The missile of the "shot-forgotten" Mistral MANPADS, according to MBDA, has advantages over a laser-guided missile.
Is the interest in ground-to-air missiles launched from the shoulder and tripod revived due to the development of empowering technologies and the financially justified need to do more for less? Opinions of Western experts in this field.
Recent advances in microprocessor technology and propulsion systems have greatly expanded the range and accuracy of modern man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), making it possible, with unprecedented efficiency, to neutralize the significantly expanded range of air targets at long ranges.
Missiles launched from the shoulder offer defensive and offensive capabilities disproportionate to their size, allowing one soldier with MANPADS to shoot down virtually any aircraft that is within range of the system. In addition, new complexes are capable of shooting down smaller air targets, such as drones and ballistic missiles.
The advanced capabilities offered by the next-generation MANPADS have aroused the increased interest of large armed forces seeking to optimize the combat effectiveness of small combat units and find ways to mitigate the negative impact of shrinking budgets.
Thales UK has been constantly improving its ground-to-air missile system Starstreak since it entered service with the British army in 1997. Starstreak, which replaced the Javelin MANPADS of the same company, was created to provide short-range air defense against threats such as fighters and attack helicopters.
The latest modification, designated Starstreak II HVM (High Velocity Missile - high-speed rocket), is a development of the existing model, which has significantly increased the range and increased accuracy, as well as improved performance, allowing you to work on targets at much higher altitudes.
Thales UK’s chief missile system technologist, Paddy Mallon, said Starstreak II is pushing the boundaries regarding the very short-range air defense systems (VSHORADS).
“Starstreak II is probably the most advanced anti-aircraft missile in the world of VSHORADS, because it was constantly being developed, along with the Ministry of Defense, upgrades were regularly carried out at the middle stage of operation. Now the range of the rocket has reached approximately 7 km, that is, it is a very effective armament both against short-range high-speed targets crossing the line of sight and against long-range targets. ”
“The rocket has a very large acceleration, which means roughly 3,5 Mach numbers per second; that is, you have an ultra-high-speed rocket, which, in addition, due to its high speed, provides a large lateral acceleration. Thus, you are capable of intercepting high-speed targets crossing the line of sight, and you can also launch a missile at a greater distance. ”
The rocket consists of three arrow-shaped kinetic tungsten submunitions that have their own guidance and control system; warhead with a slowdown fuse; two-stage solid propellant rocket engine; expelling charge, working at the time of launch; and the main engine of the second stage.
“The key element at the heart of the warhead itself is obviously the impact, that is, the entire mass of the warhead, the entire mass of the rocket hits the target. Due to the high airspeed (over the entire flight range, submunitions have sufficient maneuverability to destroy targets flying with an overload to 9g) the striking arrow-shaped submunition of the Starstreak rocket punches the target body and then explodes inside it with maximum damage. While with many other anti-aircraft missiles, you lose most of the fragments in the air around the aircraft, and not inside the target itself, ”Mallon explained.
“Starstreak MANPADS are a means for hitting targets within the line of sight. The complex is not highlighted by the laser in the literal sense; when people talk about laser targeting, they really talk about high-power semi-active laser-guided systems. Thales has developed a much lower-power laser transmitter and therefore cannot be detected, ”Mallon continued.
“Our laser is scanning, imagine a laser diode scanning from left to right and a second laser diode scanning from bottom to top, and this happens hundreds of times per second. In fact, the laser beam creates a coded information field, we call it a laser information field, that is, wherever you are inside this field, the striking submunition knows where it is. All he is trying to do is get to the center of this field. ”
According to the developer, the system is difficult, if at all possible, to drown out, because the MANPADS transmitter is not activated until the operator presses the trigger, so the target does not know that it has already become a target until the rocket departs from the launch tube and goes to the target with a speed exceeding the speed of sound more than three times.
