Blue is True

On the M47 Dragon anti-tank missile system, each missile round had a humidity indicator. Army missiles spend most of their lives in storage, waiting either to be used in war or training. They have a shelf life of roughly 10 years. After a while, moisture is sure to work its way in, and cause corrosion, and otherwise degrade the missile. And so, the humidity indicator. A simple little plastic window. As a part of the pre-fire check-list, the shooter was supposed to look at the paper strip indicator in the window, and ensure the missile was still within acceptable limits. The strip would show one of three colors, blue, white, or pink. Blue meant there was little or no moisture in the missile, and presumably, the round was servicable. White indicated some moisture, and pink indicated an unacceptable level of moisture.

As a mnemonic device, soldiers were taught the following:

Blue is true= the round is servicable.

White is tight= acceptable for emergency use

Pink stinks= round is unserviceable, and should be turned in to Ordnance.

But here’s the thing. Missiles are pretty damn expensive. The Army tries to come up with as many alternative training methods besides shooting missiles to train missile gunners. But eventually, some level of live fire training has to be done. So, if you’re going to shoot live missiles, why not shoot those missiles that have been on the shelf the longest.

I’ve done a couple of Dragon missile live fires. And every single round we drew to shoot had pink.

Most of them worked.


Oh, they all left the tube.

But when a wire breaks (on a wire guided missile) and the high explosive warhead equipped missile decides to travel vertically, rather than horizontally, there’s a few tense moments while you wait for the “boom”. Since, you’re standing right under where it decided to go vertical.

4 thoughts on “Blue is True”

  1. Reminds me of firing 81s about ’82. We were handed several cases of HE shorts that were older than the gunners. The rounds were so old the “cheese packs” were stuck together. I was very concerned about standing in the pit firing those. But, they all cleared the tube and that was all I cared about. Over half just bounced around the target area without detenation. EOD spent several hours clearing that mess. Guess the rule of thumb is never throw anything away, like the rations with 1946 date stamps–but that’s a whole other story.

  2. Back in ’88, my platoon received 6 well-aged BGM-71A missiles to shoot during our live-fire portion of the NTC. These were the original 3,000-meter TOWs and must have been about 15 years old by then. My Brad wasn’t chosen to shoot one, so I can’t say what their humidity status was, but about half of them failed to track accurately. Two, IIRC, plowed into the ground well short of their targets and the third became a skyrocket. Until I saw that one, I’d been pissed that I was forced to observe the launches while buttoned up as I was stationed a couple of hundred meters off to one side of the three launching vehicle, but that made me change my mind as that puppy could have decided to circle back!

  3. I remember at Hohenfels 1982 on a company assault range in the NW corner. The ITVs of our weapons platoon were getting ready to fire the first TOW missile in the division as part of a company live fire. They fired the TOW and it kicked out of the hammerhead mount….and then dropped to the ground about 200 meters in front of the ITV since the in flight motor failed to kick in….at first. Then the plume of blast was seen as the missile screamed back towards the front of the ITV. It struck the front (fortunately, training warhead) then launched into the air….travelling off of Hohenfels to the northeast towards Greater Germany.

    I sure was glad I was not slated to take over that Weapons Platoon until 2 months later!

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