The Army Is Now Firing Stinger Missiles From A Javelin Launcher

We now have our initial look at a demonstration of a Stinger short-range heat-seeking surface-to-air missile fired from a portable launcher originally designed for the Javelin anti-tank missile. In tests, the combination of Javelin launcher and Stinger missile has been used to destroy an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) target, although, ultimately, the system will be able to take on a range of air and ground threats, providing improved engagement capabilities for the Stinger.

While the first imagery of the Stinger being fired from a Javelin Lightweight Command Launch Unit, or LWCLU, has only recently become available and was brought to our attention by Twitter user @MIL-STD , this combination has been undergoing tests since at least September 2020. In March 2021, Raytheon Missiles & Defense first announced it had conducted a demonstration of this capability together with the U.S. Army, but did not release any accompanying imagery at that time. Raytheon, together with Lockheed Martin, is part of the joint venture company that produces the Javelin system and also currently holds the rights to the Stinger.

The March 2021 testing milestone took place at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and involved soldiers from the Mississippi National Guard. The test also made use of a simulated Lockheed Martin AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel battlefield radar, while the UAV target was tracked using Northrop Grumman’s Forward Area Air Defense Command and Control, or FAAD C2, architecture. FAAD C2 is designed to integrate short-range air defense (SHORAD), counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM), and counter-unmanned aircraft systems (C-UAS) systems, from initial detection of a threat through to interception. It is not entirely clear if the newly released imagery is from this particular test, but it seems at least a possibility.

Stinger launch
A screenshot from a U.S. Army video showing a Stinger missile launched from a Javelin launcher in a test related to Project Convergence. U.S. Army U.S. Army

The Eglin test ended with the gunner engaging multiple UAV targets using the Block I-upgraded FIM-92J Stinger PROX missile fitted with a proximity fuse, an adaptation that’s optimized for downing drones and other smaller aerial threats.

Meanwhile, the latest imagery appears to be related to the wider Project Convergence 22 (PC22) initiative, run by Army Futures Command. PC22 focused on joint, multi-domain engagements and involved new and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and autonomy. The overall aim was to improve battlefield situational awareness, connect sensors with shooters, and accelerate the decision-making timeline, the Army said.

According to Raytheon, compared with the original Javelin launcher, the LWCLU can acquire targets at twice the sight range at night and three times the range during the day, regardless of weather conditions.

The LWCLU is also considerably easier to move around on the battlefield, weighing 30 percent less than its predecessor. It’s also cheaper than the original Javelin launcher.

Furthermore, since the launcher can be used against targets in the air and on the ground, it removes the requirement for troops to carry separate Stinger and Javelin launchers, at least in some scenarios:

“Because LWCLU can defeat both land and aerial threats, it’s easier for soldiers to use in complex environments,” said Tom Laliberty, vice president of Land Warfare & Air Defense, a business area of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, in a company statement last year. “It reduces the burden of carrying additional gear.”

And compared to the original Stinger launcher, the LWCLU also offers a host of advantages.

The basic grip-handle launcher provided with the Stinger includes little more than an IFF (identification, friend or foe) antenna, while the simple optical sight is issued separately to the launcher. While a night-vision optical mount is available for the Stinger, this is notably cumbersome. Essentially, the operator is required to visually acquire a target (possibly after receiving a cue over the radio), line it up with the optical sight, wait for the tone, then fire.

Diagram of the Stinger missile and its launcher. U.S. Army

The LWCLU, in contrast, offers an infrared optic as standard, providing superior capabilities in terms of spotting and then tracking targets at increased range and at night.

As for the infrared optics, this is something that has been noted as badly lacking from the majority of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) initially used by Ukraine against Russian airpower. According to a recent report from the  Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank, the Russian Aerospace Forces switched to night attacks in March this year at least partly in response to Ukrainian MANPADS operators lacking night-vision goggles or other optics.

The same launcher can also be networked, including under FAAD C2, allowing the operator to receive data-linked targeting information from a host of off-board sensors, including those operated by different branches of the military. While it’s unclear exactly which third-party sources would generally be available to an LWCLU/Stinger combination, the fact that this is even available as an option is a significant advance over the basic Stinger. Even without additional targeting input, the LWCLU targeting system is far more advanced, including a digital compass and a datalink to a soldier’s tactical radio.