“When you pull the trigger, the transmitter turns on. You essentially hold the target crosshair on the target, and if the crosshair is on the target, then the center of the laser information field is also on the target and then the striking projectile will hit the target. ”
“In the back of the striking submunition there is a small window of a laser receiver that looks at the launcher. The receiver receives the transmitted information and we use it to hold the submunition in the center of the field. "
The calculation of the complex, as a rule, consists of two people: the operator and the commander. All Thales MANPADS currently on the market use an LML (Lightweight Multiple Launcher) tripod, which is available in several versions.
“LML has a launch control unit, which includes optics, a thermal imager and a trigger. We also install it on some lightweight platforms for several foreign customers. Our LML tripod with a tracking and fire control unit can accept up to three missiles, ”said Mallon.
The Swedish defense company Saab has also introduced a modernized version of the RBS 70 MANPADS, which has been in service with many countries since the end of the 60s. The new complex received the designation RBS 70 NG. Despite the same designation, the new version is a completely different system.
The RBS 70 NG is a command-line sight-seeing complex (CLOS) with missiles guided by a laser beam. The launcher consists of a transport and launch container with a missile, a tripod and a sight. Although the complex is based on the previous model in order to simplify upgrades, it has a more advanced integrated guidance system and a fourth-generation Bolide rocket, capable of fighting targets that maneuver with accelerations greater than 20g (!).
“We’ve added a completely new sighting module to the system and this is the heart of the whole complex,” said Saab’s chief sales officer at Saab, Bill Forsberg.
“What's new in the RBS 70 NG guidance system? Integrated thermal imaging sight with a very long detection range of all types of targets, more than 20 km. We integrated the target tracking machine into the complex, which minimizes the number of control commands sent to the missile on its way to the target. In the previous system, the operators controlled the rocket using the joystick. ”
“Here we have left the previous possibilities, the operator can still shoot manually, but with the automatic accompaniment everything is much nicer. Compared to a human operator, it generates significantly less noise, degrading the characteristics of the rocket control system during the flight, and as a result we get greater accuracy ... We have automatic video recording of the whole shooting process, so that you can see how it all happened later what has been done, whether the target was captured correctly, and the like. ”
Forsberg explained that the system provides a three-dimensional visual image of the target, which allows the operator to more confidently capture the target and reduces the overall response time to one second. Another key feature of the RBS 70 NG MANPADS is its noise immunity.
“We also have the opportunity to interrupt the shooting process at any second, right up to the moment of interception of the target. We have receivers of laser guidance in the back of the rocket and a communication channel directly from the sight to the rocket. Therefore, in order to drown out this signal, you need to stand between the gun and the rocket, which is unlikely or impossible at all, ”said Forsberg.
“We have a remote fuse that is optimized to deal with small attacking targets, such as ballistic missiles. Our complex can really fight almost all targets, we can shoot at everything from ground targets at zero height to helicopters and fighters at 5000 meters, and these are unique characteristics. ”
Forsberg stated that the missile could also penetrate any existing armored personnel carrier, suggesting that the MANPADS could be used both for self-defense on the ground and for fighting assault helicopters with improved crew protection.
“There are no other anti-aircraft systems that can fight ground targets, and we can shoot at everything that is at a distance from 220 to 8 km,” he said. - The interception range of our complex 8 km. When our competitors talk about the firing range, they mean the maximum range, but then we are talking about our maximum range, which is up to 15,7 km. ”
Forsberg continued: “Most customers keep their systems either in a platoon configuration or in a division, that is, a division with several platoons. A platoon usually consists of three or four fire crews. Three calculations can cover an area of 460 square kilometers. If we compare with any system with infrared homing, then a platoon with such complexes will close only about 50 square kilometers. ”
The “jam-resistant” Saab RBS 70 NG rocket can be used on various platforms, including vehicles and portable complexes
MBDA, a European missile manufacturer, offers the latest version of its Mistral MANPADS with improved target designation and noise immunity.
