The M48 Chaparral SAM system consists of an infrared heat seeking missile, a launcher with a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) sight, and a tracked vehicle. The defense system was designed to be used in conjunction with the shorter-ranged M163 Vulcan Air Defense System. At its core, the Chaparral system is essentially a modified version of the M548 tracked carrier mated to the M54 launch and control system containing four launch rails. The system uses the M730 series cargo carrying, self-propelled tracked vehicle "9A" variant of the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, which can be made amphibious by adding an existing swim kit. A towed configuration is also available.
The M48 Chaparral Fire Unit may be used either carrier mounted or unmounted. The launcher contains a rotating mount that includes four missile launch rails and provides the gunner the means to aim and fire using automatic or manual tracking (the operator can optically guide the missiles to their target, relying on the internal infrared guidance system to complete the job). Eight additional missiles are stowed in the vehicle. The missile (a surface-to-air version of the air-to-air AIM-9 Sidewinder missile) is lightweight, supersonic, fire-and-forget, with an infrared homing guidance system capable of engaging fixed-wing and rotary targets. To enhance the missile's acquisition range and capability the Rosette Scan Seeker (RSS) guidance section has been developed and is effective against infrared jammers. The missile is carried and handled as an assembled single round of ammunition. Prior to firing, the crew unveiled the provided blast shields to protect themselves, the cab and engine compartment from the violent launch blast inherent in such missiles. There was a front winch installed on the tracked carrier.
The M48 Chaparral provides mobile short-range (5,250 yards / 2,500 meters) air defense to defeat low-altitude aircraft. The system is designed to be mobile, self-contained and air transportable. The US Army utilized a total of 600 Fire Units with over 5,300 AIM-9 missiles on hand with more units in export for other armies. The M48 Chaparral was discontinued from frontline service at the end of 1997.
The M548 saw her cooling systems improved and this benefit was added to existing M730 series models, producing the M730A1 designation. NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) was added as was the new RISE power package while the front winch was removed, resulting in a further designation of M730A2 being used.