Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
The last tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missile in Marine Corps inventory was fired at the Combat Center by Marine Light Attack Squadron 367 Aug. 9. The TOW missile, first brought to the Marine Corps in the 1970’s by HMLA-269, has spanned an era of more than four decades.
“The whole idea is it gets in line with the aircraft and whatever the aircraft is looking at,” said Sgt. Dean Smith, ordnance technician, HMLA-367. “What it does is come off of the launcher and once the bird captures its target with the infrared beacon, it’s going to have to be controlled by a joystick and you can control where the missile goes like that. It’s good for sandstorm areas or places with low visibility. It’s a lot better to use because you don’t have to rely on the aircraft.”
According to Smith, there are three different ways to release the wire-guided missile.
“The different ways to cut it are waiting 25 seconds and then the missile releases itself, having the two pilots manually cutting it themselves or having the missile come out of its restraints,” Smith said. “A restraint is like a highway. The missile has to stay within its path, like a car in a lane on the highway. If it goes outside its lane (the pilot) will lose control.”
The TOW missile has a range of 3,750 meters and has nearly 25 seconds of flight before the wire cuts itself off.
HMLA-269 was first formed at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., on Feb. 22, 1971 and activated on July 1, 1971 as the Marine Corps’ first designated attack-helicopter squadron. Equipped with the AH-1J Sea Cobra, HMLA-269’s mission was to provide close-in fire support during aerial and ground escort operations during ship-to-shore movement and subsequent operations ashore.
Further down the road, in December 1977, HMLA-269 took delivery of the first AH-1T Cobra, a helicopter which was equipped with the first TOW missile. The squadron opened a new era of attack-helicopter aviation in 1979 by being the first Marine Corps squadron to fire the TOW anti-tank missile from an airborne platform. From that day, HMLA-269 was the first to refine the TOW missile engagement gun and missile radars.
Since then, squadrons around the Corps have refined their own TOW missile war-fighting techniques and HMLA-367 has been no exception.
Since its origin in 1943, HMLA-367 has served as a squadron from WWII to the current Global War on Terrorism. The Marines of the ‘Scarface’ squadron have served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, utilizing the TOW missile whenever the mission calls for it.