Mistral Low-altitude Surface-to-Air Missile System


In 1977, a technology group formed by the French Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA, French Weapons Procurement Authority) began a study of different short-range gun and missile point defence surface-to-air systems to meet a tri-service requirement for a Very Low-Level Air Defence (VLLAD) system. By 1979 the study had been narrowed to the procurement of a new third-generation missile system to be known as the Sol-Air-Tres Courte Portee (SATCP, surface-to-air very short range). An operational programme index was established that year by the Direction des Engins/Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (Missile Division of the French Weapons Procurement Authority) to develop a weapon common to all three services. Subsequently the SATCP has become known as the Mistral MANPADS (Man-portable Air Defence System). In March 1980, an evaluation trial was held to examine the proposals put forward by five competing firms. These were quickly narrowed down to the projects proposed by the then Matra, Aerospatiale and TDA (formerly Thomson Brandt). In September that year, following further technical and feasibility studies, Matra was named as the firm responsible for developing and producing the MANPADS weapon system. On 1 December 1980, the development contract for the basic man-portable tripod-launched version was placed, naming Matra as the prime contractor. The Societe Anonyme de Telecommunications (SAT, for the homing head), Societe Europeenne de Propulsion (SEP, for the rocket motor), Societe Nationale des Poudres et Explosifs (SNPE, for the solid propellants), SAFT (for the thermal batteries) and Manurhin (for the warhead, safety arming device and missile container-launcher tube) were named as the main subcontractors. Test firings were started in 1983 and the last of the 37 scheduled launches was completed in March 1988. The first production systems were delivered to the French Army and French Air Force during late 1988. After OPVAL trials conducted by the French forces in 1989, Mistral achieved initial operational capability with the three French services in January 1990. Current French Army deployment is to group the Mistral MANPADS launchers in corps-level air defence support regiments. These will each deploy a number of batteries that will comprise four to six sections, each of six launchers and an alert system. The five Force d'Action Rapide (FAR) divisions have their own MANPADS launchers equipped partly with an IFF device. Two FAR divisions, the 6th Light Armoured and the 9th Marine Infantry, were each to have a battery of mobile SANTAL systems but this plan was cancelled because of financial constraints. The French Air Force uses its MANPADS launchers for defence of its airfields.

During the Gulf War, the air defence of the French `Daguet' Division units on the move was assigned to Mistral systems. In September 1996, it was revealed that the New Zealand Army was purchasing the MANPADS system to meet a Very Low-Level Air Defence System (VLLADS) requirement. Deliveries were made towards the end of 1997. The contract, worth $22.75 million, includes 12 launchers, 23 missiles, training simulators and logistic support. The unit equipped is G troop, 43 Air Defence Battery with five launchers. The remainder are in reserve. In April 1997, a $100 million contract was signed between the Hungarian Ministry of Defence and Matra BAe Dynamics for Mistral missiles, ATLAS firing posts and MCP systems.

Description (MANPADS)

The Mistral MANPADS system comprises the missile in its container-launcher tube, the vertical tripod stand, a prelaunch electronics box, a daytime sighting system and the battery/coolant unit. A thermal sight of SAT (Malis) or Pilkington Optronics (MITS 2) for night-time firing and an IFF interrogation, SB14 from Thomson CNI, may be added.
The basic assembly can be broken down into two 20 kg loads - the containerised missile and the pedestal mount with its associated equipment for carriage by the missile team commander and the gunner respectively. In operational use the system will normally be transported in a light vehicle to the deployment area where it will be manpacked to the firing site by the team. The missile is a slim two-stage cylindrical type with a booster motor to eject it from the launch tube and a sustainer rocket motor to accelerate it to its maximum speed of M2.5. Flight control is exercised by movable canard control surfaces located in the weapon's front region. The 3 kg HE fragmentation warhead uses tungsten balls to achieve increased penetration of the target surface and is fitted with both contact and proximity fuzes to ensure detonation. The Matra BAe Dynamics proximity fuze is an active laser type. The cooled passive InfraRed (IR) seeker is derived from technology used on the Matra BAe Dynamics Magic 2 air-to-air missile programme. It has a multi-element sensor with digital processing that allows a full head-on non-afterburning jet combat aircraft to be acquired at ranges of 6,000 m or so and light combat helicopters with reduced IR signatures at ranges of 4,000 m or more. An IR transparent magnesium fluoride pyramidal-shaped seeker cover was used so as to appreciably reduce the drag factor. This increases the Mistral's manoeuvring capabilities considerably during the terminal phase of the flight.

