First off -- this differs from our history questions on this topic in that we are dealing with modern assets here, not historical ones, and from this question in that our military units are out to slay the dragon, not recruit and utilize him. Furthermore, we are discussing tactics and strategy here, not the level of technology needed.

In the left corner, we have our big, scaly, fire-breathing, livestock-chomping dragon. He's been kept alive throughout history by scales that can stop blade, arrow, bolt, and anti-personnel bullet, up to a ordinary slug of 23mm caliber and armor-piercing slugs short of 12.7mm caliber. He has human-like intelligence (if not better) to go with nasty, albeit short-ranged, fire breath and quite the appetite, as well as the ability to extract energy efficiently from most organic carbon sources (so he can dine on trees just as well as cows or princesses). His flight envelope is similar to a small aircraft: +4 to -2g, with a max cruise speed of 75 knots and a max dive speed of 150 knots. He also needs to sleep at least 4 hours per 24 hours of wakefulness, and cannot do so on the wing.

In the right corner, we have a Marine Expeditionary Unit -- the smallest complete combined-arms fighting force in the United States Marine Corps. This MEU has but has one mission -- slay the dragon, and they must do it on their own (i.e. no reinforcement units allowed). Our modern-day dragonslayers do have an amphibious assault ship's worth of ammunition, fuel, and supplies available to them, as well as the ability to obtain food from the land and purify the water sources available to them, and utilize any liquid fuel stores that have been left behind in the land.

Furthermore, this battle is taking place over mixed terrain (wide elevation, temperature, and moisture variations) in a 500km square area. Basic roads are the only fixed transport assets available on it (i.e. no divided highways, aerodromes, or dedicated port facilities), and the civilian population is sparse (most of them have fled the dragon's ravages already), so civilian casualties are not a major concern.

How can our MEU's commander best accomplish his mission? (I.e. most expeditiously and/or with the fewest casualties)

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    $\begingroup$ Having read the details of the MEU and the answers below, this isn't a fair fight! The odds are grotesquely stacked against the poor creature. The dragon deserves a fighting chance. I'm on the side of the dragon. Now I want it to win! $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Oct 29, 2016 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Upon a closer look it really is a pseudo-wyvern, the weakest true dragon scream at almost over 240 decibel, breathe pressurized water vapor at relativistic speed with pin point accuracy and last but not least it perspire lots of carborane acid which evaporate into miasma spreading over hundreds of kilometers away. Sorry I often get carried away but show mercy on this pathetic true dragon... $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Oct 29, 2016 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ A slightly more interesting question would be the tech level needed to effectively engage and kill a dragon. Napoleonic tech would probably fail. A WW1 army would have a fighting chance, but not a small unit. A small WW2 unit with bazookas would put up a good fight, and a few spitfires would certainly be able to take out Smaug. $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2016 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Schwern -- unless you were loading AP slugs into your M2 -- his immunity up to 23mm only exists for regular (i.e. not AP) ammunition as even mere .50cal AP can go through ~20mm of RHA at ~500m range. $\endgroup$
    – Shalvenay
    Oct 29, 2016 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ You have a big flying tank--and a MEU has a lot of tank-killing weapons. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2018 at 5:36

9 Answers 9


How To Train Kill Your Dragon

This is not even close to a fair fight.

What you've described is a sort of enormous, slow, heavily armored helicopter lacking long range weaponry against a force designed to repel forces many times larger, faster, and more effective.

If he flies, he dies.

The MEU has air detection and defense systems to deal with supersonic aircraft with weapons it can launch from dozens of miles out. It's also able to deal with low flying aircraft and attack helicopters. It will see Smaug as soon as he takes off either on radar, infrared, or visual.

Smaug's pokey 75 knots is laughably slow, even for a helicopter. +4g to -2g is very sluggish for a military aircraft. Almost every heavy weapon of the MEU will be able to hit him, especially with his very large cross-section and poor maneuverability. Even a tank could hit him.

