Ideally the new CLU would retain the ability to launch existing TOW missiles.

Proposal #4 - JAGM NLOS

Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM)

JAGM is meant to eventually replace Hellfire in US service, but apparently won't bring a large increase in effective range, at least not Increment 1.  It appears to be closer to the MDBA Brimstone missile, using combined MMW and SAL guidance.  

Perhaps an Increment 2/3/4 variant could use larger wings, and an IIR/SAL seeker, combined with an RF datalink to provide a missile with similar capabilities to Spike NLOS.  A ground-based, vertically launched system might give us a cheaper version of the ill-fated NLOS PAM.  Forget the fancy networking extreme range for now.  

NLOS PAM test launch


Without a high-end, near peer threat, US military ground forces have allowed their man- and vehicle-portable missile systems to languish.  The Israeli Spike family of missiles from Rafael shows us a way forward, using proven technologies.  We've spent the past decade shaking off the foolish wastefulness of "Transformationalism".  How about a little "Incrementalism" instead.


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