The Mistral shot-and-forget self-guided missile has a high-explosive fragmentation warhead of 3 kg, which contains ready-made tungsten spherical strikes (1500 pieces). The warhead itself is equipped with a laser contactless (remote) fuse and contact fuse, as well as a self-destruct timer. Infrared homing head is placed inside the pyramidal fairing. This form of it has the advantage over the usual spherical, as it reduces drag. In the homing head (GOS) a mosaic-type receiving device was used, made on indium arsenide and operating in the 3-5 micron range, which significantly increases the ability to detect and capture targets with reduced IR radiation, and also allows us to distinguish the useful signal from the false one (sun, bright clouds, infrared traps, etc.); the reported failure probability is 93%.
“At present, in the units of the French army, we are modernizing the Mistral MANPADS, installing a new homing head in missiles,” the representative of MBDA said. - Now we have the opportunity to hit targets with weak thermal unmasking signs, such as missiles and UAVs, which was the requirement of the French army and fleet».
“We have achieved a significant increase in resistance to countermeasures in the infrared region of the spectrum, which, as a rule, consist of traps and radiating interference, we can cope with everything. Of course, this increases the detection range of targets with a low infrared signature, for example, an airplane in frontal projection, when you do not see the engines. ”
Currently, the actual range of the system is 6,5 km. As a rule, the complex is deployed by two operators, the commander and the shooter. Although it can be deployed by one person, a two-person calculation is preferable, since it is easier to carry, interact and provide psychological support.
“We also improved other parts of the rocket, such as electronics. The protection block has been improved, because when you integrate more compact modern electronics, you have some volume released. In addition, we improved the MANPADS sight, as well as the coordinate system; Based on our experience, we have simplified logistics, and we have maintained compatibility between previous versions of MANPADS and new generations, ”said an MBDA representative.
MANPADS manufacturers produce two types of these systems: with missiles with infrared GOS and with laser-guided missiles. A representative of MBDA noted that the majority of anti-aircraft missiles with infrared GOS, produced by Russian and American competitors of MBDA, are shoulder-launched systems and, as a result, have less efficient on-board electronics and warheads.
“The missiles launched from the shoulder are, of course, smaller in size, their GOS is weaker and their efficiency is lower. We conducted a direct assessment of systems in different countries and demonstrated that the effectiveness of the Mistral rocket is significantly better than the effectiveness of “shoulder” competitors with a smaller warhead, without a remote fuse, ”he said.
“As for missiles with guided beam, it’s not at all something that“ shot-forget ”or homing. This guidance is less accurate and the longer the range, the worse the accuracy, because your aiming unit is on the ground and therefore the range directly affects the accuracy. "
“Missile guided missiles require more training, they need a heavier and more complex targeting unit, the only advantage being low susceptibility to countermeasures. But with the implementation of the newest improvements for Mistral MANPADS, the advantages of IR targeting are reduced to zero. ”
Mallon also objected that infrared missiles with a seeker and a remote fuse are excessively expensive and have their own shortcomings.
“Since you decided to install a remote fuse and a standard-size warhead, then get ready for increased aerodynamic drag and reduced flight time. Take Starstreak MANPADS, you will not find such in it, because our most important requirement in its creation was the defeat of high-speed targets or helicopters with low target approach and subsequent sharp climb, ”he explained.
“Systems such as Mistral and Stinger have a remote fuse and a warhead, but they are limited in range, they are quite expensive because they have a GOS. Whereas we try to make our systems as cheap as possible. ”
“The Starstreak rocket has a very short flight time and this, above all, is facilitated by great acceleration, and secondly, this is due to the small diameter and low aerodynamic resistance of the submunitions themselves. Obviously, there are advantages of remote fuses, but the critical requirement for Starstreak was defeating such targets at high speed in minimal time, ”Mallon continued.