In autonomous mode, the team commander is in charge of liaison with the section fire-control centre, identifying the target and ordering the engagement. The gunner then carries out the firing sequence of target acquisition, system lock on and firing. However, in the French forces, Mistral will be used in a co-ordinated manner, with the firing units being linked by radio, through a weapon terminal, to a platoon co-ordinating centre. The French Army is using the Thomson-CSF Samantha alerting system, while Matra BAe Dynamics is proposing for export, associated with the AIDA terminal, a Mistral Co-ordination Post (MCP) based on the Oerlikon Contraves SHORAR radar. This allows the user to optimise co-ordination and control of a platoon's firing units. At a launch site the firing post is erected first, using its adjustable legs on uneven terrain to level both the attached height-adjustable gunner's seat and the two-handed firing grip. The latter is fitted with a safety lever to avoid accidental operation of the seeker activation lever, a homing head unlocking button to release the seeker from a target which is not to be engaged, a seeker activation lever to initiate battery power, detector cooling and missile gyroscope spin-up and, lastly, a firing trigger. The missile in its container tube is placed on the tripod, linked with the battery/coolant unit, the sighting device and the prelaunch electronics box. The battery/coolant unit supplies the electrical power required by the missile before launch and supplies the coolant necessary to cool the detector cells of the seeker head for lock on. Once initiated, the unit operates for a period of 45 seconds and then has to be replaced, which takes a short time to do. It takes approximately 60 seconds to assemble the Mistral system in the ready to fire state at a firing site.

The target can be designated in one of three ways: by the team commander, using information passed over a radio net from an off-site observation network or visually, by himself, using binoculars; by the gunner using the AIDA cueing terminal bearing designation transmitted by radio from a co-ordination post. Once a target is designated in azimuth the gunner acquires it in elevation and begins tracking it. The aiming reticle is displayed luminously and continuously which allows the gunner to follow the prelaunch sequence. When the gunner depresses his firing trigger, this causes the booster motor to ignite and thus accelerate the missile to a muzzle velocity of around 40 m/s. Before the missile emerges, the motor burns out in order to protect the gunner from blast effects. Once free of the launch tube and at 15 m from the launcher, the booster motor falls away and the 2.5 second burn composite-fuelled sustainer motor fires to accelerate the missile to its maximum speed. The weapon is then guided to the target's exhaust by the onboard passive IR homing system. Maximum total flight time possible is 14 seconds. As soon as a round is fired the expended launch tube is discarded and a new one fitted in approximately 10 seconds. Total engagement time from firing sequence initiation to weapon launch is less than five seconds without early warning of a target and around three seconds if a warning is provided. The single-shot kill probability is claimed to be very high.

ATLAS lightweight twin-round launcher system

The Mistral twin-round ATLAS (Affut Terrestre Leger Anti-Saturation: Advanced Twin Launcher Anti-air Strikes) is designed for use as either a ground or vehicle mount to protect vital points or troops on the move. It comprises a portable launcher operated by one man, with two ready to fire rounds. When used on a vehicle it is possible to dismount the system and quickly configure it for the ground role. The ATLAS system has been sold to Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Cyprus, Hungary and Taiwan.

SANTAL armoured vehicle turret system

For armoured vehicles, the six-round ready to fire SANTAL turret version has been developed (see Self-propelled surface-to-air missiles section for a full description). By late 1997, this system had not been purchased by any country.

