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MIM-72 Chaparral SAM 


(official US Army photo)

M-48 (MIM-72) Chaparral surface-to-air missile system

(United States)

Notes: The Chaparral system was originally intended to only be an interim system pending development of a more proper short-range SAM. Due to lack of a suitable replacement, it went on to serve for several decades in the US Army and longer abroad. In US Army nomenclature, the whole set-up is designated M-48, consisting of the M-730 vehicle and MIM-72 Chaparral missiles.

Project development

This system started as a 1959 requirement by the US Army’s Missile Command (MICOM) for a mobile air defense asset suitable for FEBA (forward edge of the battle area) use. After a half decade of failed projects, MICOM submitted an urgent request for alternatives (the 1963 Interim Forward-Area Air Defense study), specifically an off-she-shelf adaptation of an existing AAM, the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

In August 1965, MICOM determined that it would be feasible to adapt Sidewinder to a ground launcher. In June / July 1967, five prototype launchers and some XMIM-72A missiles were delivered to the US Army. Go-ahead for production was given in 15 August 1967 and the first vehicle delivered in October 1967. The first stateside complete Chaparral battery went operational in January 1969, with the first overseas deployments (South Korea and West Germany) in December 1972.

M-703 Launcher

The M-703 launcher is based on the M-548 tracked cargo vehicle, and was built by FMC in California. It has a full-width cab with fold-down windshield and roof. It can be fitted with water skirts and the vehicle is fully amphibious. For firing, the cab is "buttoned-up" and the launcher pedestal raised. The gunner’s position is inbetween the two pairs of missile rails and is air conditioned. Eight reloads are carried, these are in factory capsules and hand-loaded, with the fins being attached after mounting. The M-703 can be air-transported by C-130 Hercules or larger aircraft but can not be para-dropped.

(below: dashboard of the M-703 vehicle)


(below: amphibious operations)


M-85 Towed Chaparral

On 24 September 1983, Congress ordered a towed version of the Chaparral to be fielded. The M-85 was essentially just the non-vehicular portions of the M-730 on a wheeled trailer. With maintenance costs of the tow vehicle factored in, the savings were less than Congress had hoped for. In the end, production of the towed version was halted at 13 examples and only one unit (3 Battalion, 35 ADA Brigade at Ft. Lewis, WA) operated the M-85.

(below: M-85 Towed Chaparral)


MIM-72 missile

It is a misconception that the Chaparral system fires actual Sidewinders. Compared to the AIM-9, the MIM-72 has a number of changes. The most obvious is that only two of the four tail fins on the MIM-72 have the AIM-9's rolleron control surfaces. It was found that these generate a high amount of low-speed drag. For the air-fired Sidewinder this was not problem as the missile started off at the launch plane’s speed to begin with, but for Chaparral it was significant as the missile has to accelerate from zero. There were a number of other changes, and Sidewinder-capable planes can not fire Chaparrals, and land-based launchers vice-versa Sidewinders.


MIM-72A: The basic version, based largely on AIM-9D. This was a tail-chase only version. It was vulnerable to IR countermeasures and flares, and had difficulty acquiring targets directly in front of the sun. The MIM-72B was the associated peacetime training model which retained some war usefulness.

MIM-72C: Introduced in 1974, this version could engage targets from any angle and had an improved radio-proximity fuze. (The RIM-72 Sea Chaparral naval SAM, described separately in the DB Encyclopedia, also fires this version.)

MIM-72D: This version was cancelled.

MIM-72E/F/H: Introduced in 1978, this version had a smokeless motor. It was paired with a new Texas Instruments night-vision sight added to the launcher. The launcher upgrades were carried out between 1979-1984. The -E designation was for rebuilt -A/-B/-C missiles and -F was new construction. The -H designation was for export sales of the -F.

MIM-72G/J: This version was the -F model fitted with the AN/DAW-2 seeker head of the FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS. It offered quicker lock-on and was more resistant to the Soviet L166 ("Hot Brick") jamming device, additionally it would reject older-generation IR flares and decoys. The -G model was introduced in 1982 and was the final version. The US Army does not use the -I suffix, while -J was merely exported-G’s.

(below: mounting a relaod MIM-72 onto the launcher. The transport capsule is laying on the ground and the fins have yet to be attached.)



Due to the system’s limitations, there were no real "tactics" as such for it’s use; as opposed to say, the Hawk or Patriot systems. Basically the operator just had to stay alert and fire a missile if a target came into range.

