M48 Chaparral Air Defense System

The M48 Chaparral Air Defense System provides mobile, short-range air defense against helicopters and low-altitude fixed-wing aircraft. The system is designed to be mobile, self-contained and air transportable. Both a tracked, self-propelled carrier and a towed configuration were fielded.

Chaparral was intended to be used in conjunction with the M163 Vulcan Air Defense System. Vulcan was optimized for fast interception of short-range targets while Chaparral was meant for longer range engagements of 3-5 nm.

M48 Chaparral Air Defense System
M48 Chaparral Air Defense System.

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M48 Chaparral Air Defense System

The M48 Chaparral Air Defense System consists of a surface-to-air infrared heat seeking missile, a launcher with a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) sight, and a tracked vehicle or trailer mobile carrier. The 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. Eight additional missiles are stowed in the vehicle.

The Chaparral's MIM-72A missile (or variant MIM-72C/E and others, based on the AIM-9D Sidewinder), is lightweight, supersonic, fire-and-forget, with an infrared homing guidance system capable of engaging fixed-wing and helicopter targets. To enhance missile acquisition range and capability, the Rosette Scan Seeker (RSS) guidance section was developed to be effective against infrared jammers. The missile is carried and handled as an assembled single round of ammunition.

The Chaparral carrier is an M-730A2 self-propelled tracked vehicle, a variant of the M-113 Armored Personnel Carrier. By installing a swim kit the carrier becomes amphibious. With its protective cover installed, the M-730A2 is difficult to distinguish from the M113 base unit.

First manufactured and integrated by Lockheed Martin in 1965, the M48 Chaparral Air Defense System entered service with the US Army in 1969. In 1975, the Army completed development testing and approved the fielding of an improved version of the Chaparral missile that greatly increased its effectiveness by providing a 360 degree target engagement capability and a more lethal fuze and warhead combination. Although deployed for Desert Storm, Chaparral was phased out between 1990 and 1998.

Chaparral Air Defense System Variants

The Chaparral air defense guided missile system has used the evolving launching stations M54, M54A1, M54A2, and M54A3. The Chaparral is then designated M48, M48A1, M48A2 or M48A3 respectively.

When configured with its towed self-contained trailer system, Chaparral is designated M85 rather than M48. The M85 trailer mounted variant is useful for defense of fixed targets, such as airfields, while the self-propelled M48 moves with the force it is defending.

M48 Chaparral Air Defense System in travel mode
M48 Chaparral Air Defense System in travel mode.

M48 Chaparral Air Defense System ready to engage a target
M48 Chaparral Air Defense System ready to engage a target.

M48 Chaparral Air Defense System on display in ready mode
M48 Chaparral Air Defense System on display in ready mode.

M85 trailer-mounted Chaparral Air Defense System
M85 trailer-mounted Chaparral Air Defense System.

M48 Chaparral Air Defense System, configured for amphibious operations
M48 Chaparral Air Defense System, configured for amphibious operations.