RBS 70 Mk.1
RBS 70 Mk.2
Country of origin
1 320 mm
Weight with launcher
High explosive dual-purpose
Range of fire
Altitude of fire
Laser beam riding
The RBS 70 is a Surface-to-Air Missile
(SAM) system developed in Sweden by Bofors (now
SAAB-Bofors). It is a Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS), designed primarily for use by personnel such as
infantry and paratroopers, to give them an equalizer against hostile
aircraft and helicopters. It is unique in being the first weapon of
this type to employ laser beam-riding guidance, instead of the
infrared homing guidance system then (and still) prevalent in MANPADS systems.
The development of the RBS 70 began in 1967, in response to a
Swedish military requirement for a MANPADS weapon that could be used
if necessary in extreme arctic weather conditions, with as small a
logistical footprint as possible. Though these demands were
daunting, the first pre-production examples of the RBS 70 were
completed in 1973, and delivered to the Swedish Army later that
year. Exhaustive field trials of these weapons took place in
1974-75, during which over 100 missiles were launched. The weapon
was deemed satisfactory by the Army at the end of these trials, and
the first full production order was placed in June of 1975 for the
RBS 70 and its associated fire control equipment. Following further
development and production, the RBS 70 was declared operational in
The launch tube for the missile is hermetically sealed, and
issued as a complete round of ammunition; it is not meant to be
opened, nor the missile removed. It is a simple cylindrical tube
with broad collars around the muzzle and venturi, a pair of mounting
brackets on the midsection, and two flat disk-shaped covers on each
end. It is issued with two removable octagonal caps on each end,
which double as shock absorbers. An additional oblong-shaped cover
is mounted over the brackets on the base of the tube; this cover
serves as both a shock absorber, and a shoulder pad when the missile
is carried, and is removed by unfastening a pair of nylon straps.
The optional friend-or-foe identification (IFF) unit is carried in an additional box-like metal
The missile itself is cylindrical, with an elongated and
finely-tapered nose, and a boattail-shaped thrust nozzle. A
cylindrical booster is fitted to the base of the missile, which is
no longer attached to the fuselage the time the missile leaves the
tube. Two tandem sets of four fins are located aft, both in a
90-degree crucifix pattern. The forward fins are steeply-swept, with
a distinctive dogtooth leading edge; they are recessed forward into
slots in the missile's outer fuselage and spring-out into place as
it leaves the tube. The aft fins are delta-shaped, and are wrapped
around the missile while its still in the tube, springing-out into
shape as it takes to the air.
Unlike most MANPADS weapons, the RBS 70 is too large and
heavy to be supported entirely by the user's shoulder, and may only
be fired from a tripod. Rather than legs, this tripod has three
stabilizers and a central mast, which rotates through 360 degrees
and also features a simple seat for the operator on the left side.
Located opposite of the seat is a mounting bracket for the IFF
system, contained in a metallic box-like fairing. The mast is topped
by a launch tube, while the face of the mast top is dominated by the
fire control unit.
The fire control unit itself is large, broad, and
rectangular, with a large disk-shaped electro-optical sight window
on the front left side, and bulky rectangular shock absorbers on all
of its corners. The sight window is covered by a rectangular hinged
cover when not in use, both of which are swing away from the window
when the launcher is set up. The eyepiece for the sight is located
on top of the fire control unit on the left side. A distinctive
U-shaped harness (which more than anything else resembles a toilet
seat) is also located on the front of the fire control unit; this
includes two broad shoulder straps and a waist belt, allowing the
operator to carry the fire control system short distances on his
back if necessary.
Information on the composition of the RBS 70 has not been
published in its entirety, but it is clear that its tripod,
guidance module case, and the case of the IFF system are made of
steel, the launch tube body is made of reinforced fiberglass, the
straps and lanyards are composed of nylon, and the shock absorbers
are composed of firm foam rubber. The missile itself is mostly
metallic, with solid fuel rocket motors, but little else is known.
As noted above, the RBS 70 is guided using a laser
beam-riding system. A conical laser beam is emitted from the
electro-optical window of the control module, which is received by a
sensor in the tail of the missile. The missile is able to locate and
travel along the center of the beam, allowing the operator to steer
it into the target using a Semi-Automatic Command
Line-Of-Sight (SACLOS) interface --- in plainer terms, the missile flies
along the axis of the crosshairs throughout the entire engagement,
and simply keeping the crosshairs directly on the target
continuously until the missile reaches it almost guarantees a hit.
