Man-Portable Surface-to-Air Missile System
Over its service life, the Thales Blowpipe showcased a rather underwhelming combat record.
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Advances in aircraft prompted the machine gun to be pressed into action as an anti-aircraft measure followed by automatic cannons of various calibers. Once jet power allowed for aerial systems to fly higher and faster, the missile as an air defense weapon largely overtook previous types - rising in popularity throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Thales Air Defence Limited ultimately delivered their "Blowpipe" in 1975 to the British military and this weapon saw service into 1985 with production reaching 34,382 units. The line was offered to export customers and saw broader use globally which allowed it to be featured in several notable conflicts. Indeed, both belligerents of the Falklands War - Argentina and the United Kingdom - utilized the type though the weapon had an overall poor showing in the war.
Externally, the Blowpipe held a unique design shape when compared to contemporaries, primarily due to its oversized frontal section which also mounted the integral optics system at its rear. Emanating from the rear of this frontal section was the thinner, more manageable, rear tube section which made up the rest of the launch system. The completed system, with missile in place, weighed 22 kilograms and measured a length of 4.4 feet while the weapon's caliber was listed as 76mm. All told, the weapon could be transported and operated by a single person (launched from the right shoulder) to which the categorization of MANPADS ("MAN-Portable, Air Defense System") was assigned to such systems.
The Blowpipe missile operated with a shaped charge warhead of 2.2 kilogram weight and was propelled by a solid-fuel rocket motor to speeds of Mach 1.5 with an effective range out to 3.5 kilometers. Guidance was through a semi-automatic action while the missile cleared the launcher to which then an MCLOS ("Manual Command Line-Of-Sight") guidance system was activated. MCLOS allowed the operator to track the missile to the target via a small controller on the launch unit while utilizing the included optics for aiming/tracking. Detonation of the missile could be through either a contact fuse or proximity fuse method with the intent to cause enough damage to a speeding aircraft so as to bring it down.
In practice, the Blowpipe design did not fare well as showcased during the Falklands War of 1982. The Argentines procured a stock of Blowpipes prior to the war while the weapon was already in issue to British forces. Official results revealed a weapon that managed a low kill rate and one whose missile could be outrun by faster aircraft and had trouble engaging an air target passing "across" the missile's firing cone. Based on sources, it appears that only two aircraft were credited to Blowpipe launches during the war - a war that ultimately ended with a British victory. Aged stocks of the weapon were secretly sent by the British government to Afghanistan where they were used by Mujahedeen guerillas against Soviet occupiers and the Afghan national army. Again, these weapons proved poor air defense systems though any weapon was better than none for the guerillas and Blowpipes were continually used when available until American "Stingers" arrived in useful numbers.
Some of the last notable combat actions involving Blowpipes occurred during the 1991 Gulf War by Canadian forces and by Ecuador during the 1995 Cenepa War with Peru.
The Blowpipe was eventually succeeded by the Javelin which appeared in the mid-1980s. The Javelin was an improvement over the Blowpipe in that it brought about use of SACLOS ("Semi-Automatic Command Line-Of-Sight") which improved accuracy. This method allowed the operator to direct the weapon to the target "semi-automatically" by keeping the target within the crosshairs of his optics device. The Javelin was then, itself, replaced by the more advanced Starburst of 1989 and this succeeded by the Starstreak of 1997.
Despite their age and battlefield showing, the Blowpipe still appears on the battlefields of today from time to time - though no longer in service with any of the leading military powers of the world.