We’ve talked about the old M47 Dragon anti-tank missile system before, once or twice. For technology that entered service in 1973, it was pretty impressive. But by the time I fired my first live Dragon in 1991, it was clearly obsolescent.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Dragon had a fairly short range, 1000 meters, which meant that every vehicle with a machine gun had a fair chance of zapping you if you shot at them. And merely breathing heavy could be enough to make you miss the shot. And anyone who’s running around the battlefield is pretty durn likely to be breathing heavy.
Still, in the old M-113 equipped units, it was pretty much the only anti-tank weapon in the company, so you made the best of it that you could. It made somewhat less sense in the M2 Bradley equipped units, since each Bradley has a built in 2-round TOW missile launcher. Even then, each squad had a Dragon sight as part of its equipment. There is missile stowage for spare TOW rounds onboard the Bradley, but you can swap out TOWs for Dragons on a one-for-one basis. Or you can cheat and do like we did in Desert Storm, and load the full load of TOWs and strap a Dragon to the base of the turret basket.
We managed to get through the 4 days of ground combat without having to shoot any Dragons in my company. Normally, we would have turned in excess ammo for storage until the next war. Some, like the small arms ammo, it was easier to just shoot the stuff we had uncrated than to turn it in. But missiles like the TOW are somewhat more expensive than a 5.56mm round. On the other hand, the safety regulations for shipping ammunition, usually by merchant ship, are very stringent. We had tossed all the packaging the missiles all came in. So the word came down that we were authorized to expend them. By that time, almost all my company had actually left southern Iraq and was waiting in Saudi Arabia for a flight home (which would take almost a month). We had just enough people to move the company’s vehicles, with a couple of us as spares to drive captured Iraqi vehicles. And I was the only qualified Dragon gunner in the bunch.
As a result, after countless “dry-fires” using the simulator, I finally got to fire a live Dragon. And as a bonus, I got to fire it at a real Soviet made armored vehicle (an old MTLB). And I didn’t get to fire just one. I fired all 14 Dragons we had in the company. By the time I was done, the MTLB looked like Swiss cheeese…
I fired one more live Dragon, a few years later in Colorado. That was fun as well, but I only got to kill a plywood target with that.