Although this guidance method is very simple, it is not
foolproof, and soldiers employing the RBS 70 require considerably
more training than required to operate most infrared-guided SAMs.
For example, traversing the sights too quickly will cause the beam
to steer off the missile faster than the missile can change course
to stay inside it, resulting in guidance being lost. Laser beams are
also subject to blooming and dimming when shone through fog, haze,
clouds, smoke, dust, and so on, sometimes making the RBS 70 more
difficult (or even impossible) to guide under these conditions. When
multiple launchers are engaging targets in the same direction
simultaneously, missiles crossing paths with the wrong laser beams
could also become confused, or even start to follow the wrong beam.
The RBS 70 briefly caused major concern in most of the
world's air arm, as it was billed as a weapon that was impossible to
detect or defeat with electronic counter-measures. It had no
radar that could be confused with chaff and jammers, and no infrared
seeker head that could be led astray by flares. However, not long
after the these advantages emerged, so too did effective
counter-measures; the advent of laser detectors and dazzlers allows
aircraft fitted with them to detect the fire control system's laser
beams, and rapidly burn-out the laser designator used to control the
missile. As such, laser beam riding SAMs no longer have the edge
over more conventional radar, infrared, and radio command guided
weapons that they once did.
The manufacturer's webpage nonetheless states as late as
October 2016, that the RBS 70's guidance is "unjammable". While
technically true, it is irrelevant against a target equipped with
both a laser detection system and an automatic laser dazzler; such
electronic counter measures have been in widespread use on armored
fighting vehicles for decades, and are
rapidly proliferating in aviation use as well. A laser detector
alone would give an aircraft in the crosshairs more than enough time
to foil the missile with an evasive maneuver, and it should come as
no surprise to SAAB-Bofors that combat aircraft could carry these
--- as noted above, the RBS 70 itself has one, which why it can be
guided by laser beams from the ground in the first place.
However, the most serious operational drawbacks of the RBS 70
stem from a combination of both its guidance method *and* it's
large size. It is difficult to guide a SACLOS missile from a moving
platform (for most such missiles, in fact, it is impossible to do
so), so the launcher must remain stationary from the moment the
operator begins to take aim, out to at least when the missile
reaches its target, and the tripod requires lengthy set-up and
take-down times; these present serious drawbacks when using the RBS 70 on a mobile platform, such as a truck flatbed. The size of
the complete system also makes adequate cover and concealment much
more difficult to acquire than a shoulder-launched weapon, making an
RBS 70 team proportionately more detectable and vulnerable, and the
lack of a "fire and forget" capability further increases their
exposure, as does the much larger footprint of personnel and
equipment required to operate the system. For example, a single
soldier armed with the ubiquitous
FIM-92 Stinger can emerge from a
camouflaged bunker, launch a missile at a hostile aircraft, and
immediately return to cover inside of 30 seconds, but a crew of 3
soldiers operating only a single RBS 70 launcher require at least as
long just to haul the launcher and associated equipment and begin to
The sights for the original RBS 70 had a 40° field of view,
which was increased to 57° in the RBS 90 (along with the guidance
beam diameter) and all subsequent models. Attachable night sights
are provided for all models in the form of the A SAAB Vectronics
(now FLIR Systems Inc) clip-on night device, a close loop cooled
infrared imaging device. This night device operates in the 8 micron to
12 micron infrared band range, and is also usable in broad daylight
or in low-visibility conditions other than darkness (such as smoke
or fog, although the effectiveness of thermal sights is degraded in
these conditions), but it only has a 12 x 8° field of view. FLIR
Systems Inc has also recently developed an improved passive thermal
sight for the RBS 70 series, the awkwardly-named BORC, which employs
QWIP (Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector) technology.
The Raytheon Cossor IFF880 digital Identification Friend
or Foe (IFF) system may also be connected to the sights, and when used to
interrogate an unidentified aircraft in the user's sights, it
projects a warning symbol onto the periphery of the sight if the
target's IFF signal returns as friendly or civilian. Multiple
emplaced RBS 70 launchers may also be networked together with a C3I
system centered around a radar site. With the Ericsson Giraffe 75
radar for example, up to 9 RBS 70 launchers with a distribution of
up to 4 km between each launcher can form a battery, and control a
175 km² area of airspace.
