Air Defense: Boxed Weapons

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March 15, 2019: MBDA, the French producer of the Mistral portable anti-aircraft missiles, recently announced a version of its Mistral air-defense missile suitable for quick installation (or removal) on any ship, but in particular unarmed navy support ships that are operating in areas where there is a threat from hostile aircraft, anti-ship missiles or fast attack boats (like Iran, pirates and Islamic terrorists are fond of). Called SPIMM (Self-Protection Integrated Mistral Module) it is a standard 10 foot (3.1 meter) shipping container that contains a standard two missile Mistral launcher turret that is already used on many warships. The SPIMM contains the fire control system that uses optical and infrared sensors that can spot threats up to ten kilometers distant day or night. The operator compartment (behind the turret) enables one or two operators to monitor the surrounding seas and fire missiles. This compartment also contains four Mistral missile reloads. The SPIMM container weighs seven tons and is simply placed on the deck of a ship, bolted or lashed down and attached to the standard ship power supply.

Mistral is basically a heat-seeking missile but the fire and forget option enables the operator to locate a target using the optical/infrared sight, mark that target as the one for the missile to go after when launched and send the missile on its way. “Fire and Forget” has become a common feature for all manner of guided missiles, especially anti-tank, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles of all sizes.

The Mistral is similar to the American Stinger missile but not as portable. Stinger is a 14.3 kg (31.5 pound) shoulder-fired anti-aircraft system that fires its 10.1 kg (22.2 pound) missile out to 4,500 meters. Both systems have similar resistance to countermeasures and a warhead of about the same size (2-3 kg/4.4-6.6 pounds). Mistral uses various launchers (weighing from 22.5 kg/49.5 pounds to a ton) to fire one or more 18.7 kg (42 pound) missiles out to 6,500 meters.

Mistral entered service in 1989 but underwent a major upgrade in the 1990s to Mistral 2. A Mistral 3 upgrade is underway and one of the features of that version (ability to track and hit small fast boats) was added to Mistral 2 in 2018. This version of Mistral 2 is being used on ship mounted Mistral launchers like the new SPIMM.

Two French Mistral amphibious ships sold to Egypt in 2016 could have used SPIMM because these two ships were originally built for Russia and were not equipped with the usual Mistral missile turrets (similar to the SPIMM turret) other Mistral ships used. In 2017 Egypt temporarily armed one of their Mistral amphibious ships with two American Avenger anti-aircraft vehicles. The U.S. Army developed the Avenger system, which is a hummer vehicle armed with Stinger surface-to-air missiles, a .12.7mm machinegun, radar and laser range finder. The hummer has a turret mounted on the back that contains two missile pods (each containing four Stinger anti-aircraft missiles). Under one pod there is a 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine gun. The weapons operator has use of a FLIR (night vision) 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 Stinger has a range of 4.5 kilometers. Effective range of the .50 caliber machine-gun is more like two kilometers.

In a similar situation, the U.S. Navy recently found that their amphibious ships (similar to the Mistrals) can augment their anti-fast-boat defenses by bringing up on the flight deck one or more of the marine LAV (wheeled armored vehicles) carried by the marine unit these ships transport. The LAVs are armed with 25mm autocannon or TOW anti-tank missiles. These two weapons were they tested against targets representing fast boats and proved very effective. Avengers and LAVs have an edge over SPIMM in that SPIMM only has two missiles ready to go. Iran prefers to use a swarm (six or more) of small boats to attack a defended target. That problem is easily solved by equipping threatened ships with two or more 12.7mm machine-guns. Mounts for these machine-guns can be easily placed at several locations around the deck so the 12.7mm machine-gun can be installed and ready to fire in minutes. A crew can be quickly trained to handle (maintain, aim and fire) the 12.7mm machine-gun which has a range of about two kilometers against fast boats. Another option is several 12.7mm sniper rifles. One shot to the waterline of an incoming fast boat puts that boat out of action and soon underwater. These rifles have an effective range of 1,500 meters. SPIMM is a high-end defense system able to hit aircraft (including helicopters and fast anti-ship missiles) at altitudes up to 3,000 meters (about 9,500 feet) and from 500 meters to 6,500 meters from the ship.

 


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