M230 chain gun

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M230 Chain Gun
M230 Chain GunShow (2018).
An M230 Chain Gun mounted on a USArmy AH-64 Apache at the Berlin Air Show 2018.
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1986–present
Used byUnited States, and other countries
WarsGulf War
War in Afghanistan
Iraq War
Production history
Weight55.9 kg (120 lb)
Length1,638 mm (64.5 in)
Width254 mm (10.0 in)
Height300 mm (11.8 in)

CartridgeM788 Target Practice (TP)
M789 High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP)
M799 High Explosive Incendiary (HEI)
Caliber30 x 113 mm
ActionChain gun
Rate of fire625 +/- 25 rpm
Muzzle velocity805 m/s (2,641 ft/s)
Effective firing range1,500 m (1,640 yd)[1]
Maximum firing range4,000 m (4,370 yd)[2]

The Hughes M230 Chain Gun is a 30 mm, single-barrel automatic cannon developed by Hughes and now manufactured by Orbital ATK. It is an electrically operated chain gun, a weapon that uses external electrical power (as opposed to recoil or expanding gas generated by the firing cartridge) to cycle the weapon between shots.


In 1972 Hughes Helicopters began a company-funded research effort to design a single machine gun to fire the U.S. Army's M50 20 mm round.[3] By April 1973, the program had fired test rounds in more powerful 30 mm WECOM linked ammunition, from a prototype (A model). In January 1975 a model "C" was added, a linkless version for the proposed Advanced Attack Helicopter YAH-64; the helicopter was eventually adopted as the AH-64 Apache, with the model C as standard armament. The linked ammunition version was intended for the AH-1S Cobra, but was later dropped.[4]


M789 HEDP 30 mm rounds being loaded into an AH-64D Longbow Apache in April 2007.

Apache and DAP mounts[edit]

The M230 Chain Gun is the Area Weapon System on the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter and is also used on the MH-60L Direct Action Penetrator (DAP). The M230 is mounted on the chin turret. It uses a 2 hp electric motor to fire 30 mm linkless ammunition at a rate of 625 (±25) rounds per minute. The practical rate of fire is about 300 rounds per minute with a 10-minute cooling period as the gun is air cooled.[5] The gun has a positive cook-off safety for open bolt clearing, and double ram prevention. Spent casings are ejected overboard through the bottom of the gun.

The mount on the AH-64 uses secondary hydraulics to move the gun. Elevation is provided via a single hydraulic actuator located on the gun's centerline just forward of the pivot point. The gun is spring-loaded to return to its centerline stowed position with the barrel angled up about eleven degrees in the event of a loss of hydraulic power. This allows the gun, which is mounted below the copilot station, to collapse cleanly into its designed space between the pilot stations in the event of a hard landing. This prevents the gun from entering the pilots stations and becoming a hazard.

The Apache is capable of carrying up to 1,200 rounds for the gun in a device known as the 12-PAK designed and manufactured by Meggitt Defense Systems, Inc. However, utilization by the US Army of a special internal fuel tank, the Robertson IAFS (known as the Robby Tank to the crews), reduces this capacity to 300 rounds.[6] The ammunition is loaded into the AH-64D Longbow Apache by armament personnel using an aircraft-mounted motorized loader and special ammunition handling tray. The AH-64A requires specialized ground support equipment for loading.[7]

The M230 is capable of firing the ADEN/DEFA 30×113 rounds, however, the Lightweight 30 mm rounds (M788/M789/M799) used in the M230 are constructed with a light alloy as opposed to brass or steel casings to save weight and are in use with the US Army. The M230 rounds are not backwards compatible with weapons designed for the ADEN or DEFA rounds. The M788 rounds can be distinguished by the blue band near the nose, the M789 by a yellow stripe atop a black band and the M799 a red stripe atop a yellow band.[8][9] The M799 HEI round is not used by the US Army due to the danger of a round exploding in the gun barrel. The 30 mm M789 High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP) ammunition cartridge is the primary tactical round of the Apache AH-64 helicopter, widely used in current combat operations. The Apache’s ability to provide accurate air support with minimal collateral damage led to increased use and volume demands for M789 ammunition.

