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FIM-92 Stinger in Afghanistan. How Soviet Spetsnaz managed to capture first working model

By the mid 80s, Soviet aviation felt pretty comfortable in the skies of Afghanistan. The accumulated experience was used to both enhance the aircraft and to teach new generation of pilots. The anti-aircraft capabilities of the Mujahedeen were poor and mostly consisted of machine guns. Although some of these weapons were multiple barrel solutions, they were outdated and held little capacity against modern helicopter and jets.

Everything has changed dramatically when the Afghan opposition received first FIM-92 "Stinger". Suddenly, the Afghan sky became way more hostile place for the Soviet aviation. The new weapon was also too praised to be easily picked up on a battlefield - Mujahedeen have developed tactics to avoid such situation. But this was exactly the task for the Special Forces, and so the GRU were called for the mission.

FIM-92 Stinger in Afghanistan

Operation "Cyclone"

The first "Stingers" appeared among the ranks of Afghan Mujahedeen in September of 1986, after a CIA special operation designated "Cyclone". Soviet aviation of the joint contingent of Soviet troops at the time had long been a headache for Afghanis. Helicopters unexpectedly attacked militants’ caches and troops during firefight. They were also used to landed tactical units into problematic areas and, most importantly, destroyed caravans with weapons and ammunition coming from Pakistan. Due to the actions of Soviet pilots, many gangs in Afghanistan were on ammunition and equipment rations, and military cargo intended for them burned in the desert and on mountain passes. The White House considered that supplies of modern MANPADS to militants would force Soviets to curtail flights and the USSR would lose air superiority.

FIM-92 Stinger in Afghanistan

At first, the Stingers became an extremely unpleasant surprise for Soviet helicopter pilots. In just the first month of using MANPADS, militants shot down three Mi-24s, and by the end of 1986, the USSR lost 23 aircrafts from ground fire. The new weapon forced the Soviet command to completely reconsider the tactics of using army aviation. Helicopter crews have since flown at extremely low altitudes to avoid being captured by the missile's homing head. But this made them vulnerable to heavy machine guns. It was clear that the new tactics were only a half-measure.

Ambush at the airfield

To effectively counter the emerging threat, it was necessary to carefully study samples of new MANPADS. Firstly, it was essential to understand the principle of their operation. As a bonus, it was beneficial to prove the direct support of the Mujahadeen from the CIA. The GRU special forces announced a full-scale hunt for the "Stinger". The first person to obtain the launch tube was promised to immediately and without further ado be awarded the Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. But many months of reconnaissance activities did not produce results - the Afghans cherished MANPADS and developed complex tactics for their combat use.

FIM-92 Stinger in Afghanistan

This is how the head of the Afghan Intelligence Center of Pakistan (1983-1987), General Mohammad Yusuf, described the successful attack in the book “The Bear Trap”:

“About 35 Mujahideen secretly made their way to a small hill, located just one and a half kilometers northeast of the runway of the Jalalabad airfield. The fire crews were within shouting distance of each other, located in a triangle in the bushes, since no one knew from which direction an aircraft may appear. We organized each crew in such a way that three people fired with the other two held containers with missiles for quick reloading. Each of the Mujahideen selected a helicopter through an open sight on the launcher, the friend-or-foe system signaled with an intermittent signal that an enemy target appeared in the action zone, and the Stinger captured thermal radiation from the helicopter engines with its guidance head. When the leading helicopter was only 200 meters above the ground, Gafar commanded: “Fire”. One of the rockets fell without exploding just a few meters from the shooter. The other two hit their targets, two more missiles went into the air, one hit the target successfully, and the second missed, although very close, since the helicopter had already landed."

The Mujahadeens used the tactics of mobile sabotage reconnaissance anti-aircraft groups - small detachments that secretly operated near Soviet airfields. Weapons and ammunition were delivered to the launch point in advance, often with the help of local residents. It was difficult to counter such attacks without knowing the technical features of the anti-aircraft missiles used. Surprisingly, the special forces managed to capture a functioning MANPADS by pure chance.

First FIM-92 Stinger - captured by luck!

On January 5, 1987, a reconnaissance group of the 186th separate special forces detachment under the command of Major Evgeniy Sergeev and Senior Lieutenant Vladimir Kovtun went on a free hunt in two Mi-8 helicopters. The special forces planned to check the suspicious “green zone” near Kalat on the road to Kandahar and, if necessary, destroy the detected enemy targets. The helicopters were flying at an extremely low altitude and literally collided nose to nose with three militants on motorcycles.

Kovtun fired at the enemy group with his machine gun, marking their position for the rest of the unit. Both helicopters made a short landing, the scouts dispersed across the area and opened fire on the enemy. A fierce battle ensued. Soon, help approached the Afghans, and one of them ran out from behind the shelter with an oblong package in his hands, trying to run away. He didn't get far - one of the Soviets killed the militant with a well-aimed shot in the head. Other Mujahadeens were also unlucky - GRU special forces destroyed all 16 of them.

FIM-92 Stinger in Afghanistan

Vladimir Kovtun was the first to discover the treasured FIM-92 Stinger, wrapped in a blanket. A little later his soldiers brought two more “pipes” - one empty and one unfired. But the real jackpot was the bag of one of the Afghans, in which the intelligence officers found complete documentation for the MANPADS. Four intelligence officers were nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. However, as often happens, no one received a high award. As the special forces admitted, it was because of rival relations with high authorities. However, the scouts were not upset: for them such tasks are routine.

As a result of an accidental, but brilliantly carried out military intelligence special operation, Soviet designers received working samples of advanced Western MANPADS. Countermeasures were developed as soon as possible. However, no fool-proof solution was ever found until this day, as became rather obvious in the early days of the Russian invasion into Ukraine.

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