Less-Than-Effective NATO Weapon Systems Of World War III Part I

Weapon systems are similar to athletes, musicians and other types of celebrities in that sometimes the hype does not measure up to real world performance. If you’re an NFL fan, think of first round draft busts like Ryan Leaf and Tony Mandarich. After being drafted these two players were touted as the next greatest things to grace the gridiron. They could never be expected to live up to the lofty expectations that the media, their team coaches and owners, and fans had placed on their shoulders. Once the games began, however, it didn’t take long to see that Leaf and Mandarich were nowhere near great and likely never would be. Well, neither one lasted very long in the NFL and they’re basically viewed as cautionary tales nowadays.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the Third World War both NATO and the Warsaw Pact had a number of weapon systems in their respective inventories that had been regarded as being platforms superior to anything the opposing side had available. In some cases, wartime performance matched or even surpassed the hype put forth by pre-war analysts, defense contractors and general officers. And then there were weapon systems that underachieved or failed miserably once the shooting began.

It is worth taking a glimpse at a handful of the more underachieving weapons fielded by NATO during the war. In some instances, these weapons were known to be obsolete and had been modified and updated as much as possible to keep them effective until newer platforms were available. In others, the sub-par performance came as a rude shock and brought about revisions in tactics and usage if necessary. In July 1987 the militaries of NATO and Warsaw Pact nations went to war with the weapon systems they had available, not the ones they wanted or in some instances needed. An old story that has plagued armies for centuries.

This will be a two-part series that looks at five or six different NATO systems that performed poorly in the war. Intro and one weapon in this entry and the remainder in Part II on Monday or Tuesday night depending on how the schedule is being maintained. We’ll start off with a weapon that US troops loved to hate.

M-47 Dragon ATGM (United States)- The Dragon was a troubled weapon even before July, 1987.  A shoulder-fired, man portable anti-tank missile, the Dragon was not a favorite among the US Army infantrymen and US Marines who would take it into battle. It was bulky, susceptible to the elements and contained a HEAT warhead that many did not believe was capable of penetrating newer model Soviet tanks and armored vehicles. When the balloon went up, the Dragon received its baptism of fire in US hands. It did not take long for most of the pre-war concerns about the Dragon to be confirmed. First shot kills on T-80s and upgraded T-72s were uncommon in the first days of the war. More often than not Dragon teams targeted enemy vehicles from the front rather than the flanks. This resulted in first-shot impacts that did little more than scratch the glacis paint of Soviet tanks. As the war went on and experience was gained, surviving Dragon team members went for flank and rear shots first whenever possible. As a rule, however, Dragon teams avoided T-72 and T-80s as much as possible, leaving them to TOW teams, Bradley and Abrams gunners. The Dragons instead focused on the lighter armored BMPs, BTRs, BRDMs and ZSU anti-air vehicles and ended up with better results. However, as an anti-tank guided missile, the Dragon was a dismal failure since it was ineffective against the best Soviet tanks on the battlefield.

18 Replies to “Less-Than-Effective NATO Weapon Systems Of World War III Part I”

  1. It was a poor design. The gunner had to expose himself to fire and remain exposed for the entire flight. Because the gunner supported the weight of the missile in the tube , when it fired, the tube would rise and the muzzle would dip so the missile guidance would guide the missile lower so there was a possibility the missile could hit the ground and lose guidance.
    The missile was also slower than most, only about 100 meters per second. And the backup weapon all the grunts carried, the M72 LAAW was all but useless against tank front and sides.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, sounds about right. What a less-than-efficient weapon, and it took forever to field a replacement. But that’s a typical problem for US systems 🙂


    2. It did have some good uses though. The best was in 85-86 a thermal sight system was put in service, giving us a man portable thermal system that that could be used in foot recon missions or even as a better nightvision device ). My battalion in in Europe was in M113s so we didn’t even have a vehicle mounted sight of the Bradley units.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thermal sight systems are quite useful. I have a question, Charles. What was it like in 85-86 being in a battalion still equipped with M-113s while other units around you were getting their Bradleys? Was there a short-term change in tactics for you guys or did it change the way you operated at all? I mean, I know sooner or later everyone had Brads but I was just curious


        1. There was a difference in tactics between the M2 battalions and the m113 battalions.
          The primary tank killing system in both battalions was the TOW system. In the M2 was the primary carrier of this system. From what I understand, their vehicles hull or turret down set back behind the grunts, but their great sights and hard-hitting TOW, 25mm, and co-ax.

