Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems: MANPADS


  • Recently, United States approved a $200-million arms package for Ukraine, which would include US-made Stinger Missiles, which are a type of shoulder-fired Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS). 

  • So far, various types of MANPADS have been sent to Ukraine by Germany, U.S., Denmark, Lithuania and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, which has already sent anti-tank missiles, is also planning to soon ship Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.

What are MANPADS?

  • Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems are short-range, lightweight and portable surface-to-air missiles that can be fired by individuals or small groups to destroy aircraft or helicopters.
  • They help shield troops from aerial attacks and are most effective in targeting low-flying aircrafts.
  • MANPATs or Man-Portable Anti-Tank Systems work in a similar manner but are used to destroy or incapacitate military tanks.
  • Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems can be shoulder-fired, launched from atop a ground-vehicle, fired from a tripod or stand, and from a helicopter or boat. Weighing anywhere between 10 to 20 kilograms and not being longer than 1.8 metres, they are fairly lightweight as compared to other elaborate weapon systems, making them easy to operate by individual soldiers.
  • Operating Man-Portable Air Defence Systems requires substantially less training.

    Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems
    Photo Credit: Reuters
  • MANPADS have a maximum range of 8 kilometres and can engage targets at altitudes of 4.5 km.
  • Most Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems have passive or ‘fire and forget’ guidance systems, meaning the operator is not required to guide the missile to its target, enabling them to run and relocate immediately after firing.
  • The missile stays locked-on to the targeted object, not requiring active guidance from the soldier.
  • The missiles are fitted with Infrared (IR) seekers that identify and target the airborne vehicle through heat radiation being emitted by the latter.
  • MANPADs with active guidance systems or command-guided MANPADS also exist but are less common. These require the operator to guide the missile till it hits the target, meaning they depend on a beam-riding-configuration, wherein the operator paints the target vehicle with a laser beam and and keeps the beam on it till the missile hits. MANPADs with such systems are more difficult to operate and may require a crew.
  • The passive-guidance MANPADs, which do not use a laser beam, are harder to detect by the target’s crew.

When were Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS) used in the past?

  • The first MANPADS were introduced by the United States and Soviet Union in the 1960s. Russian and U.S. MANPADS were also used during the Vietnam war.
  • The U.S. supplied MANPADS to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which the latter used against the Soviet forces.
  • Countries such as India, Pakistan, Germany, U.K., Turkey and Israel have also used MANPADS in their defence efforts. 
  • Russia is by far the biggest exporter of MANPADs, having sold over 10,000 such systems between 2010 and 2018 to various countries including Iraq, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and Libya.

Common variants of MANPADs: Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems

  • The most common make of MANPADs is the U.S.-made Stinger missiles.
    • These weigh about 15 kg, have a range of 4,800 metres or 4.8 km, and can engage low-flying aircrafts at an altitude of 3,800 metres.
    • They have a passive guidance system, which uses infrared technology. Stringers have been sent or are currently being sent to Ukraine by the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. 
  • Stinger’s Russian or Soviet-made counterparts are the Igla MANPADS, which also employ Infrared technology. 
    • They have also been used by India, for instance,  as part of the Operation Trishul Shakti of 1992, during the Siachen conflict.
  • Starstreak, the British army’s equivalent of the Stinger missiles, have also been used in the past.
    • U.K. is formulating a plan to provide Ukraine with a shipment of Starstreaks. Starstreak MANPADs have an active guidance system which uses a laser beam and needs the operator till the missile hits, but they offer a longer range (7 km) as compared to Stingers and are high-velocity systems. 
  • Sweden makes the RBS-70 MANPADS series, which also uses laser beam technology, while China’s version, FN-6, is akin to ther Stinger.

Next Generation Light Antitank Weapon or NLAW 

  • As for anti-tank missiles, NATO countries and U.S. have also sent Next Generation Light Antitank Weapon or NLAW missiles and Javelin missiles to Ukraine, to help target Russian attacks on land.
  • These missiles are also shoulder-fired and equipped with the ‘fire and forget’ technology.
  • While the NLAW uses a ‘predictive line of sight’ guidance method where it calculates the distance and speed of the target on its own, the Javelins use infrared technology which sense the heat emitted from the target.

Source: TH

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