Air-To-Air Mistral (ATAM)

For air-to-air use the airborne system is designated the ATAM or Air-Air Tres Courte Portee (AATCP, air-to-air very short range) which uses 70 kg two-round groups of missiles on weapons pylons with internal electronics boxes to arm helicopters. The French Army has bought it for its Gazelle armed helicopters using the TH-200 gyrostabilised roof-mounted gun sight for target designation. It has also been tested on The Boeing Company AH-64A Apache and will arm the French version of the HAP/HAC Tigre. The definitive ATAM system entered French Army service in June 1996. By late 1997, three squadrons of ATAM-equipped Gazelles will be operational, with several additional helicopters attached to the training units.

The launch envelope in the air-to-air role is said to be from ground level up to 4,650 m at ranges from 600 to 5,500 m. The launch sequence, from target acquisition, seeker lock on and firing takes just over four seconds. The laser proximity fuze is used to engage targets flying at altitude whilst the impact fuze is used against low altitude where other obstructions, for example trees, could set off the proximity fuze. The pilot selects the fuzing option after lock on. Apart from helicopters, the ATAM can engage high-speed (up to 490 kt) aircraft.

SADRAL naval system

For naval use, it becomes the 1,500 kg six-round Systeme d'AutoDefense Rapprochee Anti-aerienne Legere (SADRAL, light short-range anti-aircraft self-defence system) for use on surface ships of all sizes. This version has been adopted by the navies of Abu Dhabi, Finland (using a derivative version), France, Qatar and Thailand.

SIMBAD lightweight twin-round naval system

This is a navalised lightweight twin-round launcher designed primarily for installation on various types of smaller vessels, logistic vessels and support ships to provide them with a degree of autonomous anti-aircraft self-protection. The SIMBAD system can be fitted to any type of 20 mm cannon mounting and has been ordered by Cyprus, France, Indonesia, Norway, Singapore and two South American countries.

Mistral Co-ordination Post (MCP)

The MCP is designed to be used with Mistral MANPADS or ATLAS firing units to defend the rear areas of infantry, artillery or Vital Point units. It maximises the attrition rate of attacking aircraft, even during saturation raids, thereby considerably reducing the overkill. The MCP also avoids the firing of weapons at out of range targets and maximises the safety of friendly aircraft. It is essential for night operation.
The system is based on existing equipment and comprises:

(a) a SHORAR surveillance radar from Oerlikon Contraves Italiana with IFF
(b) a command post station for one operator
(c) a co-ordination terminal for each MANPADS or ATLAS firing unit (AIDA)
(d) a communications network to transmit two-way voice and data in TDMA
(e) a command system to communicate with the next higher command echelon.

The system (with the exception of the co-ordination terminals) is built into a small, highly mobile air transportable wheeled vehicle and can co-ordinate up to 11 firing posts. The MCP has been sold to Hungary.

Type: 2 stage, low altitude
(missile) 1.86 m
(container-launcher tube) 2 m
(missile) 0.0925 m
Wing span: 0.2 m
(missile (launch)) 19 kg
(container-launcher (with missile)) 24 kg
Propulsion: solid fuel ejector rocket motor with solid fuel sustainer rocket motor
Guidance: infrared passive homing
Warhead: 3 kg HE fragmentation (1 kg HE) with contact and active laser proximity fuzes
Max speed: M2.5
Max effective range: 5,000-6,000 m depending upon target type
Min effective range: 300 m
Max altitude: 3,000 m
Min altitude: 5 m
Launchers: man-portable or vehicle-mounted single-round disposable, vehicle-mounted twin-round disposable

Status :

In production (12,500 + rounds ordered since series production started in 1989 by 33 different armed forces in 21 countries: eight in Europe, seven in Asia, three in the Middle East and three in South America. It is also being assessed by several other countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East). Pakistan Air Force and Navy operates MANPADS

COMPANY NAME : Matra BAe Dynamics, Matra Defense and Space Division (Prime contractor and system integration)