GEAR & TECH

This 'Duster' cleaned up in the air and on the ground

(Dung Tran)

World War II proved that tanks were very vulnerable to air attack. To deal with that threat, the United States and Soviet Union both developed some anti-aircraft guns that could keep up with and protect that valuable armor.

The Russians have invested heavily in tactical anti-air in recent years, developing systems that can, theoretically, shoot down an entire squadron of planes. Today, the best American self-propelled anti-aircraft gun is the M163 Vulcan Air Defense System. But before the Vulcan, there was the Duster.


The "Duster" was the popular nickname for the M42 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. This vehicle took a tried-and-true weapon system, the twin 40mm Bofors gun that was responsible for eliminating many enemy planes in World War II, and mated it with the chassis of the M41 Walker Bulldog light tank. The result was a vehicle that would stick around for nearly two decades after its successor, the M163, entered service.

The M42 was intended to shoot down planes, but like the M45 "Meat Chopper," it was also lethal against ground targets.

(USMC)

The 40mm Bofors gun was the heart of the system. The M42 packed 336 rounds of 40mm ammo for the twin guns, which could fire 120 rounds a minute, giving the vehicle a bit less than 90 seconds of sustained firing time. The powerful 40mm guns had an effective range of 11,000 yards, or six-and-a-quarter miles.

The M42, like the M45 "Meat Chopper," proved to be very potent in the air-to-air role but made an even bigger impact on the ground. It seems that, like aircraft, lightly-armored trucks and troops in the open don't fare too well after meeting up with the 40mm.

Even with the introduction of the M163, the M42 hung around through most of the 1980s.

(Photo by Chitrapa)

As surface-to-air missiles were fielded, the Duster stuck around as a supplement to systems like the MIM-23 HAWK. The introduction of the M163 saw the Duster more often fielded with reserve units, where it hung on until 1988.

Despite not seeing use with American armed forces, the system is still in use with a number of countries around the world.

Learn more in the video below!