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A U.S. Army M163 from the 24th Infantry Division at the Fort Irwin National Training Center in November 1988
TypeSelf-propelled anti-aircraft gun
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1968–present
Used bySee list of operators
Production history
DesignerGeneral Electric
Produced1965–1970, 1975-1979, 1982
No. built654
Mass24,700 lb (11,200 kg) (M163)
27,140 lb (12,310 kg) (M163A1)
27,542 lb (12,493 kg) (M163A2) combat weight
Length191.5 in (4.86 m)
Width112.4 in (2.85 m)
Height115 in (2.9 m)
Crew4 (commander, gunner, loader, driver)

Elevation+80° / -5°

ArmorRolled 5083/5086 H32 aluminium, 29 mm (1.14 in) - 45 mm (1.77 in)
M168 General Dynamics 20 mm Rotary cannon
2,000 rounds (M163)
2,230 rounds (M163A1/A2)
None/crew small arms
EngineGeneral Motors 6V53, 6-cylinder two-stroke diesel
212 hp (158 kW)
Suspensiontorsion bar, 5 road wheels
275 mi (443 km) (M163/A2)
300 mi (480 km) (M163A1)
Maximum speed 40 mph (64 km/h)

The M163 Vulcan Air Defense System (VADS), officially Gun, Air Defense Artillery, Self-Propelled 20-mm, M163, is a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) that was primarily used by the United States Army. The M163 provides mobile, short-range air defense protection for ground units against low-flying fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. It replaced the M42 Duster as the standard American armored light air-defense gun.[2]


The M163 VADS uses the M168 gun, a variant of the General Dynamics 20 mm (0.79 in) M61A1 rotary cannon, the standard cannon in most U.S. combat aircraft since the 1960s. The gun is mounted on a modified M113A1 vehicle (the M741 carrier). Designed to complement the M48 Chaparral missile system, it is limited to fair-weather operations.[3] The M163 uses a small range-only AN/VPS-2 radar and an M61 optical lead-calculating sight, and is incapable of using the radar to scan an area for targets. The system is suitable for night operations with the use of AN/PVS series night vision sights that can be mounted to the right side of the primary sight.

The gun fires at 3,000 rounds per minute in short bursts of 10, 30, 60, or 100 rounds, or it can fire in continuous fire mode at a rate of 1,000 rounds per minute.[4] A linkless feed system is used. Its 20x102mm round gave it a low effective range of only 1,200 meters (3,900 ft), and its standard air-defense load of HEI-T rounds would self-destruct at approximately 1,800 meters (5,900 ft), a hard limit on range. The feed drum holds 1,200 rounds ready to fire, with 800 rounds stowed in reserve for the M163, later increased to 1,030 rounds stowed in reserve for the M163A1 and A2.

Service history[edit]

In US and Israeli service, the VADS has rarely been needed in its intended purpose of providing defense against aerial threats—consequently, the Vulcan gun system was in use throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s primarily as a ground support weapon. For example, VADS guns were used to support American ground assault troops in Panama in 1989 during Operation Just Cause. One Vulcan of B Battery, 2/62 ADA sank a PDF patrol boat.[5] The last combat action the VADS participated in US service was Operation Desert Storm.

In the Israeli Air Defense Command the "Hovet" (the Israeli designation to the M163 VADS) scored 3 shoot-downs, including the first shoot-down of a jet warplane (a Syrian MiG-21 fighter jet) by the M163 VADS, during Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982.[6] The Israel Defense Forces used the Hovet also for fire support during urban warfare in Operation Peace for Galilee (1982)[7] and Operation Defensive Shield (2002).

Upgrades and replacement[edit]

In order to provide effective battlefield air defense against helicopters equipped with anti-tank missiles that could be fired accurately from ranges of several kilometers, the VADS was slated to be replaced by the M247 Sergeant York DIVADS (Divisional Air Defense System), but that system was canceled due to cost overruns, technical problems, and generally poor performance.[8]

In 1984 the improved PIVADS (Product-Improved VADS) system was introduced, providing improvements in the ease of use and accuracy of fire, but the limitations of the 20x102 mm caliber remained. In 1988, the fourth crewmember (observer/loader) was issued a Stinger launcher and two rounds.[9]

Eventually, the M163 was replaced in US service by the M1097 Avenger and the M6 Linebacker, an M2 Bradley with FIM-92 Stinger missiles instead of the standard TOW anti-tank guided missiles: the Stinger missile providing the necessary range to deal with helicopters with anti-tank missiles far out-ranging the 20 mm gun, as well as considerably extending the reach against fixed-wing targets. The final US Army VADS-equipped unit at Fort Riley Kansas completed turn-in of its Vulcans in 1994.


While a large number of 20x102mm rounds have been developed, not all were issued to M163 units. M246 HEI-T-SD was developed alongside the system and was the primary anti-air round, with M56 HEI being used for ground support.[10] PIVADS units could use Mk 149 APDS rounds, which greatly increase maximum effective range due to their higher velocity and lack of a self-destruct. M940 may have been issued for use prior to withdrawal from service, though sources are unclear.

