The U.S. Army’s Drone-Killing Missile Sprays Shrapnel
Upgraded Stinger has a proximity fuse to attack drones with low heat signatures
The Army’s well-known Stinger missile can now destroy small, moving drones using a newer proximity fuse to detonate near a target, service developers said.
Firing from a vehicle-mounted Avenger Air Defense System, a Stinger missile destroyed a mini-drone more than one kilometer away using a proximity fuse—technology used to find and hit moving targets that are smaller than what the weapon has traditionally been used for.
The live-fire test, which marked the first-ever firing of a Stinger with the proximity fuse, took place this past April at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
The Stinger missile, made famous by its successful attacks against Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, uses an infrared seeker with an ultraviolet capability, Army developers said.
Over the years, the small missile—which can be shoulder fired, or launched from a vehicle-mounted system—has been used to attack helicopters, fixed-wing enemy aircraft and other large targets.
Using the new technology, the weapon can now destroy moving mini-drones weighing as little as two to 20 kilograms, Wayne Leonard, product lead for Stinger-Based Systems, told Scout Warrior. The new proximity fuse introduces and emerging technology to expand the target envelope of the Stinger, which can use both a laser rangefinder and forward-looking infrared sensor.
“There’s an antenna that is around this warhead that is sensing to see if it is passing a target. If if passes a target, it detonates. The antenna is detecting movement. Fragments penetrate through the target that is in flight,” Leonard said.
Given that the time of travel and the speed of light are easily determined quantities, a laser rangefinder can use a computer algorithm to determine the precise distance of a target, a former Army Chief Scientist explained.
An Avenger Stinger missile launcher on a Humvee at Eglin Air Force Base on April 20, 2017. U.S. Air Force photo
“Based on the changing threat, we are now able to [use] the proximity fuse to destroy smaller UAS. What the Stinger goes after is a heat signature. One of the challenges we are seeing with smaller UAS is that they do not produce the heat signature that is commonly found with a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft,” Col. Chuck Worshim, project manager for cruise missile defense systems office, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
It has an ability to attack both soft and hard targets—and can penetrate and then detonate or detonate immediately upon impact, Worshim added. The weapon can fire by itself or be cued from another source using command and control technology.
The Avenger, a Humvee-mounted launcher, can fire a Stinger missile and a .50-caliber machine gun for ground and close-in air targets. Firing with a range of approximately eight kilometers, the Stinger is faster than its larger counterpart, the Hellfire missile. Hellfire missiles, initially conceived of as anti-tank weapons, have a larger warhead. They are also now used for a wider range of enemy targets.
“When firing in the Avenger mode, the Stinger can attack targets which are not only line-of-sight. A man-portable Stinger can only hit line-of-sight targets,” Worshim said.
The Stinger has not been used much in recent years in Iraq and Afghanistan, largely because it is less necessary in combat environments where the U.S. military already has air supremacy. However, should the Army face a near-peer competitor with air power able to rival the United States, the Stinger could likely emerge as a weapon of choice against helicopters and airplanes.
Given that the weapon can now destroy small drones, it is also conceivable that the Stinger could increasingly be fired in counterinsurgency or hybrid-warfare scenarios as well.