In late April 2016 police in northern Mexico raided a drug cartel safe house and found an arsenal of impressive weapons (sniper and assault rifles), thousands of rounds of ammunition as well as 19 vehicles. However, one weapon was unexpected and very troubling: an American-made Redeye shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The Redeye is an obsolete infrared “heat seeking” portable (shoulder fired) weapon but still quite deadly if you can find new parts. No one has been known to do that for Redeye and the Mexicans are not saying if the captured Redeye was useable. It probably was not. The U.S. stopped making Redeye in the early 1980s and by the mid-1990s ordered all those that belonging to the U.S. forces destroyed. Foreign users were warned to retire their Redeye missiles because key parts (especially the rocket motor) were no longer reliable and no replacement motors were available. The U.S. considered but turned down a proposal to refurbish Redeyes to extend their shelf life to right about now. Any Redeye’s still out there are strictly collector’s items and illegal ones at that.
All of these missiles suffer from this aging problem. After about 15 years old none of these missiles are still operational. The batteries die after a few years and after a decade the electronics are no longer reliable. After about fifteen years the rocket motor is no longer reliable nor are the explosives in the warhead.
The Redeye was the first shoulder fired anti-aircraft missile. It entered service in 1967 (after more than a decade of development) and 85,000 of them were built before production ceased in 1969. 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 replaced in 1981 by Stinger (0rginally called Redeye II). 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 live by ten years.