Air defense / Self-propelled anti-aircraft guns / M163 Vulcan

M163 Vulcan

General Facts

  • TYPE
    Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun

    United States

    Vulcan Air Defense System (VADS)
    Product Improved VADS (PIVADS)
    Hovet (Israeli service)

    1964 - 1966

    General Electric

    1968 - 1982

    United States - General Electric

    A total 671 produced

    $ 87.000 per unit for M163 in 1974
    $ 113.000 per unit for M163 in 1975

    High rate of fire
    Effective in ground support
    Limited production costs
    Limited effective range
    No radar guidance
    Gunner exposed to small arms fire


The M163 Vulcan is a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun of US origin. Also known as the Vulcan Air Defense System (VADS), it was developed to replace the M42 Duster in US service. The M163 was complemented by the Chaparral self-propelled surface to air missile system in US service. The M163 packs powerful armament that is only of limited use against aircraft due to the lack of automated fire control.


The M163 can be considered a M167 towed Vulcan system mounted onto a modified M113 armored personnel carrier chassis. The one man turret is power operated and is fitted with a six barrel 20mm M168 Vulcan autocannon. The chassis has been modified with a suspension lock to provide a stable firing platform and with sponsons to add buoyancy.


The 20mm M168 Vulcan autocannon is the only armament of the M163. It has a selective rate of fire of 1.000 or 3.000 rpm and usually 1.900 rounds of 20x102mm ammunition are carried. The maximum anti-aircraft range is 1.2 km, the ground support range is 3 km and the slant range is 4.5 km. With the PIVADS upgrade and APDS ammunition the anti-aircraft range is increased to 2.6 km.

Fire control

The original M163 was fitted with the VADS system with manual guidance using optics. The PIVADS upgrade initiated in 1982 adds a 5 km range only radar, a lead computing sight with microprocessor and improved electric drive system. Even with this upgrade the M163 is a clear weather only system with limited effectiveness against fast aircraft.


The aluminum armor protects the crew from small arms fire and shell splinters. The turret is open and during operation the gunner is partly exposed. An NBC system is fitted but smoke grenade dischargers are not.


The tracked chassis based on the M113 provides a good mobility, especially in rough terrain. A 212 hp Detriot diesel engine is fitted. As with the M113 the M163 cannot keep up with the M2 Bradley and M1 Abrams in the field. The sponsons fitted on the hull side add buoyancy and make the M163 amphibious by compensating for the additional weight over the original M113.


The M163 was acquired in large numbers by the US Army and was exported to several nations. It has been used on conflicts on several occasions, mainly as a ground support weapon. In US service it has been replaced by the Avenger. The Avenger is much more effective against aircraft but of limited use as a ground support weapon. The M163 remains in use with several US allies.


M163 Vulcan

M163: Original production version based on the a M113 chassis derivative called the M741.
M163A1: M163 with modifications to bring the chassis up to M113A1 level. Many were upgraded to PIVADS (Product Improved VADS) by improved targeting equipment including a lead computing sight with microprocessor and range only radar.
M163A2: M163A1 with modifications to bring the chassis up to M113A2 level. If fitted the PIVADS upgrade was retained.

The Vulcan turret has also been mounted on several other chassis. These include the South Korean K263 that is based on the AIFV chassis and the V-150 Commando as used by the Saudi Arabian national guard.

TypeSelf-propelled anti-aircraft gun
Crew4 (commander, driver, gunner, assistant)
Length4.86 m
Width2.85 m overall
Height2.74 m overall
Ground clearance0.41 m
Weight12.3 t combat load
Ground pressure0.61 kg/cm2
WheelbaseTracked chassis, 5 roadwheels, drive sprocket front, idler rear, 2.16 m track, 2.67 m length,
Turn radius?
EngineDetroit Diesel 6V-52 6-cylinder water cooled diesel, 215 hp at 2.800 rpm
Power ratio17.5 hp/t
Transmission6 forward, 2 reverse
Speed68 km/h on road, 6 km/h in water
Fuel360 L
Range480 km
Wall0.6 m
Trench1.7 m
Gradient60% gradient, 30% slope
ArmorAluminum, 12 to 38 mm
NBC equipmentYes
Night visionYes, driver only
Remarks5 km range only radar
Armament20mm M168 Vulcan minigun
Weapon120mm M168 Vulcan minigun in turret
2.280 rounds, 1.180 reary to fire
-5 to +80° elevation, 45°/s powered
360° traverse, 60°/s powered


The Machbet is an Israeli modification of the M163 Vulcan. The Machbet adds a pod with four FIM-92 Stinger missiles. These greatly increase the engagement range and have a much better effectiveness against fast aircraft. The chassis features many modification common to the M113 in Israeli service. Some are for instance fitted with Zelda mesh armor.


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