          In the M113 battalions in the 80s, the primary carrier for the TOW system was M901 ITV.
          It was an M113 chassis that had a 3 ft tall daylight periscope to peak over berm and a hammerhead turret with 2 rounds ready to fire and a day and thermal sight but very limited ability to engage dismounted Infantry. The vehicle always intrigued me. From what i gather from Cold War veteran groups, the vehicle had issues.
          The Battalion scout platoon used 3 M113s and 3 M901s. In this configuration, the scouts would probably tend to be less aggressive
          The battalion would have 24 ITVs in the anti-armor company, which in mech units were usually designated Echo company. The usual deployment I saw was that each rifle company would get a section of 2 ITVs, and depending upon the company and battalion tactical situation, one or two companies might swap a rifle platoon for a ITV platoon.

          The ITV would position themselves hull down behind the grunts . The M113s would bout of sight, not having a sensor system or mounted weapon system that could greatly contribute, but ready to come up and pick up the troops in an emergency.

          In the 8th ID, we would see the commercials for the for the Bradley on the AFN Europe and wanted to get them, but we knew if it ever came down to it that we would make the M113s work.

          (Sorry for not responding sooner, but I had limited access and, more importantly wanted to make family my priority. I hope it wasn’t too worded)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. No problem at all, Charles. Family always takes priority

            I get the different tactics and remember from research how much the ITV factored into the plan for M-113 equipped companies and battalions. You’re right too, if the balloon went up, you’d be moving out in -113s. Like the old saying goes, you don’t go to war with the equipment you want….etc, etc


  2. Mike weren’t there also 50 M247 Sgt. York’s on the books, or were they all targets/fully demobbed by ’87? Its reputation has been rehabilitated somewhat in the last few years, and its “bad performance” has come down to lack of ground speed to keep up with the M1…but if it was in theater in your world, and given that NATO was mostly on the defensive, I’d like to know if you considered it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting. I wonder why it’s reputation is being remodeled lately. From what I’ve read about the Sgt York, it was a piece of junk from its armament through its inability to keep up with the Abrams and Bradley. I wouldn’t throw it out though if it was in service and in my theater. I’d make good use it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Check this out, Mike, it’s a good read. I’ve seen it repeated and elaborated on around the web. Now with that said, I’m not trying to suggest the M247 was a missed opportunity for American Wunderwaffe, but I think its reputation was very skewered by the press who wanted to kill *some* weapon system the Reagan Defense Dept. wanted (they couldn’t stop the M1 nor the Brad., so…)


        Liked by 2 people

  3. Never heard a single good thing about the dragon. Ever read “The defense of Hill 781” by James McDonough? For those that dont know, its like “The defense of Duffers Drift”, except written in the mid 80s about a mechanized battalion. Anyway, theres a memorable scene in which a company of light infantry gets annihilated because their LAWs and dragons were not able to damage or even dissuade armor.

    Fascinating book, highly recommended.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bringing back memories with the Dragon. By the mid-90s, the weakness of the Dragon was well known, and the Army was getting ready to bring in the Jav while fervently hoping not to have to use Dragons (or at least fervently hoping the A-10s, Apaches, and TOWs did their jobs). Shortly after getting to my first unit we had the last Dragon live fire range. One missile came out of the tube, went a little ways then dropped to the ground while the guidance jets kept popping- hence the fervent hopes! The TAS-5 sight got used as a surrogate surveillance optic more than its intended purpose, similar to the TAS-4 on the D Co. TOWs.

    Javelin was heavier, but it was a game changer for light forces. The CLU alone was the best thermal optic in an infantry platoon, while the first range during fielding left us convinced we had a winner. OIF bore that out in spades. I’d have hated to have to fight with the Dragon.

    Liked by 1 person

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