About the only thing Smaug has going for him is his all over resistance to 23mm and his bulk. That will probably render normal AAA and air-to-air missiles which are designed to hit lightly armored aircraft with a sort of shotgun blast ineffective. Unfortunately for Smaug, he's so big and sluggish that anti-tank weapons can track and hit him.

All Marine attack aircraft and helicopters can outrun and outmaneuver Smaug. Even an Osprey or Super Stallion. They can easily stay outside of his short attack range and pelt him with any number of weapons.

Here are all the ways Smaug will die if it is detected by the MEU, in rough order of range.

Any of these can hit and disable Smaug well over a kilometer out, far outside his fire breath range.

That's not even counting what's available on their ships.

If he attempts to approach on the ground, he dies.

Something as big as Smaug cannot hide on the ground. As with aircraft, Marines are prepared to deal with smaller targets which are stealthier and just as speedy. They have radar, infrared, and visual detection. They'll send out scouting parties in force to find or herd the enormous dragon. Once found, a single helicopter can keep him in sight.

Any number of anti-tank weapons and high rate of fire autocannons will take him down before he gets anywhere near fire breathing range.

In addition, the MEU's 155mm towed artillery has sufficient range (24 km) to cover most of the 500 km2 area without moving. While it might not be accurate enough to hit Smaug, it will certainly keep him on his toes should he land. It could even be used as bait.

If he hides in a cave, he surrenders or he dies slowly.

The US military's experience in Afghanistan has made them very good at dealing with enemies in caves.

Smaug's presence will be detectable from the air. Scorch marks, knocked over trees, patterns of disturbed soil will all give away his general area.

Once they've found his general location, the Marines will use locals, satellite data, infrared, audio, seismic, ground penetrating radar, and even microgravity to find caves in the area. Much of this can be done safely from the air. Ground scouts will be backed up with personal anti-tank weapons, light armor, and continuous air cover. If Smaug interferes with the search, see previous sections.

Once they've found where he's hiding, they'll probably try negotiations. If negotiations fail, any number of weapons are available to either kill him or flush him out. Smaug is presumably fire-proof, but a thermobaric weapon, ie. a Fuel-air explosive, can harm or kill him with the over-pressure.

  • $\begingroup$ Point 1.) OOOOOORRAAAHHHH!!!! Point 2.) You didn't even mention artillery. If he hits the ground he gets a 155 barrage on his head and he turns into dragon pudding. $\endgroup$
    – kingledion
    Oct 29, 2016 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion OORAH indeed. :) I have a problem watching a lot of super hero movies and thinking "this isn't anything a MEU couldn't handle". I left out artillery because MEU artillery is towed. It's vulnerable when on the move. It has to be setup and positioned. It isn't the most accurate, better against structures and prepared positions. However, it can cover the entire proposed 500 sq km area, so I'll add it in. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Oct 29, 2016 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ that's why dragons do not exists .. i think. (Excluding comodo) $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2016 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ Heavily armored? In which universe are dragons "heavily armored" compared to modern-day military hardware? I would say the unit size where this ceases to be an interesting fight is platoon at best, perhaps just a squad. $\endgroup$
    – Eleshar
    Oct 29, 2016 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ "If it flies, it dies" is actually the motto of at least one US Army air control unit I know of. $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Nov 1, 2016 at 2:53

I was a Marine Infantryman and I think people have zero idea how truly powerful modern weaponry is. In movies fighter jets float lazily in at a monster firing point blank until he swats it down like a bird. In reality those jets are going to be at 30,000 feet moving at twice the speed of sound carrying enough ordinance to level several city blocks which they can target and fire from several miles away.

For example, the TOW 2 bravo Aero missile (my weapon specialization). It was a 68 pound guided missile with a range of 4,500 meters (just under 3 miles.) The missile covers that maximum distance in 26 seconds. Thats a 68 pound guided missile with a shaped charge that can penetrate meters of concrete or several inches of hardened homogenous steel moving faster than a lot of handgun bullets. The TOW is considered a small and somewhat slow missile, and is also somewhat obsolete since it needs to be manually steered and nwer stuff like the javelin are fire and forget.

So yeah. A single Marine could mess up yer dragon good from several miles away and not even have to get out of his gun turret seat.