The Chaparral system lacked any type of acquisition system (other than the Gunner’s eyes, of course) and relied on the off-mount AN/MPQ-49 FAAR radar set for initial target detection. This radar has a range of about 10NM, and is carried on a M-561 Gamma Goat. Chaparral also lacked any type of IFF and the FAAR also included a AN/TPX-50 IFF system. The risks inherent to relying on an off-mount IFF system are obvious. The FAAR had a FM radiolink to nearby Chaparrals and M-163 Vulcan AA guns (which in US Army doctrine, cooperated with the MIM-72 system). The AN/MPQ-49 is in no way "required" to use Chaparral, and some export users have either substituted different radars or use the system unaided.

Ideally, the Squad Leader would be in communication with the radar and alert the Gunner that a target was inbound and it’s general direction. As soon as the Gunner saw it, he aligned the optical sight on it and pressed the tracking button. The missile would issue audible signals which grew to a constant "growling" sound as lock was achieved, at which point the Gunner would fire. No action was necessary after launch. If the FAAR was unavailable or destroyed, the Gunner would have to simply search visually on his own.

In service

There were some shortcomings to Chaparral. The lack of an onboard acquisition sensor made it difficult to engage high-performance jets before they deployed their ordnance (and the -A version could only attack departing targets regardless). The missile’s minimum altitude made it ineffective against helicopters flying "pop-up" anti-tank missions. The -A and -C versions left a cloud of exhaust smoke; while the US Army stated a rate-of-fire of 4 missiles/minute; it was realistically impossible to fire more than one missile during an average engagement as the targets would be out of range again by the time the smoke cleared enough for the gunner to see (versions -E and later had a smokeless rocket). Before 1979, Chaparral was a daytime-only weapon due to lack of night vision for the gunner; thereafter it had limited nighttime usefulness.

On the other hand, it would be false to characterize Chaparral as unsuccessful. In light of the US Army’s many other air defense system failures during the mid-20th century; MIM-72 was developed very quickly and dirt-cheap; and was superior to manually-sighted AA guns which many of the world’s armies (including the USSR) still used at the time it entered service. The final (-G) version in 1982 is actually a quite effective point-defense SAM.

Phase-out from American service

Exercises during the 1980s showed that in realistic settings, there was not much difference between the MIM-72 Chaparral and the (much cheaper) FIM-92 Stinger. Additionally, US Army AA thinking overall was shifting to a "defense in depth" concept centered on the MIM-104 Patriot. In 1988 the active-duty US Army units began using Chaparral for second-line roles, for example in Europe, they were deployed to Ramstein AFB, Zweibrucken AFB, and Spangdehlem AFB for stationary airfield point-defense duties.

In December 1994, the US Army redesigned it’s air defense unit structure, with Chaparral deemed surplus. In January 1995, Congress eliminated funding for any more missiles and the US Army began to immediately phase out the weapon. By 4 July 1996, only three units, all National Guard, still used Chaparral. The last American user overall was the Arkansas National Guard, which discarded the system in February 1997.

EXPORT USERS: Chile, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Portugal, Taiwan, Tunisia

Chile received a small number of launchers and missiles in the early 1990s. The Chilean situation is unique due to the country’s geography, the many mountains cause gaps in the nation’s air defense network and tactical SAMs are expected to also fill a semi-strategic role. The Chilean army operates Chaparral in mixed units with Mistral MANPADS and AN/VRC-92 coordination radios. As of 2012, Chile is phasing out MIM-72.

Ecuador operates 18 vehicles with an unknown amount of missiles. The launchers were acquired during the 1990s; it’s thought that some of the missiles were re-sales from Israel’s stockpile. It’s assumed that the Ecuadorian army still uses Chaparral although little has been said of it.

The initial Egyptian order (delivered in 1988) was quite large; 26 vehicles and 450 missiles. The deal cost $112 million. Another 25 vehicles and several hundred more missiles were delivered in 1992-1993 for $220 million (this cost also included several separate Trackstar acquisition radars and stripped-down M-113 APC hulls to transport the radars and Chaparral reloads). In 2000, another 600 missiles were delivered free of charge as the US Army had already phased out Chaparral. Thus in 2012 the Egyptian force is still quite substantial, currently between one to two dozen launchers are in day-to-day use with the rest assigned to reserve units.

The initial Israeli order was delivered as an emergency effort during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it was for 250 missiles and an undisclosed (estimated 24 to 36) vehicles. The missiles were the low-capability -A version shipped directly from US Army stockpiles. In 1980 another 826 missiles of the better -H version were delivered, followed by another 250 missiles in a 1982 $12.1 million deal. In 1999, an additional 36 vehicles and 160 missiles were delivered free of charge as the US Army had already phased out Chaparral. As of 2012, it’s unknown if Chaparral is still in Israeli service; any surviving systems are likely in the Israeli army reserves.

