Country of origin
1 000 m
127 mm (?)
of the M47 Dragon in the mid-1970s marked a historic breakthrough in
missile technology. Never before in modern warfare did a single
infantryman have enough firepower to personally engage enemy tanks
and armored vehicles at intermediate ranges.
A novel feature of this cutting edge Anti-Tank Guided Missile
(ATGM) was, unlike other systems, it didn’t require assembly before
use. The soldier only removed its shock absorbers, attached the
guidance unit, sat on the ground, and fired. Also it was the
lightest system among contemporary anti-tank guided missiles. In the
hands of either Marines or Rangers the M47 allowed them to hold
territory against all comers and even launch ambushes.
The US Army’s requirement for an infantry anti-tank missile
dated to 1959. But it was only in 1966 when McDonnell-Douglas began
prototyping their experimental missile using proven wire-guidance
and infra-red technology. The ATGM acquired its savvy
With considerable demand from the US Army and the Marine
Corps the M47 became a mainstay until the end of the Cold War. It
was also shared with allies like Denmark, (pre-Revolutionary) Iran,
Israel, Jordan, Morocco, the Netherlands, South Korea, Saudi Arabia,
Spain, and Taiwan. It’s believed 250 000 launchers were built over a
period of 20 years.
Should the Cold War ever turn hot in Central Europe the M47’s
together with TOWs would help blunt waves of attacking Soviet tanks
But it turned out the M47’s handling and operation among American
soldiers left much to be desired.
The advantage of the M47 over its peers in Western Europe was
its portable design and a large HEAT warhead. Its disadvantages,
however, reduced it to a mediocrity when compared to its peers from
either side of the Iron Curtain. Most glaring was the US Army’s own
research on M47 firings that discovered its operators only had a 20%
hit probability due to the system’s limitations. In a bizarre twist,
bodies of salt water could affect the missile’s circuits and
diminish its range, which is ironic since the M47 was used by
The longer it stayed in service the more obvious its flaws
became. The M47’s armed launch tube and attachable/detachable day
tracker or guidance unit (there was a separate lens for night
sights) was cumbersome and difficult to aim. The operator had to
visually track the target, adjusting the missile’s trajectory by
hand, and guide the missile within less than a kilometer. During the
late 1980s its range was slightly stretched to 1.5 kilometers.
A further inconvenience for the M47’s operator was to remain
seated on the ground before, during, and after firing. This meant he
or she was exposed and at risk of injury during combat. The M47’s
design, combining a large cylinder capped by removable conical shock
absorbers with an under folding collapsible bipod, prevented it from
being deployed within trenches or buildings owing to its massive
back blast. But the M47’s greatest fault was its jarring
unreliability. Soldiers often complained of the missile’s loud
popping noises as it adjusted its course during flight—giving away
the element of surprise—and the tendency for its guidance wire to
break, sabotaging the launch. There were instances when the missile
would erupt out of its tube and suddenly drop to the ground.
For comparison’s sake, the contemporary Soviet
could be aimed and fired from concealment and offered greater range
and accuracy. The Konkurs, like the NATO favorite
was compatible for different vehicles and subject to constant
improvements. The M47 Dragon was not.
Although the M47 underwent minor upgrades, it was slowly
retired between 1996 and 2001 and leftover missiles were scheduled
for destruction. The US military’s subsequent combat action in
Afghanistan and Iraq meant the
went on to enjoy the prestige the Dragon never earned.
The M47 participated in its
share of wars, i.e. Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, the Balkans, and
established the shoulder-fired anti-tank missile as a viable weapon
system. Observing the success of current-generation ATGMs like the
Javelin, the Spike, and the
proves the M47 Dragon did make an impact on modern war.
Dragon II –
Used by US Marine Corps after the Product Improvement Program (PIP)
in 1988. This missile had increased penetration.
Dragon III – Increased the maximum range to 1.5 km. It also
had a tandem HEAT warhead. The program was cancelled in 1989.
Super Dragon – Introduced in 1990 with a suite of
improvements, i.e. greater range of 1.5 km and penetration.
Saeghe – Iranian copy of the M47 Dragon.
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