Designation Type Projectile Weight (g) Bursting charge (g) Muzzle Velocity (m/s) Description
M56A3/A4 HEI 102 10.7 g HE (H761, a mixture of RDX/wax/Al) and 1.3 g incendiary (I136) 1,030 Nose fuzed round, no tracer. M56A3 has the explosive filler and the incendiary mixed in one pellet, while the M56A4 has the explosive filler inserted in a separate pellet after the incendiary pellet. Effective range of 4,500 m (14,800 ft) against ground targets.[11]
M246/A1 HEI-T-SD 102 7.5 g HE (H761) 1,030 M56 series derived tracer round, with the M246 using M56A3's loading method and M246A1 using the M56A4's loading method. Tracer burnout triggers the self-destruct after 3–7 seconds of flight time, roughly 1,800 meters (5,900 ft).[12] Effective range of 1,200 m (3,900 ft) against air targets, maximum range of 1,800 m (5,900 ft) against ground targets.
M940 MPT-SD 105 4 g HE (A-4) and 3 g incendiary (I136) with 1.2 g incendiary (I68) nose initiator 1,050 Multi-purpose fuzeless round for ground-based air defence, naval and helicopter applications. The HE charge is initiated by the incendiary charge on the nose on impact. Self-destruct due to tracer burn-through. Penetration: 12.5 mm (0.49 in) RHA at 0-degree impact at 518 m (1,700 ft) range, 6.3 mm (0.25 in) at 60 degrees and 940 m (3,080 ft). Effective range of 2,000 m (6,600 ft) against air targets.[13]
Mk 149 APDS projectile: 93 penetrator: 70 none 1,120 Spin-stabilized finless sub-caliber round with a 12 mm (0.47 in) depleted uranium penetrator. Penetration: 23 mm (0.91 in) armor at 45 degrees at 1,000 m (3,300 ft) and 19 mm (0.75 in) at 45 degrees at 2,000 m (6,600 ft)[14] Effective range of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) against air targets.
M55A2 TP none 1,030 Inert training round based on the M56 round.[15]
M220 TP-T none 1,030 M55A2 round with tracer, 1.9 second burn.[16]


An M163 during the Persian Gulf War's Operation Desert Shield.
An M163 Vulcan anti-aircraft gun system vehicle returns to the vehicle staging area after an exercise at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California.
A close-up of the 20 mm Vulcan cannon on the M163 VADS.
  • M163
    • AVADS Automatic track VADS prototype demonstrated by General Electric for the Gun Air Defense Effectiveness Study in 1974.[17] This prototype used a new lead-generating fire control computer paired with a helmet mounted sight. Not adopted.
    • M163A1 incorporated modifications to improve the reliability, availability, and maintainability (RAM). Type reclassified from M163E1 Improved VADS in September 1976. Newly manufactured M163A1s in 1982 used the improved M741A1 carrier, and the M741s in service were converted to M741A1 through 1985.
    • M163A2 PIVADS (1984) accuracy and workload improvements developed by Lockheed Electronics Company including a digital microprocessor, director sight and low backlash azimuth drive system. The PIVADS also used the M741A1 carrier vehicle.
  • M167 towed counterpart utilizing the Gama Goat as the prime mover. After 1989 the Humvee became the prime mover.
  • Machbet Israeli upgraded version equipped with 4-tube FIM-92 Stinger pod, upgraded tracking system and the ability to share information with local high-power radar.


Map with M163 operators in blue with former operators in red

Current operators[edit]

Former operators[edit]

  •  United States – 1968–1994
  •  Portugal – 36 ex-US M163 Vulcan VADS SPAAG ordered in 1986, but never used. Probably purchased to supply parts for the M113A2.[21]
  •  Israel — following the closing of tactical Anti-Air units in the IDF, both the VADS and the upgraded VADS ('hovet', fitted with stingers) were retired in 2006.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "شاهد بالصور . اغتنام عشرات الدبابات والآليات السعودية في عملية نصرمن الله بمحور نجران". Retrieved 7 February 2022.
  2. ^ Cagle 1977, p. 51.
  3. ^ Cagle 1968, p. 255.
  4. ^ Department of the Army 1976, p. 1-1.
  5. ^ "Air Defense Artillery". 1990.
  6. ^ Vulcan in IAF service, Israeli Air Force official website.
  7. ^ Zaloga, Steven J. (2003). Tank battles of the Mid-East Wars (2): The wars of 1973 to the present. Hong Kong: Concord Publications. p. 23. ISBN 962-361-613-9.
  8. ^ "Sergeant York". www.globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 22 October 2010.
  9. ^ Cullen & Foss 1992, p. 98.
  10. ^ Department of the Army 1976, p. 5-1.
  11. ^ Department of the Army 1996, p. 14-13.
  12. ^ Department of the Army 1996, p. 14-33.
  13. ^ Department of the Army 1996, p. 14-41.
  14. ^ "Mk. 149 20mm Penetration".
  15. ^ Department of the Army 1996, p. 14-11.
  16. ^ Department of the Army 1996, p. 14-29.
  17. ^ Department of the Army 1974, p. 572.
  18. ^ a b c International Institute for Strategic Studies (2022). The military balance. 2022. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. ISBN 978-1032279008.
  19. ^ "M163 Vulcan". Military-Today.com. 29 October 2019. Archived from the original on 29 October 2019.
  20. ^ "IMI Systems will upgrade the Royal Thai Army M-163 VADS - IMI Systems". Archived from the original on 5 November 2019. Retrieved 5 November 2019.
  21. ^ Cullen & Foss 1992, p. 305.


External links[edit]