The M789 is typically used in the M230. Each round contains 21.5 g (0.76 oz) of explosive charge sealed in a shaped-charge liner. The liner collapses into an armor-piercing jet of metal that is capable of penetrating more than 2 inches of RHA. Additionally, the shell is also designed to fragment upon impact. The lethal radius against unprotected, standing targets is about 10 ft (3.0 m) under optimum conditions.

M230LF and MAWS[edit]

The M230LF, offered by Orbital ATK, is a more capable version of the Apache autocannon. Features include an anti-hangfire system, a delinking feeder that exploits linked ammunition, and an extended-length barrel, which results in greater muzzle velocity and hitting power from the same M789 HEDP and NATO standard 30 mm ADEN/DEFA projectiles. The rate of fire is reduced to 200 rounds/minute and overall length increased to 85.87 inches (218.1 cm). The chain gun can be installed in an enclosed turret on patrol boats and ground vehicles.[10]

Oshkosh L-ATV in M1278 Heavy Guns Carrier JLTV configuration and fitted with an EOS R-400S-MK2 remote weapon system integrated with Orbital ATK's M230 LF 30 mm lightweight automatic chain gun

The MAWS (Modular Advanced Weapon System) lightweight gun system, developed in partnership with the U.S. Navy, utilizes a remotely operated M230LF in an open mount. It is controlled by a Remote Operator's Console (ROC)—with either dual grips or a joystick—from a touch panel display and extended day color TV.[11][12]

In February 2015, Oshkosh Defense and ATK conducted a firing demonstration of the M230LF on an Oshkosh M-ATV MRAP to demonstrate the viability and effectiveness of a medium caliber weapon system for light tactical vehicles. The live fire demonstration showcased improved accuracy in mobile engagements and improved lethality on the M-ATV using the gun, mounted on the R400S-Mk2, a 3-axis stabilized remote weapon station weighing less than 400 kg (880 lb). The addition of the 72.6 kg (160 lb) M230LF stabilized on the RWS provides mobile precise lethality, usually reserved for heavier combat vehicles, with exceptional off-road mobility and MRAP levels of protection.[13] Oshkosh has also fitted the M230LF to the L-ATV to fulfill the U.S. Army's light reconnaissance vehicle (LRV) role.[14]

Aircraft use[edit]


  1. ^ Lee, T.W. (30 December 2008). Military Technologies of the World. ISBN 9780275995362.
  2. ^ "M230 Chain Gun". www.deagel.com. Retrieved 3 November 2017.
  3. ^ Richardson & Peacock, 1992, pp. 38–40.
  4. ^ Chinn, George M. (Lt.Col., USMC, Retd), ed. (1987). The Machine Gun: History, Evolution, and Development of Manual, Automatic, and Airborne Repeating Weapons (PDF). Vol. V. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edward Brothers Publishing Co. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  5. ^ "M230 Automatic Gun". globalsecurity.org. 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  6. ^ "Robertson Aviation: Apache". Archived from the original on April 20, 2009. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  7. ^ "New Boeing Apache Ammunition Loading System Enters Service – December 15, 1998". boeing.mediaroom.com. 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  8. ^ "30mm Cannon Ammunition". Federation of American Scientists. 8 January 1999. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  9. ^ Williams, Anthony G. (July 2010). "Military Cartridge Relationships". quarry.nildram.co.uk. Archived from the original on 25 October 2012. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  10. ^ "30mm M230LF Chain Gun" (PDF). Alliant Techsystems. 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 29, 2014. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  11. ^ http://www.atk.com/Products/documents/108776_07_MAWS.PDF Archived November 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ "Mk 51 MAWS" (PDF). National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA): Joint Armaments Conference, Exhibition & Firing Demonstration. May 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 February 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  13. ^ Oshkosh, Orbital ATK, EOS unveiled strong integration capabilities during live fire demonstration - Armyrecognition.com, 19 February 2015
  14. ^ Gun Truck: Oshkosh Unveils 30mm Chaingun JLTV For Army Recon - Breakingdefense.com, 9 September 2016
  • Richardson, Doug & Peacock, Lindsay (1992). Combat Aircraft: AH-64 Apache. London: Salamander Books. ISBN 0-86101-675-0.

External links[edit]