Finnish Army Buys More RBS-70 MANPADS

RBS-70, Australian Navy

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The domain of man-portable air defense missile systems (MANPADS) has 4 major competitors around the world. Saab’s RBS-70 is used by 18 countries, and Finland continues to raise its order. Sweden’s Nordic next-door neighbor uses the RBS-70 in 2 modes: as a dispersed, soldier-carried system, and as a vehicle-mounted VSHORAD system

2009 purchase will complement these dispersed, short-range RBS-70 systems with a wider air defense net based on Sentinel radars, and ground-launched AMRAAM missiles. This combination is intended to make Finland’s airspace dangerous enough to deny enemies full air dominance, while its difficult terrain and mobile land forces bleed any future invasion until it quits. If that strategy sounds improbable, recall that Finland forced Stalin’s Russia to settle for a qualified draw in the 1939 Winter War, when Hitler’s ally attacked Finland per the terms of theMolotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

The RBS-70

Man-portable, sorta
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Unlike competitors such as Raytheon’s FIM-92 Stinger, MBDA’s Mistral, or KBM’s SA-18 Igla, the RBS-70 is an ‘unjammable’ laser beam-riding missile with no seeker head at the front. The RBS-70 is a bit heavy for shoulder firing, and is handled from a tripod. The system can be carried in its component parts by 3 infantry soldiers. Target acquisition includes an IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) phase, but once fired, the missile locks on and vents its propulsion exhaust through the mid-section. This allows the laser beam riding system to fit in the tail, where it is extremely difficult to jam.

Its entry adds that the RBS-70 Mk 2 uses the Linear Quadratic Method based on the Kalman Theory for missile guidance, whereupon it delivers a 1-2 punch using a shaped charge surrounded by more than 3,000 tungsten pellets.

The Bolide missile is an RBS 70 Mk 2 upgrade that is faster (Mach 2 vs Mach 1.6), with a range up to 8 km (4.8 miles), an adaptable proximity fuse that gives it full effectiveness against a wider variety of targets, and new reprogrammable electronics. The 4th generation system incorporates the BOLIDE all-target missile, BORC clip-on thermal imager, a digital IFF Interrogator, a PC-based training simulator, and an external power supply for training. These improvements reportedly allow the RBS-70 Bolide to be deployed against surface targets as well, which makes it an especially interesting choice for naval use given the proliferation of small fast attack boat threats.

In a complete air defense system configuration, up to 9 RBS-70 firing tripods can be connected to a surveillance radar like Ericsson’s Giraffe 75, enabling all C3I functions. If the missile firing positions are set 4 km apart, the resulting networked VSHORAD (Very SHOrt Range Air Defense) battery protects an area of 175 square kilometers. A number of radar options are available for the RBS-70, including automatic threat evaluation, autonomous operations, et. al.

RBS-70 Bolide, cutaway
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Beyond Sweden, RBS-70 sales have been made over the years to Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Norway, Pakistan, Singapore, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. All together, Saab says that more than 16,000 missiles have been produced over 4 product generations.

In the last 3-4 years, the Australians have retired their Rapier systems in favor of the RBS-70 system (SEK 600M, incl. SEK 150M for 170 new Bolide missiles). Lithuania received RBS-70 missiles as a gift from Norway to protect critical infrastructure like the Ignalina nuclear plant, whileLatvia (ex-Swedish launchers, unspecified missiles for SEK 185M) and the Czech Republic (SEK 204M, 16 launchers & 200 missiles) have also purchased the RBS-70.

Beyond confirmed customers, The SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) “Register of the transfers of major conventional weapons from Sweden 1995-2005” [PDF] also lists Mexico (100 missiles, supplier uncertain in 1993) and Thailand (85, in 1996 & 2001) as having these missiles in inventory. adds Venezuela’s Air Force, and the FAV Club site claims that an RBS-70 was successfully used to shoot down an OV-10 during a 1992 coup attempt.

Contracts & Key Events

RBS-70 fired from
ASRAD-R test vehicle
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Jan 27/10: Saab announces a SEK 260 million (about $35.6 million) follow-on contract for further RBS-70 deliveries to the Finnish Army. First deliveries under the new contract are scheduled for 2011. Saab Group.

Jan 7/10: Germany’s Rheinmetall Defence Electronics has commenced an arbitration process against Finland, concerning the delayed delivery of its anti-aircraft defense system to the Finnish Defence Forces. Finland’s MoD says that this is the first time that arbitration has been filed against the Finnish Defence Forces, and adds that they see the allegations as groundless. Finnish Forsvarsministeriet.

Jan 18/07: Saab Bofors Dynamics announces a SEK 600 million (about $85.4 million) contract for the RBS-70 short-range, man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) with the Finnish army, including missiles and maintenance equipment. First delivery is expected at the end of 2008, and the order secures production of the RBS-70 until 2010. Saab release.

Aug 6/02: Finland signs a contract for an unspecified number of RBS-70 MANPADS, and 18 ASRAD-R mobile systems, with a coalition that includes Saab Bofors Dynamics, Germany’s STN ATLAS (nowpart of Rheinmetall) and Ericsson Microwave Systems (now part of Saab Group). These systems will include the new RBS-70 BOLIDE missiles, and a new RBS-70 night sight. The ASRAD-R systems will be mounted on Unimog 5000 trucks. First deliveries were in 2004, and were completed in June 2008.

STN ATLAS was the prime contractor for the EUR 120+ million contract, of which about EUR 30 million was for Saab Bofors Dynamics’ share. Saab Gro


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