The FIM-92 Stinger is a portable, lightweight anti-aircraft defense system currently in service with the United States military and other foreign forces. It has proven successful across several different types of platforms (land, sea and air) and against varying types of airborne threats. The Stinger has seen combat actions from the Falklands War to Afghanistan and the Angolan Civil War to the Yugoslav Wars. The missile and its launcher have proven successful enough that several foreign firms allied to the United States have taken on license production of the weapon. To date, some 70,000 missile systems are known to have entered circulation.
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.
While commonly associated with its use as a hand-held, shoulder-launched unit, the Stinger system has been adapted in both mobile ground-based air defense systems and airborne-based platforms. In the former arrangement, the Stinger has been fitted to a specialized launcher which itself is mounted on a flatbed HMMWV utility vehicle taking on the designation of M1097 "Avenger". The Avenger has made it into the ranks of both the United States Army and United States Marine Corps and has also been cleared for airdrop via transport aircraft. A modified form of the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, known as the "M6 Linebacker", also makes use of the Stinger in a four-tube launcher. This Bradley variant has its standard TOW anti-tank missile launcher replaced with a Stinger-capable one.
Attack helicopters such as the AH-64 Apache can make use of the Stinger in the air-to-air role via wing-tip launcher mounts (the Stinger was also to have been an optional armament of the ill-fated RAH-66 Comanche). When in the air-to-air role, these Stingers are generally referred to as "ATAS" to denote their role as "Air-to-Air Stingers". Interestingly, the MQ-1 Predator UAV is also cleared to use the Stinger - perhaps a glimpse into the future of unmanned air-to-air combat. Additional service has placed the Stinger missile system and its applicable launcher aboard many navy surface vessels as "point-defense weapons" to help combat incoming aerial threats.
It should be noted that the Stinger can engage multiple types of airborne threats including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), incoming cruise missiles, rotary aircraft (helicopters) and fixed-wing aircraft.
Design of the Stinger launcher is essentially the firing tube containing the AIM-92 missile. There is a slab-type, flip-out optics system along the left side of the forward body. The trigger group is also held forward of the body center. There is a large fixture just ahead of the pistol grip that is used to hold the weapon in place with the non-trigger hand. While a crew of two typically man and fire a Stinger system, the weapon can be operated by a sole individual if need be. There is an identifiable "cage" type arrangement set off to the right side of the forward body. The system as a whole is reportedly a manageable 35 pounds in weight - making it a popular point-defense weapon for any army. The Stinger features reusable components (such as the hand grip) after a launch to help reduce individual unit cost.
The Stinger in Action
The Stinger was first used in an operational manner during the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina. The Argentine dictatorship saw it fit to invade the small island chain and claim it as their own. In response, the British were thrown into action and a task force was sent into the region to reclaim the territory. Its group of special forces operatives - the Special Air Service (or "SAS") - was brought along with a few examples of the American-made Stinger (perhaps as few as six missile systems). Its first victim became an Argentine IA 58 Pucara, a twin-seat, twin-engine, low-altitude multi-role aircraft downed on May 21st, 1982. Its second victim became a French-made Aerospatiale SA330 Puma helicopter on May 30th.
Perhaps the Stingers best publicized role was in the hands of the Mujahideen in its war against the Soviet Union beginning in 1979. As any resistance to the Soviet Empire was on the agenda of the United States, America saw fit to arm the Mujahideen with the surface-to-air missile system in an attempt to make life increasingly difficult for Soviet airmen. Several hundred (perhaps even thousands) of Stingers are believed to have been delivered to the group. Once in Mujahideen hands, the Stinger proved its worth and excelled alongside the guerilla tactics being employed against a more calculating foe. Soviet airmen were put at increasing risk when operating at low-levels and the arrival (and effectiveness) of the Stinger forced a change in tactics on the part of the Russians. By all accounts, the Stinger had such an impact on the war in Afghanistan that it was partly the reason for an impending Soviet defeat - and ultimate withdrawal - by the end of 1989. A cash program to later reclaim the missiles from the Mujahideen by the US proved incomplete. Luckily, Stinger battery components were made more-or-less inoperable within five years. Perhaps most damaging from this Cold War exercise was the missile system falling into the hands of foreign threats for reverse engineering purposes - such was the case in Iran and North Korea.
In all it use, the Stinger has been credited with the downing and destruction of some 270 aircraft. The ease of use, accuracy and relatively low acquisition costs have made it a favorite the world over.
Beyond the United States of America and the United Kingdom, the Stinger has been fielded by Afghanistan (both the national army and the Mujahideen), Angola, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Chad, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, Taiwan, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. The Stinger was produced under license in Germany by EADS and in Turkey by Roketsan. Switzerland has also produced the Stinger locally under license. Japan is a former operator (now committed to the Type 91 system) and Sweden use never materialized past the evaluation phase. Japan purchased its Stingers in 1982, noted as the first foreign nation to do so.
Germany took part in later development of the Stinger system through joint German-American acquisition and targeting tests held from May to June in 1976. The first approved foreign sales for evaluation of the system to the nation occurred in 1980 to the tune of $1.8 million US dollars. 1981 saw a NATO conglomerate, seven nation-strong "Stinger Project Group" formed to test the validity of the Stinger for use throughout Europe. The group included Germany, Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Italy. Germany cleared the Stinger for use on navy ships in 1982.