Fact file: MBDA Milan precision guided misile


The MBDA (formerly Euromissile) Milan (Missile d´infanterie léger antichar = light infantry antitank missile) started life in 1962 and the second-generation of antitank missiles to enter South African Army service from about the middle 1970s.

Variants of the Milan are used by about 40 countries. Around 10 000 firing posts and 360 000 missiles have been sold since 1972. South Africa was an early user of the original Milan system, but retired the launchers around 1994 when the missiles available at the time became too old to use safely. Because of Apartheid-related sanctions they could not be immediately replaced. The launchers, said to number in the three-digit range, were then placed in storage.

The original Milan or “New Generation Antitank Guided Missile (ATGM)” as it was called at the time, was available for issue to the Special Forces and the anti-tank platoons of the SA Army’s motorised and parachute infantry battalions in the late 1970s and 1980s at a scale of six launchers per platoon. The platoon was organised into three anti-tank sections consisting of two ATGM launchers and two M40A1 106mm recoilless guns (in the case of motorised troops) or two rocket launchers (in the case of airborne troops).

Six Milan teams were operationally deployed by the Special Forces in support of the Angolan insurgent force, UNITA, in the Cazombo Salient in August 1985 during Operation Wallpaper.Type: 1


Multipurpose medium range beam-riding precision guided missile.


30 launchers, 300 missiles1


EU18 million (R167.4 million)2; R131 511 4643.

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System components:

Missile, missile launcher.


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0.25 to 3km.




13kg (missile and tube prior to launch).

Over 200km/h.


18 seconds to 4km.

1m rolled homogenous armour with explosive reactive armour (ERA), 3m concrete.


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x 7 and x 21

Integrated in about 15 launchers

Video output for remote operation


The MBDA (formerly Euromissile) Milan (Missile d´infanterie léger antichar = light infantry anti-tank missile) started life in 1962 as a project involving Nord Aviation of France and Messerschmitt-Bölkow of Germany. The weapon, using SACLOS (semi-automatic command line-of-sight), was a vast improvement on first generation anti-tank missiles that used manual command line-of sight (MCLOS), a technique pioneered by the Germans during World War Two as technology did not yet allow for any other solution. MCLOS, akin to flying a model plane, required considerable operator skill, let alone bravery under fire, to keep the low-flying missile from flying into the ground. SACLOS guidance merely required the operator to keep the cross-hairs in the launchers’ sight unit on the target.

Army-technology.com4 reports that with two missiles the ADT weighs less than 45kg. The firing post was qualified in 2006 and the first guided firing of the missile system took place in May of that year. A direct attack mode has been added as well as improved anti-jamming capability.

The Kingfisher contract was placed on December 20, 2006, and initially escaped media notice. The contract will satisfy about a half of the Army’s actual requirement, and a quarter of its ideal need, an industry source and former acquisition official says5.

South Africa is the global launch customer of the new generation Milan ADT (Advanced Digital Technology) launcher and Milan ER (extended range) missile. The deal includes Fulcrum, an EADS and MBDA local partner, upgrading about 30 existing Milan firing posts to ADT (Advanced Digital Technology) standard. They will also provide training, four simulators and logistic support. MBDA, the European missile-maker, will provide the munitions. “We estimate our contribution will be worth about R30 million, which is a good investment in the local industry,” CEO André Wolmarans told defenceWeb in 2007.

MBDA says digital technologies incorporated in the ADT firing post have notably enhancement in the system’s ability to detect, reconnoitre and identify targets (DRI). The missile will be issued to some of the Army’s airborne and motorised infantry battalions as well as the Special Forces.


The firing posts were to be upgraded in three batches of five, four and twenty over 24 months. The upgrade entailed replacing the control box as well as the electronics of the guidance unit and integrating new software and optics. The cards bearing the software were manufactured in South Africa and an initial batch of 33 sets was in manufacture by 2007.

The 3000m range Milan ER comes with jam-proof wire guidance, night sight and a tandem charge. Optimised for pulverising tanks, the warhead is rated as “multi-target.” An Euromissile official explained to the author in 2004 than an analysis of missiles expended in the Falklands in 1982 – and confirmed by the 2003 Iraq war – found more than 70 percent expended on targets other than tanks, mostly bunkers and buildings. “You may say a Milan is too expensive to use against a machine gun, and on a cost analysis it is. But what is he cost of a human life? How many must die in assaulting that machine gun position?”

The competition for Kingfisher pitted MBDA and Saab Bofors Dynamics, the latter offering SA the BILL 2 (Bofors Infantry Light & Lethal). BILL 2 features overfly top attack (OTA) technology, a tandem warhead and high accuracy. The missile’s primary role remains to attack armoured targets at their weakest point – the top – using an OTA trajectory. However, due to the three firing modes, it can also engage and destroy hovering helicopters, non-armoured targets and soft targets, such as machine gun nests. Other competitors included Denel who at one stage appeared hopeful that a four-round pedestal-launched version of their Mokopa would do the job.

Also interested in the project was Russia and India. Russia was offering the 4000-metre range Konkurs, the latest version of what NATO officially used to call the AT4 Spigot system. (Unofficially, they call it the “Milanski” believing it to be a reverse-engineered copy of the European original.) Combining the two was India, who customised the Konkurs’ launcher to fire both the Russian and the European missile.

In early January 2007, when MBDA announced the sale, Jean-Pierre Talamoni, the company’s Group Director of Sales and Business Development congratulated South Africa in a press release for becoming the first export customer of this new system. “This first contract is the result of the excellent work carried out by MBDA’s technical and commercial teams.”

Fulcrum CEO André Wolmarans says his company has also been contracted by MBDA to form a service hub for Africa. “They are doing a total knowledge transfer to Fulcrum regarding the firing posts. There are currently 1600 posts in use on the continent we can look at maintaining and upgrading. The possibility of upgrading firing posts for customers in the rest of the world is not excluded,” he adds. “A number of countries using the Milan lack a service centre and we are looking at filling that gap.”

MBDA is jointly owned by BAE Systems (37.5%), EADS (37.5%) and Italy’s Finmeccanica (25%).


1 Independent sources

2 Euromissile press release.

3 Armscor gives a figure of R131 511 464. http://www.armscor.co.za/abs/contractdetail.asp?Requirement_ID=10110, accessed January 10, 2008.

4 www.army-technology.com, accessed January 20, 2007.

5 Based on the SA Army’s 2007 order of battle, there may be a requirement for at least 84 launchers for the Infantry School and the motorised, airmobile and parachute infantry.

1 Clive Wilsworth, First in Last out – The South African Artillery in Action 1975–1988, 30 Degrees, South Publishers, Johannesburg, p242.