The FIM-92 Stinger is a personal portable infrared homing surface-to-air missile (SAM), which can be adapted to fire from ground vehicles or helicopters (as an AAM), developed in the United States and entered into service in 1981. Used by the militaries of the United States and by 29 other countries, it is manufactured by Raytheon Missile Systems and under license by EADS in Germany, with 70,000 missiles produced. It is classified as a Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS).
Light to carry and easy to operate, the FIM-92 Stinger is a passive surface-to-air missile, shoulder-fired by a single operator, although officially it requires two. The FIM-92B missile can also be fired from the M-1097 Avenger and M6 Linebacker. The missile is also capable of being deployed from a Humvee Stinger rack, and can be used by paratroopers. A helicopter launched version exists called Air-to-Air Stinger (ATAS).
The missile is 1.52 m (60″) long and 70 mm (2-3/4″) in diameter with 10 cm fins. The missile itself weighs 10.1 kg (22 lbs.), while the missile with launcher weighs approximately 15.2 kg (33.5 pounds). The Stinger is launched by a small ejection motor that pushes it a safe distance from the operator before engaging the main two-stage solid-fuel sustainer, which accelerates it to a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 (750 m/s). The warhead is a 3 kg penetrating hit-to-kill warhead type with an impact fuze and a self-destruct timer.
To fire the missile, a BCU (Battery Coolant Unit) is inserted into the handguard. This shoots a stream of argon gas into the system, as well as a chemical energy charge that enables the acquisition indicators and missile to get power. The batteries are somewhat sensitive to abuse, with a limited amount of gas. Over time, and without proper maintenance, they can become unserviceable. The IFF system receives power from a rechargeable battery. Guidance to the target is initially through proportional navigation, then switches to another mode that directs the missile towards the target airframe instead of its exhaust plume.
The launcher tube can be reused and reloaded with more missiles.
There are three main variants in use: the Stinger basic, STINGER-Passive Optical Seeker Technique (POST), and STINGER-Reprogrammable Microprocessor (RMP).
The Stinger-RMP is so-called because of its ability to load a new set of software via ROM chip inserted in the grip at the depot. If this download to the missile fails during power-up, basic functionality runs off the on-board ROM. The four-processor RMP has 4 KB of RAM for each processor. Since the downloaded code runs from RAM, there is little space to spare, particularly for processors dedicated to seeker input processing and target analysis. The RMP has a dual-detector seeker: IR and UV. This allows it to distinguish targets from countermeasures much better than the Redeye, which was IR-only. While modern flares can have an IR signature that is closely matched to the launching aircraft’s engine exhaust, there is a readily distinguishable difference in UV signature between flares and jet engines
Initial work on the missile was begun by General Dynamics in 1967 as the Redeye II. It was accepted for further development by the U.S. Army in 1971 and designated FIM-92; the Stinger appellation was chosen in 1972. Because of technical difficulties that dogged testing, the first shoulder launch was not until mid-1975. Production of the FIM-92A began in 1978 to replace the FIM-43 Redeye. An improved Stinger with a new seeker, the FIM-92B, was produced from 1983 alongside the FIM-92A. Production of both the A and B types ended in 1987 with around 16,000 missiles produced.
The replacement FIM-92C had been developed from 1984 and production began in 1987. The first examples were delivered to front-line units in 1989. C-type missiles were fitted with a reprogrammable electronics system to allow for upgrades. The missiles which received a counter-measures upgrade were designated D and later upgrades to the D were designated G.
The FIM-92E or Block I was developed from 1992 and delivered from 1995 (certain sources state that the FIM-92D is also part of the Block I development). The main changes were again in the sensor and the software, improving the missile’s performance against smaller and low-signature targets. A software upgrade in 2001 was designated F. Block II development began in 1996 using a new focal plane array sensor to improve the missile’s effectiveness in “high clutter” environments and increase the engagement range to about 25,000 feet (7,600 m). Production was scheduled for 2004, but Jane’s reports that this may be on hold. Japanese Self-Defense Forces have the also derived type. Since 1984 the Stinger has been issued to many U.S. Navy warships for point defense, particularly in Middle Eastern waters, with a three-man team that can perform other duties when not conducting Stinger training or maintenance. Until it was decommissioned in September 1993, the U.S. Navy had at least one Stinger Gunnery Detachment attached to Beachmaster Unit Two in Little Creek Virginia. The sailors of this detachment would deploy to carrier battlegroups in teams of two to four sailors per ship as requested by Battle Group CommandersSoviet War in Afghanistan
The story of Stingers in Afghanistan are told in many sources, notably Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile, and Ghost Wars by Steve Coll.
In late 1985, several groups, such as Free the Eagle, began arguing the CIA was not doing enough to support the Mujahideen in the Soviet Afghan war. Michael Pillsbury, Vincent Cannistraro, and others put enormous bureaucratic pressure on the CIA to begin providing the Stinger to the rebels. The idea was controversial because up to that point, the CIA had been operating with the pretense that the United States was not involved in the war directly, for various reasons. All weapons supplied at that point were non-U.S. made weapons, like AK-47 rifles purchased from China and Egypt.
The final say-so came down to Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani dictator, through whom the CIA had to pass all of its funding and weapons to the Mujahideen. Ul-Haq constantly had to gauge how much he could “make the pot boil” in Afghanistan without provoking a Soviet invasion of his own country. According to George Crile, U.S. congressman Charlie Wilson‘s relationship with ul-Haq was instrumental in the final go-ahead for the Stinger introduction.
Wilson and his associates at first viewed the Stinger as “just adding another component to the lethal mix we were building”. Their increasingly successful Afghanistan strategy, formed largely by Michael G. Vickers, was based on a broad mix of weapons, tactics, and logistics, not a ‘silver bullet solution’ of a single weapon. Furthermore the previous attempts to provide MANPADs to the Mujahideen, namely the SA7 and Blowpipe, hadn’t worked very well.
Engineer Ghaffar, of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar‘s Hezb-i-Islami, brought down the first Hind gunship with a Stinger on September 25, 1986 near Jalalabad. The Central Intelligence Agency eventually supplied nearly 500 Stingers (some sources claim 1,500–2,000) to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan as part of Operation Cyclone. with the supply of 250 launchers.
Some sources claim the Stinger have had a decisive impact on the war, while other authors dismiss this argument.
According to Crile, who includes information from Alexander Prokhanov, the Stinger was a “turning point”. Milt Bearden saw it as a “force multiplier” and morale booster. Charlie Wilson, the congressman behind the United States’ Operation Cyclone, described the first Stinger Mi-24 shootdowns in 1986 as one of the three crucial moments of his experience in the war, saying “we never really won a set piece battle before September 26, and then we never lost one afterwards”. He was given the first spent Stinger tube as a gift and kept it on his office wall.
After the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. attempted to buy back the Stinger missiles, with a $55 million program to buy back around 300 missiles (US$183,300 each). The U.S. government collected most of the Stingers it had delivered, but some of them found their way into Croatia, Iran, Qatar and North Korea. According to the CIA, already in August 1988 the U.S. had demanded from Qatar the return of Stinger missiles. Wilson later told CBS he “lived in terror” that a civilian airliner would be shot down by a Stinger, but he did not have misgivings about having provided Stingers to defeat the Soviets..