US Stinger man-portable air defense system ‘sting’ more seriously than the Russian ‘needle’

US Stinger man-portable air defense system ‘sting’ more seriously than the Russian ‘needle’. 

Portable anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS) are a fairly young type of weapon. MANPADS are difficult to develop and manufacture, so there are not so many models and they are produced only in some countries. However, among them there was already (and still is) a setting that for a long time was the most famous representative of the class.

Just as the Bazooka for some time became the collective name of all anti-tank grenade launchers – man-portable anti-aircraft missiles were associated precisely with the Stinger. Now, of course, Stinger is no longer the most famous and effective system – but remains one of the most common models.

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The development of an anti-aircraft missile system that could be used by infantrymen began in the United States back in the 50s. The result of the work was the FIM-43 “Red Eye” MANPADS. The first launch of an anti-aircraft missile from the shoulder took place in 1961. Red Ey proved the viability of the idea of ​​man-portable air defense systems, but its characteristics were far from impressive.

The low sensitivity of the infrared homing head did not allow firing at targets on the opposite course. Heat traps effectively diverted the rocket’s “attention” to themselves. And the low maneuverability allowed the plane to simply dodge.

Attempts to increase the effectiveness of MANPADS led to the fact that the Red Ey of the third modification was significantly different from the previous series, and with the prototype it was common only the name.

The project of General Dynamics won the competition. In 1971, another competition was held to select the design of the homing head. Well, in 1972, General Dynamics received a contract for the further improvement of MANPADS, which is now named Stinger.

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Suddenly, this approach was met with hostility by Congress, demanding once again a competitive selection. The requirements were met, and at the end of the year a large-scale competition was held in which not only American, but also European developments participated.

The final, however, went to “Stinger” and the project of the firm “Filco”, which remained in history as an “alternative Stinger”. But about him later. It took 4 more years to finish Stinger. In 1978, mass production was launched, and since 1981, MANPADS began to enter the troops.


The anti-aircraft guided missile used in the Stinger MANPADS has a “duck” aerodynamic design — the horizontal tail is in front of the main planes. In the nose of the rocket are 2 rudders and 2 fixed aerodynamic surfaces.

The rocket is stabilized by rotation – in flight, the tail fins installed at an angle help to maintain it. To get rotation of the rocket helps the starting accelerator, whose nozzles are located obliquely.

Warhead – fragmentation-beam, contains 3 kg of explosive. The fuse, however, is a contact one, requiring a direct hit on the target. When the missile misses, the self-destruct mechanism is triggered. The homing head for MANPADS of the first modification FIM-92A is an all-angle infrared.

The rocket is stored in a transport and launch container in the form of a sealed plastic pipe. From the inside, the container-pipe is filled with an inert gas, and the rocket can be in it without requiring maintenance for up to 10 years.

Before use, a trigger mechanism is attached to the container. A block is inserted into it, which includes an electric battery and a container containing liquid argon. Also, the antenna of the “friend or foe” system is attached to the trigger mechanism. Having found the target, the missile launches a MANPADS at it, using an optical sight, and presses the trigger. After that, the battery supplies electricity to the rocket’s on-board network, and argon cools the homing head.

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The missile launcher’s target is captured by a sound signal and vibration of the device built into the sight. After that, press the trigger again – the on-board battery of the rocket turns on, the cartridge with compressed air disconnects the power supply, and the squib starts the starting accelerator. The Stinger launch tube is disposable, and it is impossible to “recharge” it with a new rocket.

Equipped with a third-generation electron-optical converter, it allows you to identify targets at a distance of 7 km and has an increase of 2.26 times. A thermal imaging sight is currently being manufactured in Turkey for use with the Stinger.

Upgrades and modifications

MANPADS “Stinger” of the second model – FIM-92B – received an improved homing head. In addition to an infrared radiation receiver, the GSP had a second one operating in the ultraviolet spectrum. Due to this, increased resistance to interference, both to “natural” and thermal traps (which are not perceived in the UV range).

In addition, in the last section of the approach to the target, the rocket begins to no longer be guided by the thermal radiation of the engines, but by the aircraft circuit in general. MANPADS FIM-92B has been produced since 1982. It is also known as “Stinger POST” – “Passive Optical Seeker Technique” (“passive optical seeker”).

