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Raytheon M47 Dragon

Portable Wire-Guided Anti-Tank Missile System

The Raytheon M47 Dragon anti-tank missile system saw service from 1975 through 2001 and took part in the Iran-Iraq War, Grenada and Persian Gulf War.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 9/24/2018
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Year: 1975
Manufacturer(s): Raytheon / McDonnell Douglas - USA
Roles: Anti-Tank/Anti-Material/Breaching;
Action: Single-Shot, Line-of-Sight, Hollow Charge
Caliber(s): 140mm
Sights: Affixed SACLOS Sighting Device.
Overall Length: 1,154 mm (45.43 in)
Barrel Length: 1,154 mm (45.43 in)
Muzzle Velocity: 660 feet-per-second (201 meters-per-second)
Rate-of-Fire: 1 rounds-per-minute
Effective Range: 246 ft (75 m; 82 yd)
Operators: Iran; Iraq (captured); Israel; Jordan; Morocco; Netherlands; Saudi Arabia; Spain; Switzerland; Thailand; United States
As World War 2 (1939-1945) showcased the value of ranged armor-defeating weapons on the battlefield - primarily through anti-tank rifles, anti-tank guns and shoulder-fired systems - concepts continued to emerge into the Cold War years (1947-1991) which saw the West face off against the might of the Soviet Empire and its supporters. It was assumed that another full-scale war would eventually engulf Europe and an grand ground assault would be spearheaded by masses of Soviet armor - similar in concept to the battles of World War 2. As a counter, the shoulder-fired, anti-tank rocket launcher of old was now evolved into the anti-tank missile which offered better penetration qualities and additional control through a portable launch system that included optics and a guidance package. Improved warheads provided the armor-defeating qualities required and wire-guidance provided the necessary in-flight control of the missile. Wire-guidance allowed just that - the operator sent corrective signals to the launched missile to adjust the flight path as it was guided towards the intended target. Such weapons ultimately grew in their tactical value, proving serviceable for "bunker-busting" duties as well as tank-killing. In 1975, the United States Army completed work on a new shoulder-mounted, anti-tank missile system through the FGM-77 initiative and adopted the weapon as the M47 "Dragon".

Design work on the M47 began in March of 1966 and was headed by Raytheon. Along with McDonnell Douglas providing manufacture capabilities, some 7,000 launchers were eventually made to go along with 33,000 missiles produced. By this time, the Soviet Union had unveiled their latest Main Battle Tank as the T-72 and this proved a popular offering to many Soviet-aligned customers. The T-72 (over 25,000 produced) joined stocks of the famous, and numerous, T-54/T-55 series which was already well-entrenched globally (estimated production reached 100,000 units). Another 22,700 were of the T-62 which brought about a new 115mm smoothbore main gun. If a new land war were to greet Europe, the West would be ready with their new M47 tank-killing system among other counters being developed/fielded. Initial units received their M47 kits in January of 1975 and both the United States Army and Marine Corps made use of the weapon. Some European powers eventually joined the fray as was the case with the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. The M47 then found export customers in Iran, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. During the Iran-Iraq War, examples of M47s fell to advancing Iraqi forces making them another, albeit indirect, operator of the Dragon system.

The Dragon utilized a rocket-propelled missile projectile featuring a hollow charge warhead intended to defeat the armor protection schemes of the day. The weapon held a maximum engagement range out to 1,500 meters though proved most effective between 75 meters and 1,000 meters. Due to its wire-guided nature - a limited length of wire unspooling from the launch system - the missile could only travel a certain length before its effectiveness was reached. The missile traveled at a speed value of 660 feet per second.

The weapon system, as a whole, showcased a caliber of 140mm and required a crew of just one, making it an ideal, portable anti-tank weapon - particularly in urban fighting. A bipod was affixed to the front of the fiberglass launcher for support while the rear of the tube was held by the operator's shoulder. The tube was of smoothbore design internally (i.e. non-rifled). Optics were offset to the side of the launcher and were affixed during preparation of the unit. Optics were reusable and thusly removable from the launcher. The typical firing position for the user was either a kneeling, crouched or sitting position (as the battlefield situation dictated). The missile was actuated via a trigger unit and onboard battery pack. The operator was required to keep the target sighted while the missile directed itself to the target. This was known as SACLOS (Semi-Automatic Command, Line-Of-Sight). As such, line-of-sight to the target was required which presented a danger to the operator.

The M47 led a relatively sort operational service life with the US military. The weapon was not a favorite of infantry for its size, peculiar launch qualities and the limited effective engagement ranges. It was officially replaced in the US inventory by the FGM-148 "Javelin" though it continues life in storage, possibly for scrapping, future sale or emergency use. The M47 saw active combat service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War with US forces. Prior to that, it was used in the 1983 Grenada campaign.

A 1985 initiative upgraded the penetrative capabilities of the Dragon missile, leading to the "Dragon II" designation being used. In 1990, a similar initiative - attempting to keep pace with modern armor developments - begat the "Super-Dragon". The Iranian "Saeghe" series is nothing more than a local Iranian copy of the M47 series - brought about by the arms embargo to Iran resulting from the 1978-79 Islamic Revolution which toppled pro-US leadership.

Variants / Models

• FGM-77 - Developmental Designation
• M47 "Dragon" - Production Designation
• "Dragon II" - Updated and Improved Dragon; increased penetration value; appearing in 1985.
• "Super Dragon" - Improved Dragon II; appearing in 1990; increased penetration value and maximum effective range.
• "Saeghe 1" - Iranian reverse-engineered version of the Dragon; appearing in 2002.
• "Saeghe 2" - Improved Iranian Version
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