It's really not a fair fight. The dragon is outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-ranged. The MEU's Harrier jets can easily defeat it in a dogfight; the Viper attack helicopters can probably do the same. The Abrams, LAV-25, and AAV all have guns that can punch through the dragon's armor, and it's a good bet the infantry's anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles can do the same if they can score a hit.

The goal in fighting the dragon is basically to locate it while taking a minimum of casualties, then call in the heavy weapons to finish it off. Since you know there's only one dragon, you can split up your forces to degrees that would be suicidal against a more numerous opponent -- the armored vehicles would operate individually to provide support for scouting forces.

Ideally, your scouts would find the dragon while it's asleep and call in an airstrike to finish it off; if they find it while it's awake, they'd call in the nearest heavy weapons, with air support as a backup.

  • $\begingroup$ The only anti-aircraft weapons that will work against the dragon are the simple ones. The thing is, flying things can't have much armor. This means weapon designers are more interested in getting many hits (increasing the odds one is in a vital spot) than in getting a hard hit. Guidance systems will deliberately generate a near miss, fuses will deliberately detonate before impact. What you need against the dragon are tank-killer rounds. Basically every tank-killing weapon they have will devastate the dragon. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2018 at 5:06

Air-launched missiles.

A dragon can't outrun or evade the missiles that a Marine helicopter or tiltrotor can carry.

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    $\begingroup$ You don't even need air launched weapons. Any infantry anti-tank rocket that can be guided to the dragon will laugh at those scales. (Some of the self-guiding missiles won't work because they won't track.) $\endgroup$ Oct 29, 2016 at 3:52

I like Dayton Saragosa's answer, he treats the dragon as somebody with a mind of a human and abilities of an animal, and not an odd piece of military hardware. I'd like to follow up with a few ideas.

I agree dragon will not survive a direct hit from many modern weapons, but I assume he is smart enough to (try to) avoid getting hit, and smart enough to try to hide and escape. After all, the "win" condition for the dragon is to survive, not to destroy the military.

Hitting the dragon

As a flying creature, he should be more agile than human-made aircraft. After all, he can change geometry of his wings, or fold them altogether. He is probably more aware of its surroundings than an aircraft pilot.

Hitting him with direct-fire weapons is hard because he will see the flash and dodge.

Hitting him with tracking missiles is not as easy as it sounds. He is a reptile, so probably cold-blooded, and infrared does not work. He is not metallic, so radar-guided will not work.
I hear there are missiles that use a camera to track a dark dot against the blue sky. Dragon can dive below the missile to confuse this.
Guidance directly by a human is subject to reaction time.

But of course all this dodging will make him tired eventually, and he might not be able to dodge multiple threats at the same time. So his best bet is to avoid detection.

Finding the dragon

Yes he is large, but we are talking about miles and miles of land. And we will let dragon have really good senses.

He will not show up on radar due to lack of metal, and he might be cold-blooded, so no infrared. He is smart enough to hide in caves, or in the terrain that has similar color to him, or even roll around in dirt or sand to make himself harder to spot. And he is smart enough not to leave tracks or other tell-tale signs near his hiding place. He might even be able to dig a hole big enough to bury himself. So detection from air is problematic.

So military will have to look for him with land patrols, cave scanners, etc. This will be slow, and they cannot cover entire 500 square miles at once, so dragon could try to sneak into territory that has already been searched.

But again, he cannot hide forever - he needs to eat and sleep.

If the dragon is spotted

He can evade immediate fire, at least for a bit. But then he needs to disappear again. He cannot out-run the helicopters. But here are a few ideas:

  • Hide in the clouds, assuming there are some
  • Dive underwater. If he is the right color, he will be very hard to spot.
  • Hide in a dense forest, using his senses to stay away from ground units.
  • Out-maneuver helicopters in rocky canyons
  • Pull the observation helicopter away from ground forces, get below it,claw through the tail boom

Long Term

In fact, once dragon becomes aware of the military hunting for him, could just leave the area before they find him. But I will assume that he has to stay for some reason.