Starstreak MANPADS in accordance with the contract signed in September 2015, was sold to Thailand
The Western armies for a long time enjoyed superiority in the air and therefore reduced their needs for low-cost air defense systems to a minimum. On the contrary, the market of MANPADS was dominated by the armies of developing countries, seeking to obtain increased combat capabilities for the lowest price.
“In the Western world for many years, MANPADS were not such an important means because of their superiority in the air. But they are definitely becoming more dominant in other parts of the world, ”Mallon said.
“If you look at the Asia-Pacific region, the military there are constantly updating their systems against the background of healthy economic growth. Obviously, they have now gained access to modern weapons platforms and an increase in defense spending is expected in the countries of this region. ”
He continued: “Countries like China, for example, are increasing their spending, and countries around it are watching the process with alarm and are beginning to think about the growth of their military spending. We therefore see an increase in interest in MANPADS, but this is only the very beginning. ”
Forsberg suggested that the demand for MANPADS will increase worldwide, noting, however, that the recent drop in sales was most likely the result of depressive trends in the global economy.
“Many countries have programs in which they either buy new weapons systems, or upgrade those that they already have, or change these systems for something else. But, based on the economic situation, they have postponed their investments and programs for the future, maybe for one, maybe for several years, ”he said.
“That is, as I understand it, the market will feel better, at least in the 2016-2017 years. Most of this will be customers who want to replace their outdated systems. ”
A representative of MBDA expressed his point of view, stating that the requirements for portable air defense systems were not aimed at MANPADS, since the military wanted more integrated solutions. “More and more armies are choosing more comfortable solutions for their air defense systems. Simple MANPADS have such negative features as fatigue and openness of the shooter, which should stand and wait for its moment for hours. ”
“In the cold, in the winter, it is very difficult to stand in position for more than two hours and that is why you need to put a rocket into the system, put the guy in a container or in an air-conditioned car where he could be for a long time. I think for this reason MANPADS cannot yet occupy the niche they owe. ”
The representative of MBDA also noted that the market for MANPADS does not grow in real terms. It’s just that the systems of the previous generation are running out of useful life and as a result, new purchases are made only because the armies replace existing systems with what is currently available on the market.
“But we are seeing growth in Eastern Europe, where armies are switching to Western MANPADS as part of the process of avoiding Russian weapons. Among these countries can be noted Hungary and Estonia and some others. This is proof that these countries are turning to the West to get their weapons and, in particular, MANPADS, ”he said.
Regarding future upgrades to the RBS 70 NG complex, Forsberg said that Saab is always striving to improve its systems and is working to integrate this system with vehicles and ships.
“Of course, we have a“ friend or foe ”interrogator for this system, both in the configuration of MANPADS and for the complex installed on the machine. That is, it could be an integrated sighting system at the top of a high-end vehicle, ”he said.
“We are considering missiles weighing more than 100 kg, I think they are not so heavy. We also offer our customers with the need for mobile complexes, MANPADS on a tripod, which can be used in two ways. For example, you came to the intended position, but you are limited there by buildings and trees, then you take the tripod and the complex and place it on the ground where it is needed, and use the same sight that you used in the car, simply by disconnecting it and installing it on the MANPADS. So, you buy a platform integrated with the machine and get two possibilities in one bottle. ”
A representative from MBDA added: “We are continuously working to improve our systems. Our next goal is to develop Mistral MANPADS, integrated into the network, as well as new triggers and a new reusable automatic launcher. ”
Mallon explained that Thales seeks to better understand and define the requirements for short-range air defense systems from various countries, including the UK. She is considering several options for expanding the capabilities of Starstreak HVM MANPADS, not only missiles, but also the launcher itself.
“The progress of automatic target tracking systems and the like is obvious, so we strive to develop smaller systems. Compared with the previous complexes, this will allow to get a really integrated system, ”he continued.
“As for the missile itself, we want to improve the characteristics of the targeting system of the striking submunitions. We also want to increase the range of the missile over 8 km and for this range to make it more effective in terms of pointing accuracy. ”