Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 9/15/2016):
The FIM-92 Stinger was developed as a replacement to the FIM-43 Redeye. The Redeye was an infrared homing man-portable surface-to-air missile system with its own origins dating back to a 1948 US Army need. The Redeye appeared at a time when the idea of ground-based guns and cannons to help protect against enemy aircraft was proving ineffective as most new aircraft being developed were in the realm of high-speed jets. The Redeye was developed to fill this need and entered service in 1968. Production ran from 1982 to 1969 with some 85,000 total systems in circulation. Under the designation of "Redeye II", an improved "all-aspect" form soon appeared and ultimately took on the designation of "Stinger". With the introduction of the Stinger in 1981, the Redeye was gradually removed from service from 1982 to 1995.
After securing the Advanced Sensor Development Program contract in July of 1965, General Dynamics began advanced development work on the new Redeye replacement - known simply as the "Redeye II" - in 1967. A July 1st 1968 review of currently available air defense systems for the US Army was unveiled through the Technical Review of Army Air Defense Systems Study, showcasing a dire need for upgraded improvement in this area. Priority was then assigned to getting the Redeye II online as quickly as possible with an initiative started in late January of 1969. The US Army evaluated the program and selected the Redeye II for further development as the official successor to the existing Redeye. Tests were then conducted against six other similar weapon systems with the Redeye II coming out ahead. On October 8th, 1971, the designation of "XFIM-92A" was assigned to the Redeye II with the official name of "Stinger" following in 1972. System testing began in March of 1973 and unveiled several technical problems in the design to which further evaluation was stopped throughout most of 1974. After a six-month delay, the project saw its first missile fired in February of 1975. The test successfully scored a direct hit against a test vehicle at distance. A further test on March of that year proved the guidance system sound as the missile engaged an aerial jet-powered target moving at 4g. A July test proved the Stinger capable of bypassing target countermeasures as the missile was able to successfully engage a drone. The FIM-92 was then cleared for standard DoD use in November of 1977 and a production contract to General Dynamics was awarded on April 20th, 1978. The first batch of Stingers were set for production in 1978 under the official designation of FIM-92A.
The Stinger was subsequently developed into more lethal forms. An improved type became the FIM-92B beginning production in 1983. In 1984, the upgradable FIM-92C was unveiled with production beginning in 1987. An even more improved form came along in the FIM-92D production model which was designed to further combat the countermeasure capabilities of target aircraft. The FIM-92E came online in 1992 with production beginning in 1995 and featured an upgraded software suite and sensor, making it a more potent system against low-altitude aircraft of smaller profile. The FIM-92F of 2001 saw another upgrade to the software suite. The FIM-92G became upgrades to existing FIM-92D production models.
The Stinger was developed into three distinct, yet similar, forms in the "Basic Stinger", the "Stinger -Passive Optical Seeker Technique (POST)" and the "Stinger-Reprogrammable Microprocessor (RMP)". The Basic Stinger utilized a discrete component signal processing with an Infrared (IR) reticle scan analog system. Stinger-POST had an Infrared/Ultraviolet dual detector with rosette pattern image scanning as well as digital microprocessor-based signal processing. The Stinger-RMP featured a more powerful microprocessor and better countermeasures recognition. Export offerings became the less reprogrammable Stinger-RMP version.
While the FIM-92 relies on an infrared homing guidance system like the Redeye before it, it provides for better tracking and engagement of targets that try to foil the Stinger through countermeasures. The initial launch is accomplished via an ejection motor that clears the missile away from the operators position before the solid-fuel rocket motor kicks into gear. Immediately after launch, the Stinger is set on course via proportional navigation while, later in its flight path, the missile enacts a guidance mode that delivers the missile towards the target mass - this as opposed to engaging the target's heat exhaust signature. The near-five foot missile can reach speeds of up to Mach 2.2 and utilizes an impact fuse with a 3 kilogram warhead to cause lethal damage to its intended target. In essence, the AIM-92 Stinger is a supersonic, "fire-and-forget" missile with all-aspect engagement properties. The all-aspect property allows the Stinger operator to engage aerial threats even when facing them head-on - a quality the Redeye lacked. The system as a whole is made to offer up a quick-reaction/quick-firing solution against incoming aerial threats. An IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) transceiver can be worn by the operator as a belt pack.
Operation of the launcher centers around the use of a Battery Coolant Unit (BCU) needed to fire the missile. The battery system powers up the missile and target acquisition systems. As such, misuse or neglect of the battery over time can lead to an inoperable Stinger launcher within four or five years and, therefore, render it useless. Reportedly, the Stinger launcher generally requires little-to-no maintenance beyond the attention to the BCU.
The AIM-92 missile itself has an outward targeting range of up to 15,700 feet and can engage low altitude enemy threats at up to 12,500 feet. This makes it particularly lethal to low-altitude attack aircraft such as the Sukhoi Su-25 "Frogfoot" and Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II as well as helicopters of any type - be they attack or transport in nature. The missile sports four spring-loaded fins near the warhead and another four stabilization fins near the exhaust port. The missile has proven effective in day/night operations as well as through adverse weather conditions.
Officially, the Stinger and its kind are categorized as MANPADS - "Man-Portable, Air-Defense System" and are generally nothing more than SAMs (Surface-to-Air Missiles) of smaller stature and range.