Clearly, a Javelin launcher also able to accept Stinger missiles could be a significant boon for troops in the United States and elsewhere: these two missile families are among the most popular worldwide, with around 20 nations fielding either the Javelin or Stinger, or both.

There are also clear logistical benefits in having a common launcher; requiring only one production effort for some orders would help feed expanded production of both Stinger and Javelin. Looking further ahead, it also gives Raytheon the option of pitching a new missile that similarly slots into the existing LWCLU. On the other hand, the more sophisticated LWCLU may be subject to stricter export controls than the original Stinger launcher, putting it out of reach of some foreign clients.

British Army troops train with the Javelin anti-tank missile:

As an air defense asset, adding Stinger to the LWCLU also makes especially good sense in regard to the growing threat posed by drones — the C-UAS mission that we’ve discussed many times in the past. Even before the war in Ukraine, the proliferation of small and generally low-cost drones used for surveillance and attack was being recognized as one of the most urgent threats faced by U.S. military and other commanders.

While the LWCLU was originally developed as a launcher for the Javelin missile, it’s worth noting it also has an inherent surface-to-air capability — this is something we have discussed before in relation to the use of the Javelin as an anti-aircraft weapon.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only reinforced the requirement for highly mobile and more cost-effective ways of countering these drones, with Russia now employing Iranian-designed ‘suicide drones’ on a significant scale, to attack Ukrainian energy infrastructure, population centers, and other key targets.

Video purportedly showing a Ukrainian S-300 long-range SAM failing to intercept a Shahed-136 drone:

It’s highly possible that the LWCLU might be able to fire other kinds of SAM in the future, too.

After all, the U.S. Army has already indicated it wants to start developing a Stinger replacement, with the goal of testing a prototype design by the end of Fiscal Year 2023 and putting a weapon into production no later than Fiscal Year 2027.

While that’s an ambitious target, it’s no secret that the service considers the basic Stinger obsolescent, while transfers to the Ukrainian military mean that the stockpile of these weapons is fast diminishing.

The Army’s planned Stinger successor is known as Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (M-SHORAD) Increment 3.

A Marine from the 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion fires an FIM-92 Stinger missile at a target during training at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. U.S. Marine Corps

Once again, the requirement for the M-SHORAD Increment 3 missile calls for a weapon that’s capable of defeating Group 2-3 Unmanned Aircraft Systems, as well as more conventional fixed-wing and rotary-wing threats. Group 2 UAS includes drones with a maximum weight of between 21 and 55 pounds and a ceiling of up to 3,500 feet. Group 3 covers drones weighing up to 1,320 pounds and with a ceiling of up to 18,000 feet. In both cases, the upper-speed limit is 250 knots.

M-SHORAD Increment 3 would seem to be an obvious choice to integrate with the LWCLU, as well as other launchers, including vehicles, although the request for information only states that it “must be capable of integration with the Stinger Vehicle Universal Launcher (SVUL)” and “must be a soldier-portable All-Up-Round (AUR).”

Either way, it seems the Army wants the new missile to be readily compatible with existing man-portable launch units, which would seem to suggest it could also be integrated with the LWCLU.

Earlier this year, the Army confirmed that the Stinger was only in low-rate production for foreign customers, according to Defense News.

There is, however, the possibility that large-scale Stinger production might resume, to help replenish the stocks that have been eaten into by transfers to Ukraine as well as by more regular depletion through training, test and evaluation, and time-expiry. Raytheon also seems to be very aware of the fact that the success of the Stinger (and Javelin) on the battlefields of Ukraine means there is, for the time being at least, an almost insatiable demand for both these weapons.

Were large-volume Stinger production to resume, the ability to have some of these missiles deployed with LWCLUs would potentially mean that only the missile round itself would need to be manufactured, and not the original grip handle with which the Stinger was issued. However, the basic Stinger launcher will likely remain in demand due to its greater portability, compared with the bulkier (and almost certainly costlier) LWCLU.

In the meantime, having LWCLUs that are capable of firing both their familiar Javelins and existing stocks of Stingers does at least help address the demand for day and night advanced short-range air defense capabilities that are being keenly felt across the U.S. military, as well as further afield.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.