The FIM-92C complex, aka “Stinger RPM” – “Reprogrammable Microprocessor”, was produced in the second half of the 80s. It differed from the previous versions, as is clear from the index, by the processor of the missile guidance system with the possibility of reprogramming. Thus, when new enemy aircraft appear, it is enough to enter their parameters into the rocket’s memory.

The FIM-92E MANPADS was developed to improve the effectiveness of the destruction of small maneuverable targets – cruise missiles, drones and light helicopters.

He began to enter the troops in 1995, and soon replaced the “Stingers” of previous modifications. Complexes of the -D series, modified to the standard of the -E series, received the designation FIM-92H.

Currently, a MANPADS model with the FIM-92E index is in production, the detailed characteristics of which have not been disclosed. The “Stingers” of the E and H series have been upgrading from the mid-2010s to the new FIM-92J standard. Changes include a proximity fuse that does not require a direct hit and a new engine.

In addition to the portable installation, there is a DMS – turret, on which 2 launch containers are installed. The turret has built-in power and cooling systems for the missile seeker, it can receive data on targets from external sources.

To prepare the calculations, a training launcher M134 was developed. She shoots a training missile without a warhead and a sustainer engine. Instead of a real “friend or foe” interrogator, the training facility uses its simulator, generating random “answers”.

Instead of a power supply and cooling unit, a special battery is used, the capacity of which is enough for 16 training starts. In addition to М134, for acquaintance with the material part, a mass-dimensional model of the “Stinger” М60 is produced.

She, for self-defense against air targets, is armed with helicopters and drones. On the basis of the “air Stinger” also developed a light anti-radar missile ADSM, which should allow helicopters to independently suppress air defense radars.

Combat vehicles

The Stingers are armed with the Avenger self-propelled anti-aircraft mount. It is a turret mounted on the chassis of an army all-terrain vehicle HMMWV. The turrets are equipped with 2 launch containers with four FIM-92 missiles in each. To search for targets, the ZSU has an infrared viewing system (thermal imager) and a laser rangefinder, it can receive target designation data from air defense radars.

Additionally, the machine is equipped with a 12.7 mm Browning machine gun in an aviation modification, which has a rate of fire of 1200 rounds per minute. For the missiles used on the Avenger, fuses have been developed that are triggered at a given range according to the data of the laser rangefinder.

On the basis of BMP “Bradley” was produced “combat vehicle of anti-aircraft gunners” M6 “Linebacker”. It differed in that instead of a container with TOW anti-tank missiles, it was armed with a unit with 4 FIM-92s. In addition, a crew of soldiers armed with MANPADS was transported in the Linebacker’s fighting compartment. Since 2005, all released M6s have been converted into standard infantry fighting vehicles.

Alternative “Stinger”

MANPADS, which was developed as an alternative to the FIM-92, differed in the guidance system. Suspicions that the sensitivity and noise immunity of infrared homing heads in the near future will not be possible to increase, led to the obvious conclusion – to use a different guidance principle.

However, he also had fundamental flaws. The missile was not homing – the gunner had to keep the target in the laser beam until it was hit and could not immediately leave the position.

They proposed to launch both MANPADS into production, making the Stinger, which is undemanding to the skills of the missile operator, a weapon of sabotage detachments, and to give the “alternative” to the line infantry. Test launches of military missiles were carried out in 1976, and the targets were hit both times. However, in 1977, the “alternative Stinger” project was closed.

Combat use

The first use of the Stinger MANPADS occurred in 1982. During the conflict in the Falkland Islands, 6 missiles were secretly assigned to a detachment of British special forces – SAS. On May 21, a light Argentine attack aircraft “Pukara” was shot down with the help of the complex, and on May 30, the Puma transport helicopter was hit. On this, the participation of the “Stingers” in that war ended.

In 1985, Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq announced that he would not be able to support Afghan Mujahideen without provoking Soviet troops to invade, without more active US involvement. Zia-ul-Haq was close to Congressman Charlie Wilson – with his help, it was decided to supply modern MANPADS to Afghans.

These were the obsolete American FIM-43 Red Eyes, the British Bloipipe, and the People’s Republic of China willingly supplied their copies of the Soviet Strel (however, they recall the Chinese support of the mujahideen not less often).

