Air Defense: Stinger Evolves Into A Winner

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March 17, 2022: In 1981 the U.S. introduced the Stinger portable anti-aircraft missile to replace the 1960s era Redeye. The 14.3 kg Stinger fired its 10.1 kg missile out to 8,000 meters and was more accurate and resistant to countermeasures. Stinger had a 3 kg (6.6 pound) warhead. Stinger has been continuously upgraded since it first appeared as the FIM-92A. The current version is FIM-92J and there is a refurbishment program to extend shelf life by ten years. Stinger has been upgraded over the years. Newly built Stingers have a shelf life of ten years or more.

The FIM-92J Stinger used successfully in Ukraine against Russian helicopters incorporated 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 Stringer made the 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.

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 $200,000 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.

In the 1980s thousands of FIM-92A model Stingers were distributed to Afghans fighting the invading Russians and were remarkably effective in destroying Russian transport and attack helicopters. The presence of Stinger forced the Russians to modify their helicopter use to avoid getting shot down by the portable and easy-to-use missile.

After 2003 stories of Taliban forces still using some of those 1980s persisted despite the fact the special batteries used in Stinger lasted no longer than ten years and not one had ever developed a commercial battery to replace expired Stinger batteries. There were never any two-decade old Stingers used by the Taliban. Since the 1990s Russia, then China, has devoted a lot of effort to developing a missile similar to the latest Stinger models.

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.

 


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