Things that go Boom fact-checking time.

Noticed this in the Bleat today:
On the other hand, the Times piece also contains this line: "Intelligence agencies say Al Qaeda already has dozens of missiles, many of them American-made Stingers left over from the war in Afghanistan in the 1980's when the United States supplied them to Afghan guerrillas seeking to oust Soviet troops from their country. Hundreds of other surface-to-air missiles are reported to be circulating on the black market."

Ah. Right. Blowback. Our fault. Always our fault. So they have old Stingers they can use against us. So? Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have given them the weapons in the first place. It means they’re ungrateful bastards.

Aside from the moral right or wrong of suppling the mujahideen with Stingers so they could stand something resembling a fighting chance against Soviet Hind helicopters, there's a neat little fact that tends to escape most of the people who jump on the We gave them weapons! bandwagon.


Yes, and not the kind that one picks up at the local 7-11. See, the Hughes/Raytheon's Stinger has fairly sophisticated targeting electronics built into the launcher, which are required to lock on to a target and fire the missile. It's a spiffy kind of chemical battery which has a finite life of about ten years. The missile itself also has a small thermal battery inside it, with roughly the same lifetime.

Without either battery providing the needed power, the tracking electronics don't turn on, the gyros don't spin up, and you have what amounts to a very expensive jack handle.

And finally, Stingers use a three-stage solid fuel rocket motor. It also has a finite life expectancy, and the older they get, the easier it is for the fuel to crack and crumble when the missiles are moved. Know what happens if you pull the trigger on one of those babies when it's too old? Yep. Time to play "It's raining Men" and get out the hefty bags.

So, assuming by some unlikely event terrorists managed to get ahold of Afghan stingers, they'd do little more than go "click" at this stage in their life. Or, as would be infinitely more amusing, they'd propel the operator farther than the missile.

And finally, we have to look at the Stinger's range. It's about 10,000 feet, maximum. This would limit it to small prop aircraft, helicopters, or jet aircraft as they are taking off or landing. One couldn't pull one out of uncle Bob's pickup truck in the middle of an Iowa corn field and pick off a jumbo at 35,000 feet. It's just not going to happen.

One would hope that with all the airport security since 9/11, a gentleman of middle eastern decent standing at the end of a runway and pointing a long black thing at airplanes would get some kind of notice. Preferably the .45 caliber kind.

UPDATE: This Janes article is referenced by a commenter. It suggests that the Stinger has a 22 year life span, and that the volatility of old solid fuel rocket propellant isn't an issue.

In short: The author is talking out of his ass.

My information on the Stinger comes from people who have actually used them and have intimate knowledge of the weapon. So, here's some more info:

As I previously said, the Stinger has two batteries. One is in the launcher, and one is in the missile itself. The first is a chemical battery in the BCU, which also contains compressed Argon used to cool the seeker on the missile prior to launch. Both the compressed Argon and battery have a shelf life of about ten years. After that, it is not capable of powering the missile or launch electronics.

This battery is of a very unique design, and as such it would be virtually impossible to find a replacement outside of official sources. However, it is possible an alternate energy source could be kludged together and power the launch electronics.

However, that leaves the thermal battery inside the missile itself. It has roughly the same shelf life. To replace it, the missile must be removed from the launch tube and disassembled with very specific attention to detail. Any deviation from the correct procedure will result in anything from an unusable missile, to chunks of terrorist all of the place.

Disassembling and reassembling a Stinger is not an easy task by any means. It can be safely said that it is outside the grasp of knowledge of anyone who has not had specific training on the missile system.

Finally, the biggest issue is the missile propellant itself. Solid fuel rocket motors become increasingly unstable as they age, and over a certain length of time, they are even unsafe to handle.

posted by Mr. Lion | 08/14/03 @ 01:24 | comments (7)