May 2, 2022:
The U.S. Army wants a new manpads (Man Portable Air Defense Missile System) to replace the current Stinger. The official request lists several new features needed as well as insisting the weight, portability and usability of the Stinger be retained. In other words, the army is asking for Redeye 3, just as Stinger was originally referred to as Redeye 2 but it was called Stinger for public relations purposes. The U.S. Army wants the first Redye 3s/Stinger replacement ready for combat use by 2028. That goal may be disrupted by the need to rapidly build a lot more of the current Stinger.
Currently Raytheon, the Stinger manufacturer, is busy expanding Stinger production capabilities. Ukraine has already received 1,400 Stingers from the U.S. and more from foreign users. Since 2004, all the new Stingers went to export customers. Now the U.S. needs over two thousand Stingers to rebuild American war reserve stocks as well as providing more to Ukraine, which needs them now. This is a test of the capabilities of American defense manufacturers to rapidly increase production in wartime.
Part of the problem is that Stinger has been in use longer than its predecessor Redeye and most Stingers were continually updated rather than scrap old ones and buy new models. That was one of the changes made to the original Redeye, which entered service in 1967. This came after more than a decade of development. Redeye was successful with 85,000 produced over nine years for American forces and 26 export customers. Redeye was a 13.3 kg (29.3 pound) system that fired an 8.3 kg (18.3 pound) missile containing a heat-seeking guidance system and a 1.06 kg (2.35 pound) warhead. Max effective range was 4,500 meters. Redeye was withdrawn in the late 1980s as Stinger production increased.
The 14.3 kg (31.5 pound) Stinger fired its 10.1 kg (22.5 pound) missile out to 8,000 meters and was more accurate and resistant to countermeasures. Stringer was more accurate in part because it moved some sensors from the missile to the launcher. Stinger was easier to use. For those unfamiliar with manpads, Stinger was easier to learn how to use. This was demonstrated in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Originally the Afghan tribesmen fighting the Russians were given over a thousand Redeyes. These were effective but it took time to become really effective. When the tribal rebels received the Stingers they were suddenly more effective against Russian helicopters and Su-25 (the Russian A-10) ground attack aircraft. The Russians had to limit the use of helicopters and SU-25s and the Afghan irregulars were far more effective as a result.
Redeye 3, or Son of Stinger must retain the same form-factor and usability of Stinger and not gain a lot of weight. Redeye 3 must be more accurate and capable of dealing with targets that emit little heat; mainly battery powered UAVs of all sizes. Redeye 3 must also be able to detect and target aircraft at higher altitudes. This will be done by upgrading the fire control system to allow the user to aim and fire the missile once it shows up in the sight and an indicator shows the target is trackable. If the user launches the missile the guidance/fire control system will use a combined optical/heat seeker guidance system to home in on and destroy the target by hitting it and detonating the warhead or using an improved proximity sensor to detonate when nearest to the target. These capabilities already exist in other weapons, including computerized rifle sights. This will increase lethality against the usual targets as well as UAVs of all types. UAVs have become a greater threat on the battlefield and Redeye 3 is meant to deal with that at a cost not a lot greater than the $120,000 each the current FIM-92J Stinger costs. That’s about twice what the original FIM-92A (taking inflation into account) cost. The FIM-92A cost about twice as much as the FIM-43 Redeye. While 85,000 Redeyes were produced, there were even more Stingers because Stinger has been around twice as longer and licensed production by Germany and Turkey increased production capacity.
The FIM-92J Stinger used so successfully in Ukraine against Russian helicopters benefitted from three decades of upgrades, including a much more effective target seeker that was resistant to most countermeasures and now incorporated a proximity fuze, which detonated the Stinger warhead when the missile passed close to the target. Once again Stinger made use of Russian helicopters difficult in a combat zone. Russia had equipped its helicopters with missile countermeasures which proved inadequate in the rematch with upgraded Stingers. This was the second time the Russians underestimated Stinger.
Stinger was also modified for air-to-air use and that version has become increasingly popular. At first such Stingers were sold for use on AH-64 helicopter gunships, but the ATAS (air-to-air Stingers) can now be found mounted on just about any helicopter and larger UAVs as well. This trend began when it was noticed that there were more targets for air-to-air Stingers in the form of low flying aircraft, UAVs, and a lot more helicopters. While helicopter gunships have auto-cannon, these are weapons only good out to about 2,000 meters and have limited ammo. The ATAS can hit something 8,000 meters away if it is not moving fast, and the missile has its own guidance system; a heat seeker that picks up heat from anywhere on the target aircraft. For air-to-air use the Stinger comes with special as air-to-air launcher containers, as well as test and training equipment. This version of the Stinger costs about ten percent more per missile. Stinger was first modified for air-to-air use in the late 1990s. At first it was believed that the most likely target would be other helicopters. Nailing a jet is more difficult as they don't call them "fast movers" for nothing. The ATAS can only reach moving targets up to 4.5 kilometers away. In any event, that's not too bad for a 15.2 kg (34 pound) missile.
