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Video Analysis: Stinger Anti-Aircraft Missiles from Germany to Destroy Russian Helicopters

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to fast-track 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Germany’s decision to send Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine could prove to be extremely impactful for resistance fighters likely to face large numbers of Russia’s force of 544 attack helicopters. 

Stinger Anti-Aircraft Missiles

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to fast-track 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion, according to a recent essay from Jeff Rathke, President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University. 

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. Over the years, the small missile - which can be shoulder fired or fired from a vehicle-mounted launcher – has been used to attack helicopters, fixed-wing enemy aircraft and other large targets.

U.S. soldiers fire a Stinger missile on Sept. 6, 2016, during a live-fire training exercise at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Germany announced on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, that it will send to Ukraine as “quickly as possible” 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles as well as 1,000 anti-tank weapons. (Kyle Edwards/U.S. Army)

U.S. soldiers fire a Stinger missile on Sept. 6, 2016, during a live-fire training exercise at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Germany announced on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, that it will send to Ukraine as “quickly as possible” 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles as well as 1,000 anti-tank weapons. (Kyle Edwards/U.S. Army)

In recent years, the US Army has massively upgraded the Stinger missile to improve guidance, fire it from Stryker vehicles and add a “proximity” fuse to enable the weapon to kill small moving drones in addition to helicopters and lower-flying fixed wing aircraft. 

Following several key Army and Raytheon upgrades several years ago, Stinger missile has been able to destroy small, moving drones using a newer proximity fuze to detonate near a target. This could prove effective against a possible Russian drone swarm seeking to close down on a civilian population or function as a collection of mini projectiles to increase lethality. 

Firing with a range of approximately 8 kilometers, the Stinger is faster than its larger counterpart, the Longbow 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.

Firing from a vehicle-mounted Avenger System as far back as several years ago, a Stinger missile fired in a US Army test destroyed a mini-drone more than one kilometers 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.

Given that the time of travel and the speed of light are easily determined quantities, a laser rangefinder from systems such as an Avenger system can use a computer algorithm to determine the precise distance of a target, a former Army Chief Scientist explained.

Using the new technology, the weapon can now destroy moving mini-drones weighing as little as 2-to-20 kilograms, Army weapons developers told Warrior as fasr back as several years ago when the Stinger was being upgraded. 

The new proximity fuse introduces an emerging technology to expand the target envelope of the Stinger, which can use both a laser rangefinder and forward-looking infrared sensor when fired from the Avenger. 

Army weapons developers explained to Warrior several years ago that a small antenna wraps around the warhead of the Stinger to “sense” when the munition detects movement and comes near a target, enabling it to detonate with a blast of small penetrating fragments. Shoulder fired Stingers can only target at line-of-sight, whereas vehicle-mounted Stingers might have an expanded beyond-line-of-sight targeting capacity. 

Stinger missile being launched from a U.S. Marine Corps AN/TWQ-1 Avenger in April 2000.

Stinger missile being launched from a U.S. Marine Corps AN/TWQ-1 Avenger in April 2000.

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It has an ability to attack both soft and hard targets; it can penetrate and then detonate or detonate immediately upon impact, developers said at the time of the upgrade. The weapon can fire by itself or be cued from another source using command and control technology.

Anti-aircraft ground fire from closer-in ranges could give Ukrainian resistance fighters a distinct advantage in urban or mountainous areas, as individual groups of dismounted soldiers could potentially hide in buildings or behind mountainous areas to surprise and destroy Russian helicopters. For instance, should there be a circumstance wherein Russian helicopters attempted an air assault raid over the capital of Ukraine as part of a “decapitation strike” intended to destroy and replace the country’s leadership currently holding on in Kyiv, well placed Stinger attacks might be able to destroy the approaching helicopter fleet. This could prove crucial given the large number of Russian attack helicopters. 

Germany's Strategic Posture Toward Russia

NATO ally Germany appears to have hit a massive “turning point” in its strategic posture toward Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine by quickly authorizing new defense spending and fast-tracking arms to Ukrainian resistance fighters. 

A powerful essay from Jeff Rathke, President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University details recent events in Germany which he says constitutes a “revolution” in German foreign policy. 

“Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his government have carried out a revolution in Germany’s foreign policy, discarding in a matter of days the outmoded assumptions of Berlin’s post-Cold War dreams and setting a course for confrontation with Russia that will bring dramatically increased resources and modernize the country’s armed forces,” Rathke writes. 

Scholz announced that 100 billion euros ($113bn) would be reserved for military spending [File: Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP]

Scholz announced that 100 billion euros ($113bn) would be reserved for military spending [File: Tobias Schwarz/Pool Photo via AP]

In an appearance before the German Parliament, Scholz announced the creation of a one-time, 100 billion euro fund for the German military. 

“He highlighted Germany’s contributions to NATO and expanded commitments, including its deterrent presence in Lithuania and making German air defense systems available to Eastern European member states,” Rathke writes. 

Rathke further explains how there is an urgency and rapid-response component to Germany's pivot toward Ukraine and NATO away from Russia, because the German Defense Ministry announced it is providing 1,000 anti-tank systems and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine. This development is quite significant, given that Stinger anti-aircraft weapons might offer Ukrainians a previously unprecedented ability to destroy attacking Russian helicopters and lower-flying drones and fixed-wing platforms. 

An ability to counter helicopters could prove critical to Ukrainian resistance fighters given that Russia is reported by Global Firepower to operate 544 attack helicopters, a massive number given that Ukraine is said to operate just 34 attack helicopters. Famous for their role in destroying Russian helicopters during Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan decades ago, Stingers can fire from vehicles or operate as shoulder-mounted weapons for dismounted units. They can lock in on enemy helicopters with precision targeting and completely destroy aircraft using heat-seeking infrared guidance systems. 

Stinger missiles could prove essential in any kind of urban defense of the capital city of Kyiv, as individual fighters could hide in buildings and on rooftops to target lower flying Russian helicopters and drones from hidden positions. Ukrainian resistance fighters could use buildings, city structures or mountainous terrain to stage attacks on Russian aircraft from more protected positions. 

The shift in German policy is also likely to move Germany much closer to the US and much more intensely invested in NATO. Rahtke’s essay even cited Scholz as indicating Germany is in fact now likely to acquire the F-35

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization