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This variant uses an electric motor to spin up the barrel cluster, then sustains itself via gas operation.While the initial M61 was troubled by issues with misfeeds and FOD damage to aircraft mounting it due to using linked ammunition, the linkless M61A1 Vulcan cannon is a proven gun, having been the US military's close-in weapon of choice dating back to 1959 when it was first fielded on the F-104C.

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However, due to the failure of the DIVADS program (which created the infamous M247 Sergeant York using the completely unsuited-for-task radar suite of an F-16, directing ancient and poorly-maintained Bofors 40mm cannon barrels left over from retired M42 Dusters in a 20-ton turret on a not-at-all-happy-about-this M48A5 Patton chassis) it was not directly replaced until 1994 when the AN/TWQ-1 Avenger entered service, though by this point the man-portable FIM-92 Stinger had largely replaced it operationally.

The PIVADS (Product Improved Vulcan Air Defense System) program in 1984 upgraded stocks of M163s to the M163A2 standard and M167s to the M167A2 standard (it is not clear what A1 did for either system) with improvements to the fire control system and an extra wheel added on either side of the M167 to prevent rollovers while being towed.

The primary use of the cannon is in the extremely short range (less than 2,000 feet) air-to-air environment, where more sophisticated air-to-air missiles are ineffective.

Alternately, the cannon allows the carrying aircraft to engage in strafing runs in support of ground troops, though the 20mm round is not particularly effective against heavily armored vehicles.

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