The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Hapless Hezbollah ATGMs Revealed
Discussion Board on this DLS topic
by James Dunnigan
September 7, 2008
Israel has published the analysis of armored vehicle losses during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Of the 23 members of the armored corps killed in action, 15 were killed by ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles), and seven by mines. The cause of death for the other 1 is not recorded specifically. Most probably gunfire hitting a vehicle commander with his head out of a hatch to get a better view of the situation. Over half of the armor casualties are attributable to just 3-4 incidents. The ATGM Merkava tank deaths are all accounted for by just 6-7 hits.
There were 14 APCs (armored personnel carriers) hit by ATGMs. In two of these incidents, seven troops in the vehicles were killed. APCs got perforated 11 times. The APCs involved were Achzarits (rebuilt, turretless, T-55 tanks) and Pumas (rebuilt, turretless, Centurion tanks). Three APCs hit mines, killing 5 infantrymen in two incidents (4 in one vehicle). Some 90 percent of these APC casualties all occurred in one night. In comparison, 14 infantrymen were killed by ATGMs fired at buildings. The vast majority of the infantry casualties were still caused by bullets, grenades, and shell fire (including PRGs).
Despite the many hundreds of engagements, there are only 8-9 recorded incidents where Hezbollah ATGM fire was able to cause deaths inside armored vehicles, and four times where AT fire killed troops in buildings.
The experience in Lebanon again proves that ATGMs tend to be overrated. Israel first encountered ATGMs during the 1973 war, and quickly adapted. ATGMs were much less effective in the 1982 war, and didn't do all that well in 2006 either. Hezbollah quickly learned that the Merkava frontal armor was impervious to their Russian Kornet ATGMs. Getting side and rear shots was more difficult, and not a lot more successful. While the ATGM warhead often penetrated, the Merkava was designed to take these kind of hits and survive, and survive it did. In addition to fire extinguisher systems, the ammo and fuel are stored in such a way that secondary explosions are rare. Thus the crew normally survives these hits, as does the tank.
Hezbollah has received several thousand ATGMs over the years. Many of them are elderly, like the Russian Sagger. This is a 1960s design. It's a 24 pound missile, with a range of 3,000 meters, that must be carefully "driven" to its target via a joy stick controller. Requires a lot of practice to do right. The warhead is not very effective against tanks, but can do a lot of damage to buildings. Iran also sent some elderly TOW missiles, dating from the 1970s. These are too heavy to haul around, and most are unstable because of age. Lighter ATGM systems have proved more useful.
The French made MILAN ATGM, a 1970s design, has a 35 pound launch unit, firing a 16 pound, wire guided missile, with a maximum range of 2,000 meters. The Syrians got MILAN from France, and passed them on to Hezbollah. A similar Russian system, the 9M111 Fagot, has a 25 pound missile fired from a 24 pound launch unit. An even more modern Russian system, the Kornet E, is a laser guided missile with a range of 5,000 meters. The launcher has a thermal sight for use at night or in fog. The missile's warhead can penetrate 1200 mm of armor, which means that the side armor of the Israeli Merkava tank would be vulnerable. The missile weighs 18 pounds and the launcher 42 pounds. The system was introduced in 1994 and has been sold to Syria (who apparently passed them on to Hezbollah).