Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Copyright © 2002 Andreas Parsch

Ford MIM-72 Chaparral

The MIM-72 Chaparral is a ground-launched derivative of the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile. Development began in 1963 with U.S. Army MICOM (Missile Command) studies to convert the Navy's AIM-9D missile for surface-to-air use. In 1965, the studies had shown that the conversion was feasible, and the Chaparral program was started as a short-term replacement for the cancelled MIM-46 Mauler. In 1966, development of the AN/MPQ-49 Forward Area Alerting Radar (FAAR), which was to provide Chaparral (and other air-defense systems) with target information, was approved. In 1967, the first XMIM-72A missiles were delivered to the U.S. Army, and in May 1969 the first Chaparral battalion was activated.

The production MIM-72A was almost identical to the AIM-9D Sidewinder. However, only two of the fins had rollerons, the other two having been replaced by non-moving thin fins. This was done to reduce the overall drag of the missile, which is more important for ground-launched missiles than for air-launched ones, because the latter have the launching aircraft as a high-speed "first stage". The MIM-72's MK 50 solid-fuel rocket motor was essentially identical to the MK 36 MOD 5 used in the AIM-9D. The Chaparral was launched from M48 fire units, consisting of M730 tracked vehicles (modified M548, originally designated XM548E1) fitted with M54 four-missile launchers. Each M48 carried four missiles ready for firing, and a further eight for reloading. The MIM-72A could engage targets flying at 15-3000 m (50-10000 ft) altitude and at ranges from 500-6000 m (1600-20000 ft).

Photo: U.S. Army
MIM-72 (exakt model unknown)

Simultaneously with the MIM-72A, the MIM-72B was fielded. This variant was primarily intended for use against training targets, and differed from the MIM-72A only by the use of a different fuze. There was also an inert Chaparral missile for ground-handling training designated M30. Production of the MIM-72A/B continued until 1975, when about 9500 missiles had been built. Because of their high commonality with the AIM-9D, all MIM-72A/B missiles for the Army were procured via the U.S. Navy.

In the 1970-74 time frame, various component improvements were developed for the Chaparral, resulting in the XMIM-72C Improved Chaparral missile design in 1974. The main new features of the Improved Chaparral were an AN/DAW-1 guidance section (being a much improved development of the MIM-72A/B's guidance section), a new M817 directional doppler fuze, and a new M250 blast-fragmentation warhead. The fuze and warhead were derivatives of items originally developed during the cancelled MIM-46 Mauler program. The improvements gave the MIM-72 an all-aspect capability, making it usable in head-on engagements, and also enlarged the missile's effective range envelope. Because the XMIM-72C hadn't much commonality with then current Navy Sidewinders (AIM-9L), it was the first version to be procured by the Army directly from Ford Aeronutronics. The MIM-72C was produced between 1976 and 1981, and was first deployed to operational units in November 1978.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. Navy evaluated a shipborne Chaparral installation for use as an interim air-defense weapon, but did not adopt it for service use. However, Taiwan selected this Sea Chaparral for shipborne air-defense, using MIM-72C (and later MIM-72F/J) missiles. The Sea Chaparral missiles are sometimes referred to as RIM-72C, but this is probably no official DOD designation.

The designation XMIM-72D was allocated to an experimental missile which had the improved fuze and warhead of the MIM-72C, but used the MIM-72A's guidance section. The planned MIM-72D production version was cancelled.

In March 1977 Ford was awarded a contract to demonstrate an all-weather capability for Chaparral. The program was completed after 10 test firings in July 1978. The test missile was also the first to use a new smokeless M121 rocket motor, developed between 1975 and 1978, and produced by Hercules from 1980 on. Between 1978 and 1983, Ford and Texas Instruments developed a FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) sight for the Chaparral system to enhance the night/all-weather capabilities of the system. This FLIR was fielded in 1984.

MIM-72E was the designation assigned to MIM-72C missiles retrofitted with the M121 smokeless motor. The designation MIM-72F refers to new-built missiles with this motor, and is essentially identical to the MIM-72E.

Photo: U.S. Army
MIM-72C/E/F (exakt model unknown)

Development of an improved Chaparral, which was to use the Rosette Scan Seeker (RSS) of the FIM-92 Stinger missile, began in 1980. The RSS - also known as POST (Passive Optical Seeker Technique) - has the capability of spatial, spectral, and amplitude discrimination. These features make the seeker vastly more immune againts all sorts of IR countermeasures. In 1982, Ford was awarded a contract to develop an RSS-equipped Chaparral designated MIM-72G. The RSS of the MIM-72G is designated as AN/DAW-2. In the late 1980s, existing MIM-72 missiles were retrofitted with the AN/DAW-2, and from 1990-1991, new MIM-72G missiles were built.

The designation MIM-72H refers to an export version of the MIM-72F, and the MIM-72J is an MIM-72G with a downgraded guidance and control section, also intended for export.

Beginning in 1990, the Army began to retire the MIM-72 from regular units, but Chaparral continued to be used by the Army National Guard. However, after 1994 it was decided to phase-out the MIM-72, and in 1998 the Chaparral was no longer in service with the U.S. Army. The system was replaced by the Avenger air-defense system, which uses FIM-92 Stinger missiles. A total of about 21000 MIM-72 missiles of all versions have been built, including about 4000 for export.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for MIM-72A/C/G:

Length2.90 m (114.5 in)
Finspan0.63 m (24.8 in)
Diameter12.7 cm (5 in)
Weight86 kg (190 lb)
SpeedMach 1.5
Ceiling3000 m (10000 ft)
Range6000 m (20000 ft)9000 m (30000 ft)
PropulsionMK 50 solid-fuel rocket motor (12.2 kN (2740 lb) for 4.7 s) Hercules M121 smokeless solid-rocket motor
Warhead11 kg (25 lb) MK 48 continuous rod12.6 kg (27.8 lb) M250 blast-fragmentation

Main Sources

[1] Bill Gunston: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rockets and Missiles", Salamander Books Ltd, 1979
[2] Hajime Ozu: "Missile 2000 - Reference Guide to World Missile Systems", Shinkigensha, 2000
[3] Norman Friedman: "World Naval Weapons Systems, 1997/98", Naval Institute Press, 1997
[4] Redstone Arsenal Historical Information Website

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Last Updated: 20 February 2002