They did not have a significant impact on the course of the war, and were considered something like “other dangers”. And the Bloupipe missiles had a powerful charge, they did not go astray with interference – but they required high training of the gunner.

With the advent of the FIM-92, the picture has changed. Already in September 1986, 3 attack helicopters were shot down from the new MANPADS, the next year, within 2 weeks of using the Stingers, 3 Su-25 attack aircraft were destroyed. It turned out that the USSR, which itself was a pioneer and leader in the development of MANPADS, was not ready for such a counteraction.

Systems for shielding the exhaust of helicopter turbines, for example, had to be built locally. Only Lipa jamming station turned out to be an effective means. However, in 1987 the Stingers shot down 19 helicopters, and another 7 in 1988. It is worth clarifying that at the beginning of the war, helicopters most often suffered losses from small arms and were worse protected.

But the assessment of their contribution to accelerating the withdrawal of troops is evaluated differently – up to completely opposite points of view. Deliveries of MANPADS ended in 1988. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, the CIA tried to find and buy out the remaining missiles. Some of them “surfaced” in Iran and the DPRK.

It is worth remembering, however, that if the rocket has a shelf life of 10 years, then the power and cooling unit can be stored for a maximum of 5 years. In Iran (as well as in North Korea), according to rumors, the Stingers have been put into service and are trying to keep them in combat readiness.

While the war in Afghanistan was going on, 310 copies of the FIM-92 were sent to Angola, the UNITA movement. After the end of hostilities, the CIA again tried to buy unused MANPADS. During the Libyan invasion of Chad, the “Stingers” used the forces of Chad and the French troops supporting them. Anti-aircraft missiles shot down 2 Libyan fighters and a Hercules transport aircraft.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the “Stingers” held by the Afghans “infiltrated” into its former territories. During the civil war in Tajikistan, such a MANPADS shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber. It is believed that some Russian aircraft were shot down by the Stingers during the Chechen war. This is indirectly confirmed by photographs of militants with launchers, but their origin remains unknown, as well as whether the MANPADS were operational.

FIM-92 also appeared in the former Yugoslavia. And with his help, the Bosnian Muslims destroyed an Italian transport plane carrying humanitarian aid just for the Bosnian Muslims. In the late 1990s, the Stingers were spotted in Sri Lanka in the hands of the Tigers of Tamil Eelam. They shot down a Mi-24 helicopter of the government forces.

Finally, during their own invasion of Afghanistan, the Americans also met with the Stingers. In 2012, such a missile shot down a Chinook helicopter. Moreover, the investigation showed that these are not the remains of supplies from the 80s, but the complexes of the latest modifications.

The presence of FIM-92 MANPADS was also noticed in Syria. It is believed that Turkey supplies anti-government groups with them.

Such an incident is worth mentioning – in 2003, the Iraqi MiG-25 interceptor met with an MQ-1 drone armed with AIM-82 missiles. Instead of dodging, the UAV launched one of the missiles at the MiG.

The Stinger’s homing head captured one of the Iraqi missiles launched in response, and emerged victorious from the first ever aerial combat with a MiG drone.

The performance characteristics

“Stinger” can be compared with such analogues as the Soviet (later Russian) MANPADS “Igla” and the British “Starstrick”, developed in the late 80s.

The “Needle” differed in many constructive solutions from the “Stinger”. Its warhead contains less charge – but the rocket was originally equipped with a non-contact fuse, and therefore there was no need for a direct hit. The American missile has a higher speed – but is also somewhat inferior in range.

The improvement of the FIM-92 seeker was due to the complication of its memory and the possibility of reprogramming – the “Needle” improved the ability to recognize false targets.

The Americans did not plan such an opportunity. And in terms of the effectiveness of combat use, the Igla could well argue with the Stinger – in some ways inferior, somewhere superior.

British MANPADS “Starstrick” significantly differs from both presented for comparison analogs. The speed of the rocket is immediately striking, exceeding 3 Mach numbers. The warhead is also not the same as “at all” – instead of hitting the target with fragments or a beam of steel rods, Starstrik uses 3 independent submunitions that penetrate the target due to the tungsten hull, where their warhead is undermined.



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