Blowpipe missile was developed by Thales Air Defence Limited and delivered in 1975 to the British military, with a total of 34,382 units being produced. A manportable air defence system (MANPADS), it differed from its contemporaries in two major respects- its unique design shape with oversized frontal section and secondly, its guidance system. It used Manual command to line of sight (MCLOS) rather than the more commonly used IR guidance system as in the U.S. Redeye and Stinger missiles and the Soviet SA-7 Grail missiles.
The frontal section also mounted the integral optics system at its rear. The rear tube section was thinner and more manageable; making up the rest of the launch system. The complete system weighs 22 Kilograms with a length of 4.4 feet and can be launched by a single operator.
The missile guidance was using a MCLOS (“Manual Command Line-Of-Sight”) guidance system that allowed the operator to track the missile to the target via a small controller on the launch unit. It had a 2.2 kilogram shaped charge warhead that could be detonated through either a contact fuse or proximity fuse.
The missile was exported to a number of countries, including Argentina and was used in combat by both the opposing forces during the Falklands War in 1982.
The missile however did not perform well even though the official accounts gave it nine kills to its credit, from 95 launches. Later reports revealed that only two aircraft losses could be credited to the Blowpipe missile- A British Harrier GR3 (XZ972) attacked by Argentine Army special forces (Commandos Company), and an Argentine Aermacchi MB-339 (0766 (4-A-114)) during the Battle of Goose Green.
The performance was so poor that it was compared using the weapon to “trying to shoot pheasants with a drainpipe”. It was particularly ineffective against a ‘crossing’ target or a target moving rapidly away from the operator. Its poor performance led to it being withdrawn from British service.
In 1986, some of the mothballed units were sent clandestinely to equip the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. The system again proved ineffective. During the trails itself, the missile failed miserably. The trails are described as :
Early in the morning the Blowpipe party climed up a prominent peak nearby to set themselves up for the day’s shooting. It was to turn out to be a duck shoot in which the ducks won.
The first Blowpipe missile roared majestically upwards, wide off its mark… in all, thirteen missiles were fired. Not a single missile had hit an aircraft.
A British artillery officer who saw the blowpipe in action in the Flaklands excused its poor performance by saying that at least it frightened pilots into veering off and leaving the firer alone.
(Mohammed Yousaf, Mark Adkin, The Battle for Afghanistan: The Soviets Versus the Majahideen During the 1980s, p 171)
One of the last combat actions was during the Gulf War of 1991 when the Canadians used it for defence of its naval forces in the Gulf. Sadly, nine of the 27 missiles tested misfire. Thankfully, they were not required to be fired in action otherwise the results would have been disastrous for the Canadians. Not surprisingly, it was quickly replaced by Javelin missile by Canadian forces.
The last major combat use was by Ecuador during the 1995 Cenepa War with Peru where it was deployed mainly against Peruvian Mil Mi-17and Mil Mi-18 helicopters.
The Blowpipe is not in service with any major power today though it does make an occasional appearance with non-state actors using it. Its poor combat record notwithstanding, it still poses a threat to unsuspecting aircraft and helicopters around the world.