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Blowpipe was a man-portable guided weapon system for unit self-defence in daytime against low-flying aircraft and helicopters. The Blowpipe is a British shoulder-fired air defense missile, similar to the US-manufactured Stinger system, and the Soviet/Chinese SA-7. Instead of an infrared heat-seeking device, the small supersonic missile is guided by radio commands sent to it by its aimer. As opposed to "Redeye" or "Strela," in which a heat-seeking missile flies up the exhaust pipe of the aircraft, the "Blowpipe" [and the Swedish RB-70] can be fired head-on toward an approaching plane.

The weapon sometimes known as a “blowpipe” or “blow gun” is a hollow tube through which darts or hard pellets are propelled by the use of breath. Many blowpipes are produced for the tourist trade as souvenirs and are often ornately carved or decorated. Bagpipes, also known as aerophones, require a constant supply of air to produce a sound. By blowing air through the blowpipe into the reservoir, the piper can squeeze the reservoir under his arm which produces the sound of the instrument. Since the drones play the same note all the time, musicians add embellishments to the songs by playing the melody on a pipe called the chanter.

An operational requirement for a weapon of the general type of the Blowpipe missile developed by Short Brothers and Harland was being studied and Short Brothers and Harland together with other firms in the industry were asked in early 1966 to submit a358W feasibility study. By the end of 1968 the Secretary of State for Defence indicated that the Deparment was still considering whether it required a weapon system of this sort to supplement existing and planned anti-aircraft capability. Among the factors to be taken into account was the outcome of a special technical study of this project which was being carried out by Short Bros. & Harland and associated contractors under arrangements made by the Minister of Technology. A contract for the supply of a substantial quantity of Blowpipe missiles and associated equipment for the Armed Forces was placed with Short Brothers and Harland in September 1972.

The Blowpipe antiaircraft missile can hit subsonic airborne targets only within visual contact. It uses a radio command homing system which, in contrast to antiaircraft missiles with an infrared guidance system, makes it possible to fire on various targets irrespective of the intensity of their infrared emission, and at any aspect. Besides the missile, the system, which is serviced by a single person, contains a launch tube-canister with an aiming unit that includes an optical sight, an infrared device that measures deviation of the missile from the line of sight, a control grip and a radio transmitter. Tracers in the missile's tail section permit automatic tracking of the missile by an infrared device and help the operator visually track the missile's flight.

This system functions in the following manner. The operator visually detects and identifies the target and tracks it with the cross-hairs of the optical sight. When the target enters the missile launch zone, which is determined visually, the operator squeezes the launch trigger. The missile is propelled out of the tube by a booster charge, and after 0.7 sec, 30 m from the operator, the sustainer ignites. An automatic tracking system operating in the initial section of flight guides the missile to the line of sight. An infrared device in the homing apparatus determines the missile's deviation from the line of sight. A control command is generated on the basis of the error angle and transmitted to the missile by a radio command line. The automatic tracking system operates for 2-3 sec. Subsequent guidance of the missile until its contact with target is effected manually. The operator tracks the missile and the target with an optical sight. If the missile deviates from the line of sight, he manipulates a joystick to turn the missile in the appropriate direction until it aligns with the target image.

During the Falklands War, foot soldiers carried the shoulder-fired Blowpipe, designed to hit both high-speed fighter aircraft flying low-level air strikes and helicopters operating in a standoff mode. The supersonic Blowpipe missile achieved its greatest success against Pucarás. More than half the SAM kills were attributed to Rapier and Blowpipe. The balance of SAM kills came from the ship mounted Seawolf, Sea Dart, and Sea Cat missiles. The few Pucara sorties generated by replacement aircraft from the mainland were destroyed by Blowpipes and Harriers. As a result, both battlefield interdiction and close air support can be considered ineffective from an Argentine perspective.

The Tower Commission reproduced as an annex to its report a document which showed Colonel Oliver North planning to obtain Blowpipe missiles from Shorts and divert them to the Contras. By 1987 the Government of Afghanistan had put on public exhibition a Blowpipe missile which they said they captured from the rebels in their country. There were by then quite circumstantial reports of Blowpipes being in the hands of Jonas Savimbi and his forces in Angola. But following publication of the Tower Commission report, the United States Government assured the British government that there were no Blowpipes in Contra hands and that there was no US intention to supply Blowpipe to the Contras.

In their efforts to foil the process of Soviet "national pacification" of Afghanistan, by 1988 the USA and its allies in the NATO bloc significantly expanded deliveries of modern weapons to rebel bands, including Stinger, Blowpipe and other missiles. At the April 1986 Battle of Zhawar, a predominantly Afghan Army force overran a major guerilla base on the Afghan-Pakistani border with heavy losses on both sides. The battle was heralded as a major breakthrough for the Afghan army and the be~nning of a new era. As it turned out, however, the DRA forces were so decimated during the battle that the Afghan army was never again able to launch an operation of this size. The Battle of Zhawar also saw the first use of sophisticated Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles by the mujahidin. The small number of Blowpipes, and the more famous Stingers that began to arrive in the late summer of 1986, were too few at that stage to have a material impact on the military balance. But to the Soviet military they were a harbinger of trouble to come: the Red Army's already stretched forces would lose their main advantage of air supremacy.

America's closest NATO partner — Great Britain — was highly active in organizing and conducting subversive activity against Afghanistan. Ignoring Kabul's appeal to begin political dialogue, the military- political leadership of this country has significantly increased deliveries of weapons and ammunition to antigovernment forces. Mercenary aspirations of British imperialism are playing an important role in this. Arms supplied to the dushman by London are generously paid for by currency that finds its way via official and unofficial channels to the accounts of English companies involved in arms production.

In the race for profits, some English companies even violated the country's laws. For example it was reported in the British press in 1988 that Short Brothers and Harland Ltd. was delivering Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles to Afghan dushman in violation of export laws. They were being sold — one would think not without the awareness of the government cabinet — to Oman, Thailand and some other countries.

The shortcomings of the Blowpipe anti-aircraft missile include the impossibility of using it in adverse weather and at night, the limited possibilities for use against maneuvering and high-speed targets, and inadequate protection of radio command transmission lines from interference. For these reasons Great Britain developed and initiated series production of an improved modification of the system — the Javelin. It used a semiautomatic line of sight command guidance system, which reduces the minimum effective range from 600-700 to 300 m and increases guidance accuracy at maximum range. British Army efforts to upgrade air defense assets closely parallelled RAF efforts. Starstreak, a hand-held system and the next step in Blowpipe and Javelin's continuing upgrades, was funded since 1986 and entered service in 1989.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2013 18:39:42 ZULU