An anti-aircraft vehicle, also known as a self-propelled anti-aircraft
gun (SPAAG) or self-propelled air defense system (SPAD), is a mobile
vehicle with a dedicated anti-aircraft capability. The Russian
equivalent of SPAAG is ZSU, for zenitnaya samokhodnaya ustanovka,
("anti-aircraft self-propelled mount").
Specific weapon systems used include machine guns, autocannons, larger
guns, or missiles, and some mount both guns and longer-ranged missiles
(e.g. the Pantsir-S1). Platforms used include both trucks and heavier
combat vehicles such as APCs and tanks, which add protection from
aircraft, artillery, and small arms fire for front line deployment.
Anti-aircraft guns are usually mounted in a quickly-traversing turret
with a high rate of elevation, for tracking fast-moving aircraft. They
are often in dual or quadruple mounts, allowing a high rate of fire.
In addition, most anti-aircraft guns can be used in a direct-fire role
against surface targets to great effect. Today, missiles (generally
mounted on similar turrets) have largely supplanted anti-aircraft
1.1 World War I
1.2 Inter-war period
1.3 World War II
1.4 Cold War and later
2 See also
A World War 1, British, truck–mounted, QF 3 inch gun
World War I
Anti-aircraft machine guns have long been mounted on trucks, and these
were quite common during World War I. A predecessor of the WWII German
"88" anti-aircraft gun, the WWI German 77 mm anti-aircraft gun,
was truck-mounted and used to great effect against British tanks.
QF 3 inch 20 cwt
QF 3 inch 20 cwt was mounted on trucks for use on the
Between the two World Wars the United Kingdom developed the Birch gun,
a general purpose artillery piece on an armoured tracked chassis
capable of maintaining formation with their current tanks over
terrain. The gun could be elevated for anti-aircraft use.
Vickers Armstrong also developed a SPAAG based on the chassis of the
Mk.E 6-ton light tank/Dragon Medium Mark IV tractor, mounting a
Vickers QF-1 "Pom-Pom" gun of 40 mm. About 26 were sold to Siam
and saw action as infantry support guns and AA guns during the
Franco-Thai war (1940-1941) along with 30 Vickers Mk.E Type B 6-ton
tanks. This was probably the first tracked SPAAG manufactured in
series. Later the British also developed a version of the Mk.VI Light
Tank armed with four machine guns that was known as Light
Mk.I. And also a twin 15 mm version based on the Light
Among early pre-war pioneers of self-propelled AA guns were the
Germans. By the time of the war, they fielded the Sd.Kfz. 10/4 and
6/2, cargo halftracks mounting single 20 mm or 37 mm AA guns
(respectively). Later in the war similar German halftracks mounted
quadruple 20 mm weapons.
World War II
Wirbelwind - a 20 mm
Flakvierling quadmount on a Panzer IV
Larger guns followed on larger trucks, but these mountings generally
required off-truck setup in order to unlimber the stabilizing legs
these guns needed. One exception to this rule was the Italian Cannone
da 90/53 which was highly effective when mounted on trucks, a fit
known as the "autocannoni da 90/53". The 90/53 was a feared weapon,
notably in the anti-tank role, but only a few hundred had been
produced by the time of the armistice in 1943.
Other nations tended to work on truck chassis. Starting in 1941, the
British developed the "en portee" method of mounting an anti-tank gun
(initially a 2 pounder) on a truck. This was to prevent the weapon
from being damaged by long-distance towing across rough, stony
deserts, and it was intended only to be a carrying method, with the
gun unloaded for firing. However, crews tended to fire their weapons
from their vehicles for the mobility this method provided, with
This undoubtedly inspired their Morris C9/B (officially the "Carrier,
SP, 4x4, 40 mm AA"), a Bofors 40 mm AA gun mounted on a chassis
derived from the Morris "Quad" Field Artillery Tractor
truck. Similar types, based on 3-ton lorries, were produced
in Britain, Canada and Australia, and together formed the most
numerous self-propelled AA guns in British service.
The U.S. Army brought truck-towed
Bofors 40 mm
Bofors 40 mm AA guns along with
truck-mounted units fitted with mechanized turrets when they sailed,
first for Great Britain and then onto France. The turrets carried four
.50 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns, which were designed to be
adjusted to converge at the single point where enemy aircraft were
expected to appear at low altitude in conduction of strafing runs
directed at large infantry and field artillery units.
Interest in mobile AA turned to heavier vehicles with the mass and
stability needed to easily train weapons of all sizes. Probably the
desire, particularly in German service, for anti-aircraft vehicles to
be armoured for their own protection also assisted this trend.