Stinger has also been adapted for use in vehicle mounted systems. Avengers are hummer vehicles with a turret mounted on the back. The turret contains two missile pods (each containing four Stinger anti-aircraft missiles). Under one pod there is an M3P .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine gun. The weapons operator has use of a FLIR (night vision device) and a laser range finder. The machine-gun, however, can't be depressed sufficiently to fire at ground targets towards the front of the vehicle. The missiles have a range of four kilometers, the machine-gun about half that.
The evolution of Redeye to Redeye 2/Stinger and Redeye 3 is not unique. The same process kept the heat-seeking Sidewinder air-to-air missile competitive since it entered service in 1956 as the first effective missile of this type. There have been many similar missiles designed since then but Sidewinder has kept up in terms of capabilities. Over 110,000 Sidewinders have been manufactured since the first prototypes were built in 1953. In part this is due to 27 nations obtaining manufacturing licenses to build them locally.
Another long-lasting missile design is the BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile that entered service in 1971. Over 700,000 have been produced so far, not counting illegal clones from China and Iran. Like Redye and Sidewinder it was a design that is so good it is difficult to replace and the upgraded original continues to be useful and in demand. There have been many new and improved competitors developed, but the originals (somewhat upgraded) continue in service, production and demand. There are so many TOW launchers and missiles out there that it has become big business to refurbish and upgrade both launchers and missiles. That is a lot cheaper than buying new missiles or missile designs and with TOW you know what you got and are comfortable with it.
All TOW versions are shipped and fired from a sealed launch tube. The 1970 version weighed 19 kg (42 pounds) and had a 3.9 kg (8.6 pound) warhead. The latest version (TOW 2B or BGM-71F) weighs 22.7 kg (50 pounds) and has a 6.2 kg (13.5 pound) warhead that can defeat ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor).
The last time TOW destroyed tanks was in 2003, during the Iraq invasion, but it has since been used frequently against enemy strongholds in Iraq and Afghanistan. There may have been some recent tank kills in Syria, where the rebels have received some TOW systems from the United States. TOW has gotten high praise from operators throughout its four decades of use and appears to have a decade or more of life left in it, at least on the ground. In the air TOW has largely been replaced by Hellfire, which came into use in the 1980s and has undergone several improvements. There are also several more recent and smaller missiles that are displacing Hellfire. TOW was innovative for the 1970s but has not been able to evolve fast enough to eliminate the market for new designs.
One thing that distinguishes TOW from later designs is that more recent missiles are wireless. This has not proved to be as critical an innovation as many predicted. There have been several wireless versions of TOW. Raytheon's radio-controlled TOW was developed for use on AH-1 helicopter gunships, and the Saudis bought over a thousand of these wireless (RF) TOWs for use by ground troops. There were other wireless TOWs. Work on such systems dates back three decades. But the U.S. Army never adopted any of them. Israel developed its own wireless version (MAPATS or "Laser TOW") in the 1980s. The Israeli TOW uses a laser designator and still has a range of 4,000 meters. MAPATS weighs 29.6 kg (65 pounds) and evolved into a different missile in the 1990s. The Raytheon wireless TOW was lighter than MAPATS but still had a range of only 4,000 meters.
The thing TOW has going for it is reliability. It gets the job done, with either the wire guidance or later wireless models. It is a simple, precise and relatively cheap weapon that has constantly proved useful in combat.
Other long-lasting weapons include the AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. The AK-47 entered service in 1949 and over 70 million were built. Russia replaced the AK-47 with improved designs beginning in the 1970s but many other nations continued using the basic model and some still do.
The M-16 was designed in 1959 and entered U.S. service in 1964. Improved M-16s followed, all using 5.56mm ammo, and remained the primary American infantry weapon for sixty years before being replaced by the M5 using 6.8mm ammo. Over 10 million M-16s and improved versions like the M-4 were built as well as many more foreign designs based on the 5.56mm M-16. No other American infantry rifle has served as long or been produced in such large numbers.
Even high-tech systems like aircraft feature designs that have been impossible to replace. Examples include the C-130 transport, the B-52 bomber, the F-16 fighter, UH-1 helicopter and the A-10 ground attack aircraft. The F-16 and A-10 remain the most cost-effective aircraft in their class. The American A-10 was unique in that no other nation bought it or built an equally effective model. But in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where troops from many nations depended on U.S. aircraft for ground support, the A-10 was rated the most effective at providing accurate and timely support. The F-16 is still in production because many continuous upgrades have made it an affordable aircraft for nations that cannot afford more recent designs like the F-35, Typhoon, or Su-30s.
Some military aircraft, like the World War II C-47 twin-engine transport began as commercial aircraft (the DC-3 in the 1930s) and continued to be used as commercial transports after World War II and into the present. Several hundred are still flying and some may still be in service by 2035, a century after the first DC-3 entered service.
A similar situation occurred with the UH-1 “Huey” helicopter which entered service as a U.S. military helicopter in 1959 and continued doing so until 2016. Most UH-1s, and the AH-1 gunship variant, were replaced by the UH-60 and AH-64 gunship in the 1980s. Meanwhile commercial versions of the UH-1 were still built and evolved into twin-engine versions. The same thing happened with the AH-1 gunship and a twin-engine version that continues to be used by the American military and several foreign nations. Rebuilt military and commercial versions of the UH-1 continue to be popular with nations that find these helicopters do what is needed at a price the users can afford.