If dragon is tied to specific item or spot (eggs, magic crystal giving him power), and military find out, the dragon is screwed.

If there is no specific spot, then dragon will have to resort to guerilla tactics: hit small patrols and run, try to disrupt supply lines or food stores of the military. But I do admit that his chances are slim - he is one mistake short of death.

  • $\begingroup$ See the flash and dodge? Let's say Smaug, flying at his top speed of 75 km/h is being chased by an AH-1Z Viper gunship. The pilot of the Viper is being sporting, since the cruise speed of his bird is 300 km/h. The Viper closes to within, say, say 500 meters and then lets fly with ordnance. The M197 electric cannon fires 20mm M-940 explosive/incendiary rounds that have a range of 2,000 meters, muzzle velocity of 1,000 m/s. Smaug has 0.5 seconds between seeing that buzzsaw starting and getting perforated. Dodge that. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2018 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ Said cannon is mounted in a A/A49E-7 turret which, based on estimated and released specs, has a side to side slew rate of 80 degrees per second and a vertical rate of 60 degrees per second, tied to a helmet-mounted optical sight so where the gunner looks, the gun points. Smaug ain't getting away. $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2018 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ What this means is that the helicopter doesn't have to be as agile as Smaug is (although it probably is; it's certainly much faster), so the ducking and weaving won't do the dragon much good because the pilot only has to keep the nose in the general direction while the cannon tracks the target...and the cannon can shoot off to the side. And, if despite all that our good friend Smaug somehow manages to dodge by reacting in the 0.5 seconds between the muzzle flash and the rounds arriving by keeping his eye on the helicopter, well, that's what the second Viper is for. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2018 at 0:56

The discussion about dragons vs. modern military is interesting, but the title makes the argument just a little misleading. Though the creator of the discussion must be more intelligent then me, I noticed some things here and there that make me question the discussion as a whole.

No one also looked at the dragon in depth. I may be just overthinking it because it is a dragon, but I'm still looking at the dragon in depth.

Schwern answered the question with a good answer. Several good answers. Though he or she did not account for the dragon's intelligence, biology, and the broad description of the size of this dragon. Human-intelligence is a large spectrum, from well not very smart and educated people to tactical geniuses. A dragon also does not have the same thought pattern as a human. It's a totally different creature then a human.

I do not disclaim that MEU would not be able to defeat the dragon, but the dragon has more than a couple of advantages.

The first being: reptiles and lizards are cold-blooded, so we can assume that the dragon is cold-blooded.

The dragon has very thick scales as we can see from reading the description, and as it's fire-proof, it must be cool. A dragon may breathe fire, but the fire isn't inside the dragon. It would be more plausible that it has a fuel that ejects through the dragon's mouth where it would ignite. Infrared wouldn't be an option to see the dragon as the dragon would be the temperature around it.

A dragon also must have superb eyesight because they detect prey from way up in the air. As comparison, an eagle on a ten story building can see an ant on the ground and if a dragon can see cattle from high altitudes, then they must have similar types of eyes.

A dragon on land also not good. It's not a sitting duck. It has size so it has a relatively long stride and it must have a lot of its own energy to spare for walking and if I stretch this, running.

This must be a large dragon, because of the description, but how large is it exactly? This more than questionable because size counts. If it can eat pretty much anything, then food of course wouldn't be an issue but this also can help determine the size and longevity. If a dragon can eat anything, along with its cold-blooded nature, it really must be huge. Though, oxygen can be an issue.

There might not be enough oxygen content to sustain a creature like Smaug. So we can assume that this dragon must be as big as the one from Dragonheart. Yes, I referenced that movie for size and I don't regret it.

Back to intelligence. This dragon must be experienced if it's survived through the history of man-kind. It also must have a good idea of what dragon hunters would do especially since it's this old. Not only experience is on its side, it must a be a more than adaptive creature. Surviving humans for so long, it must be a mindset that's more we can think of right now that's kept it alive for so long. In this situation, it wouldn't be stupid enough to put itself in a situation that pits it against multiple enemies that are more advanced than itself.