The concept of an armored SPAAG was pioneered by
Hungary during World
War II by producing the
40M Nimrod based on the Luftvärnskanonvagn
L-62 Anti II license acquired from Sweden. Germany followed later with
their "Flakpanzer" series. German
World War II
World War II SPAAGs include the
Ostwind and Kugelblitz. Other forces followed
with designs of their own, notably the American M16 created by
mounting quadruple M2HB Browning machine guns on a M3 Half-track.
The British developed their own SPAAGs throughout the war mounting
multiple machine guns and light cannon on various tank and armoured
car chassis and by 1943, the Crusader AA tanks, which mounted the
Bofors 40 mm
Bofors 40 mm gun or two-three Oerlikon 20 mm cannon. Although used
during the Normandy landings, by that point German aircraft were
contained by the Allies own air forces and they were largely unneeded.
Cold War and later
Czechoslovak self-propelled anti-aircraft gun
M53/59 Praga developed
in the late 1950s.
Flakpanzer Gepard, combining radars, fire control and two 35 mm
guns in a new turret mounted on a surplus Leopard chassis.
Typical of more modern designs, the
Tunguska-M1 mounts both missiles
and cannons.The introduction of jet engines and the subsequent rough
doubling of aircraft speeds greatly reduced the effectiveness of the
SPAAG against attack aircraft.[dubious – discuss] A
typical SPAAG round might have a muzzle velocity on the order of 1,000
metres per second (3,300 ft/s) and might take as long as two to
three seconds to reach a target at its maximum range. An aircraft
flying at 1,000 kilometres per hour (620 mph) is moving at a rate
of about 280 metres per second (920 ft/s). This means the
aircraft will have moved hundreds of meters during the flight time of
the shells, greatly complicating the aiming problem to the point where
close passes were essentially impossible to aim using manual
gunsights. This speed also allowed the aircraft to rapidly fly out of
range of the guns; even if the aircraft passes directly over the
SPAAG, it would be within its firing radius for under 30 seconds.
SPAAG development continued through the early 1950s with ever-larger
guns, improving the range and allowing the engagement to take place at
longer distances where the crossing angle was smaller and aiming was
easier. Examples including the 40 mm U.S.
M42 Duster and the
Soviet ZSU-57-2. However, both were essentially obsolete
before they entered service, and found employment solely in the
ground-support role. The M42 was introduced to the
Vietnam War to
counter an expected North Vietnamese air offensive, but when this
failed to materialize it was used as an effective direct-fire weapon.
The ZSU-57 found similar use in the Yugoslav Wars, where its
high-angle fire was useful in the mountainous terrain.
By the late 1950s the US Army had given up on the SPAAG concept,
considering all gun-based weapons to be useless against modern
aircraft. This belief was generally held by many forces, and the
anti-aircraft role turned almost exclusively to missile systems. The
Soviet Union remained an outlier, beginning development of a new SPAAG
in 1957, which emerged as the
ZSU-23-4 in 1965. This system included
search-and-track radars, fire control, and automatic gun-laying,
greatly increasing its effectiveness against modern targets. The
ZSU-23 proved very effective when used in concert with SAMs; the
presence of SAMs forced aircraft to fly low to avoid their radars,
placing them within range of the ZSUs.
The success of the ZSU-23 led to a resurgence of SPAAG development.
This was also prompted by the introduction of attack helicopters in
the 1970s, which could hide behind terrain and then "pop up" for an
attack lasting only a few tens of seconds; missiles were ineffective
at low altitudes, while the helicopters would often be within range of
the guns for a rapid counterattack. Notable among these later systems
is the German Gepard, the first western SPAAG to offer performance
equal to or better than the ZSU. This system was widely copied in
SPAAG development continues, with many modern examples often combining
both guns and short-range missiles. Examples include the
Soviet/Russian Tunguska-M1, which supplanted the ZSU-23 in service,
newer versions of the Gepard, the Chinese Type 95 SPAAA, and the
British Marksman turret, which can be used on a wide variety of
platforms. Some forces, like the US Army and USMC have mostly forgone
self-propelled guns in favor of systems with short-range
infrared-guided surface-to-air missiles in the
AN/TWQ-1 Avenger and M6
Linebacker, which do not require radar to be accurate and are
generally more reliable and cost-effective to field, though their
ability to provide ground support is more limited. The U.S. army did
M163 VADS and developed the prototype design of the M247
Man-portable air-defense system
Flakpanzer, a collective term for German anti-aircraft tanks,
particularly those used in World War II.
List of anti-aircraft guns
^ a b c Advanced Squad Leader, Avalon Hill