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M47 Dragon

Anti-tank guided missile

M47 Dragon

The US M47 Dragon anti-tank guided missile made an impact on modern warfare

 
 
Country of origin United States
Entered service 1975
Armor penetration 460 mm
Range 1 000 m
Missile length 856 mm
Missile diameter 127 mm (?)
Fin span ?
Missile weight 10.7 kg
Warhead weight 2.5 kg
Warhead type HEAT
Guidance Wire-guided

 

   The advent 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 nomenclature—“Dragon”—in 1967.

   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 like T-55’s, T-62’s, T-64's, T-72's and T-80's. 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 Marines.

   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 Konkurs could be aimed and fired from concealment and offered greater range and accuracy. The Konkurs, like the NATO favorite MILAN, 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 Javelin 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 NLAW proves the M47 Dragon did make an impact on modern war.

 

Variants

 

   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.

 

Miguel Miranda

   Article by MIGUEL MIRANDA

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M47 Dragon

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M47 Dragon

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