To summarize:

  • Superb intelligence and experience,
  • Natural form of camouflage,
  • Land capability,
  • Eyesight,
  • Fire-breath,
  • Natural armor,
  • Air capabilities,
  • Other unaccounted factors
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    $\begingroup$ Superb exposure. But how does this answer the OP's question? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Feb 27, 2018 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ #L.Dutch I have no clue what OP is i'm bad at acronyms. The answer is that the commander has to be really smart. This isn't an animal he would be hunting it would be a living being thats survived for thousands and thousands of years $\endgroup$ Feb 27, 2018 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ OP stands for Original Poster (the submitter of the question) $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Feb 27, 2018 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ Any realistic dragon will be a megatherm -- that is, it's functionally warm-blooded because of how long it takes to heat up or cool down. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Feb 28, 2018 at 5:44
  • $\begingroup$ if you mean the fire breath, he could probably cool down his body in some way. theres water, dirt, mud, heck if it snows he could use that. this is all theoretical anyway $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2018 at 13:43

The firepower of a MEU could dispose of Smaug quite easily, although they'd need to use visually guided weapons, as Smaug doesn't emit enough consistent heat for a heat seeker.

However, that would be wasteful. Instead, negotiate with Smaug. He's no dummy and he has talents that could be quite beneficial. If he joins in with the allied forces, he could provide air cover for the invasion of Mordor. Unlike the Nazgul, Smaug breathes fire, so he could incinerate them in flight... burn their wings off and watch them drop. Mmmm... broiled nazgul... tastes like chicken.

Why would Smaug do that? Because the Allies can provide the financial knowledge to send his net worth though the roof.

Imagine what Smaug could get if he were to put all of that gold into a S&P fund. He could easily get 8-10% return on that investment rather than just have it scattered all over the place for burglars to come in and steal. Plus, a diversified portfolio would guard against fluctuations in gold value. One major discovery elsewhere, and Smaug's gold could plummet in value.

Smaug Industries (stock symbol SMG) could revive the gold mines on the Lonely Mountain. With the income from that, he could orchestrate a leveraged buyout of the Moria mines, hire mercenary elves to clear out the orcs, and own the gold market. The dwarves are living a nomadic, vagabond life right now. Negotiate a contract with them: the dwarves provide the mining know-how, Smaug provides the financial backing, both become fabulously wealthy, and no unions to deal with.

Travel in Middle Earth is both very slow and very dangerous. A few Smaugs could offer a fast and safe alternative: Smaug Air. Don't battle your way through Mirkwood, fly over it in comfort. Don't wait for the eagles to show up at the last minute, use our reservation service and schedule your rescue. Watch us incinerate Wargs as the in-flight entertainment. Oh, and let's not forget those fat government contracts for air mail delivery... as long as he doesn't sneeze on the cargo.

Smaug and his relatives have been subject to persecution for ages. He could apply for refugee status. Bring the kids along for an added bonus... the host nation could establish a Screamer act to delay action against refugee dragons with kids.

The best way to deal with Smaug is the capitalist way. Dude, you are really missing out. Work with us, and you can live in immense wealth, without all those messy and dangerous battles.


How would you beat him? With a stick, while he slept. With the number of resources available to an MEU, they could take shifts. Given the dragon's speed he could be kept under constant attack. With no chance to rest, he would be easy prey in a couple days.


Wrong tool for the job

So, this dragon has no chance against a moderm military, but then you wouldn't want to send the military against such creature. If he is not inteligent then you will probably need to devise a conservation plan to stop the creature from being hunted to death, since any animal like that will probably have a big impact on the whole enviroment.

Just think about wolves, many people seem them as these terrible predators and feel justified in hunting them, but after the wolves ar killed off you will have a super polutation of deer and other herbivores in the region that will destroy the ecological balance of the region.

Another good example are lions in Africa, seem for many years as a plague, but now there are many programs to conserve them.

However! If the animal is intelligent, you will want to bring in the historians, this creature supposedly has existed for a very long time and any historian will give his left arm just to be able to ask a few questions to the dragon.


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