Morocco received 37 vehicles and 504 missiles in 1976-1977. Whatever opinion other users have of Chaparral, the Moroccan army is a very enthusiastic user and even in 2012 considers this a premiere tactical SAM. All 37 vehicles are in frontline army use.

Portugal received 5 vehicles and 100 missiles in 1989, which were funded by other NATO allies. The Portuguese Chaparrals are operated in composite batteries with M-163 Vulcan AA guns delivered as part of the same deal. In 2006, the United States donated another 96 missiles along with a stockpile of replacement fins, vehicle spare parts, training aids, etc. It’s believed that this donation was to rid the US Army’s storage system of any and all remaining Chaparral-related items. This was the final-ever Chaparral transaction and it was done with the understanding that the USA would not further support the system.

Taiwan received an unknown number of launchers and missiles in 1975; the quantity is difficult to tell as the deal counted MIM-72 Chaparrals and RIM-92 Sea Chaparrals as the same weapon. In 1984-1985, an additional 24 vehicles along with 384 missiles were delivered; these were all of the land-based version. In 1987, an additional 16 vehicles and 262 missiles were delivered. In 2005, an additional 302 missiles were delivered "as-is", these were a mix of versions (-C, -H, -J) to clear out US Army storage. As of 2012, Taiwan still uses Chaparral.

Tunisia received 26 launchers and 354 missiles in a $11.3 million deal in 1979. In 1983, an additional 311 missiles (all -H version) were delivered for $24 million, along with some spare vehicle parts. In 2002, an additional 600 missiles (mixture of -C and -H versions) were delivered free of charge as the US Army had already phased out Chaparral. As of 2012, one of the vehicles has been written off due to an accident but the rest remain in use.

Several other armies, including Greece and Colombia, evaluated and rejected MIM-72.


Chaparrals were amongst the first US Army air defense assets deployed to Saudi Arabia in August/September 1990 as part of Operation Desert Shield. During the ground war portion of Operation Desert Storm in February 1991, they operated near the front but due to the destruction of the Iraqi air force during January of that year, saw no engagements. Negative commentary was made on the difficulty the M-730 vehicle encountered trying to keep up with the "all-star trio" of the M-1 Abrams MBT, M-2 Bradley APC, and M-270 Steel Rain MLRS which the Chaparral was supposed to protect.

(Below: a Chaparral on the move during Operation Desert Storm)


As far as is known, no Chaparral missile was ever fired in anger. It’s certain that the US Army never used this SAM in a combat setting, and it’s thought that no user anywhere has. However one early-1980s US Army training booklet stated that although American troops had never fired one in anger, "....some of our allies have used it in this setting.". It did not elaborate and the claim was not repeated in later additions. It’s possible that Israel fired some at Syrian warplanes during the 1982 operations in Lebanon.



Listed max: 6 miles

Realistic max: 3 miles (early versions) / 5 miles (later versions)

Minimum: 500 yards

Flight speed:

Mach 1.5

Engagement envelope:

Minimum altitude: 99' (early versions) / 79' (later versions)

Ceiling (listed): 13,000'

Ceiling (realistic): 8,200'

Relative target motion: Tail-chase only (-A/-B versions), 2700fps (later versions)


IR homing


Mk48 27lb HE-Frag (continuous-rod type)

Weight at launch:



8'8" x 5" (2'8" finspan)


Mk50 (later M-121) single-stage solid-fuel (flexadyne) rocket (5 second burn time)


$80,000 to $88,000 depending on version


Max speed:

38mph paved road / 10mph rough off-road


14 tons

Launcher movement:

360 deg bearing, -9/+90 deg elevation

183' safety radius for missile exhaust

Ammunition stowage:

8 missiles


5 (Squad Leader, Gunner, Driver, x2 Loaders)


Fragmentation only

Obstacle clearance:

2' vertical, 5'6" trench, 30 degree slope (limited to 10 degree slope for firing), 2'8" unprepared fording (fully amphibious with screen), 1'4" ground clearance, 14' turning radius


L 19'11" W 8'10" H 6'3"


x1 General Motors GM6V53-RISE diesel, X-200-4 automatic transmission, torsion bar suspension, 15"-wide steel tracks




Entry created by: Jason W. Henson
Contributors: Jason W. Henson

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SAM (Chaparral A Battery) (1969)1965-1979 Database 1.08
SAM (Chaparral Battalion)Colonial Wars (1950-64) v2.1
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SAM (Chaparral Battalion) (1980)1965-1979 Database 1.08
SAM (Chaparral Battalion) (1988)1965-1979 Database 1.08
SAM (Chaparral Battery) (x4)Colonial Wars (1950-64) v2.1
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