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Sunday, May 30, 1999 Published at 02:32 GMT 03:32 UK

World: South Asia

The Stinger: Lethal and feared

Stinger: Used by the US, its allies and many others

A US-made Stinger missile has been attributed with downing at least one of three Indian aircraft destroyed during hostilities in Kashmir over the last five days.

Kashmir Conflict
The Stinger, and similar portable, shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), pose one of the most feared threats to ground-attack aircraft.

Nowhere has this been more clearly demonstrated than in the Kosovo conflict.

[ image: Three Indian aircraft have been shot down]
Three Indian aircraft have been shot down
Nato commanders have repeatedly stated that they enjoy complete air superiority and can strike at any part of Yugoslavia at any time.

But concern over these missiles' ability to inflict allied casualties has prevented low-level attacks against Yugoslav ground forces in Kosovo.

The BBC's Defence Correspondent Mark Laity says: "The safest way to operate is at medium to high levels, which would be 15,000ft plus."

Lethal weapon

The infra-red, heat-seeking Stinger has a relatively short range of approximately 4km but within that range it is lethal.

[ image: The Mujahedeen: Used the Stinger to great effect]
The Mujahedeen: Used the Stinger to great effect
Its sophisticated sensors enable it to home in on an aircraft's most vulnerable areas, increasing the likelihood of lethal strike - the Stinger that brought down an Indian attack helicopter on Friday killed all four crew members.

It can also distinguish aircraft from flares and other "background" factors that could draw missiles away from their targets.

The missile has "fire and forget" navigation, which means the launch crew stands a much better chance of escaping undetected because an aircraft cannot track a guiding signal back to its source.

The supersonic weapon was used by mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan, where it is believed to have accounted for at least 250 Soviet aircraft.

French Mirage downed

Manufacturers Hughes Missiles (Raytheon) say the Stinger is - officially at least - "used by all four US armed forces and 18 allied nations".

Similar Soviet-manufactured weapons are also in use globally, most notably the S/A 7 Grail, S/A 16 Gimlet and S/A 18, which are all thought to be in service with the Yugoslav military.

These are single-shot, shoulder-launched missiles similar to the Stinger and the UK-made Blowpipe and Javelin.

The SA-16s and 18s are the latest and most capable of the class, with the widest range.

During Nato's two-month air assault in Bosnia in 1995, a French Mirage 2000 jet was downed by a missile of this type.

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