The missile is a two-stage weapon, which is ejected from the
launcher and propelled to initial velocity by a cartridge-like solid
fuel booster rocket, which simply falls off of the missile after it
is launched. A larger second-stage rocket motor inside the fuselage
serves as the sustainer; it has two combustion chambers and four
exhaust nozzles on the tail of the missile. The missile leaves the
tube at a velocity of only 50 m/sec, but the sustainer motor
increases its speed to over 500 m/sec approximately 6 seconds after
launch, which is also roughly when the last of the fuel is expended.
The RBS 70 Mk.1 missile attains a velocity of approximately 530 m/sec
at a range of 1.75 km, but the peak velocity data varies with
The RBS 70 is unusual among SAMs, in that it employs a shaped
charge warhead instead of a basic HE-FRAG munition. It will not
detonate until the deactivation of two independent safety
mechanisms, which occurs while the missile is in flight. This 1.1 kg munition
has a hollow charge with a copper charge liner, which is distorted
by the blast into a needle-like penetrator that can pierce armor.
However, this is a High Explosive Dual-Purpose (HEDP)
warhead rather than a more typical High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT)
warhead --- the sides of the hollow charge ogive are lined with some
2 000 to 3 000 3 mm tungsten pellets (the exact number depends on the
variant), which are sprayed off to the sides of the missile when the
charge detonates. This creates an impressive "double threat", as the
warhead's proximity fuze detonates the missile as it passes closely
by an aircraft, showering it with shrapnel, while a nose-on direct
hit will send a shower of copper charge liner spatter through an
offending aircraft's fuselage. It is also quite obvious from this
warheads’ design that the RBS 70 has a competent "dual-purpose"
capability against many ground targets as well. The armor
penetration of the copper penetrator has never been published (nor
apparently estimated by any journalists), but it is presumably
capable of penetrating any armor plates on any lightly-armored
armored fighting vehicle
(for example, an
armored personnel carrier or a
armored scout car). Whether it
can pierce the frontal armor of most main battle tanks is doubtable.
The primary launch platform of RBS 70 is the aforementioned
portable tripod, although it can also be launched from a short mast
fitted to a variety of other platforms. In practice however, the
tripod is used on most vehicles and vessels. A crew of 3 is required
to carry the complete stripped-down weapon system in the field (one
of whom carries one or more missiles), but once emplaced, only the
soldier seated on the tripod is required to operate it.
There are six models of the RBS 70, spread over four
generations. The first-generation model was simply designated
"RBS 70", though today it is often referred to as the "Mk.0" to
distinguish it from later developments. An improved version with an
increased range was introduced in 1990 as the RBS 70 Mk.1, a unique
variant of which with improved optics and guidance (the RBS.90) was
procured exclusively by the Swedish Army. All previous models were
quickly replaced in production and development by the RBS 70 Mk.2
(effectively the third generation), which was introduced in 1995 and
has sweeping improvements that include a much longer range and a
more powerful warhead. The fourth and current generation is the Bolide missile, with radically improved performance, lethality, and
guidance, and was introduced in 2005, replacing the Mk.2 in
development and complementing it in production ever since. An
improved version of the Bolide was unveiled in late 2011 as the
RBS 70 NG, though while the fire control system and information
systems are greatly improved.
The first combat use of the RBS 70 was during the Iran-Iraq
War. Details of the system's performance in that conflict are
scarce, although it is known to have first been deployed by the
Iranian armed forces between January and February of 1987, and that
it took a heavy toll on Iraqi aircraft; out of some 42 fixed-wing
aircraft that Iraq lost to Iranian SAMs, it is said that more were
lost to the RBS 70 than any other SAM. Another example was during
the 1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt, in which an RBS 70
shot-down a rebel OV-10 Bronco on November 27th. However, the
performance of the RBS 70 had also apparently proved wanting in
these conflicts, as indicated by the sudden rush to develop and
introduce the Mk.1, Mk.2, and RBS.90 variants in the early 1990s.
The RBS 70, it
is used by at least 18 nations. Known operators of the RBS 70
include Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile,
the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland,
Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Singapore, Sweden,
Thailand, Tunisia, the UAE, and Venezuela.
In some of these nations, the RBS 70's service life is
nearing its end. Norway has already retired theirs, and as
previously mentioned the Swedish armed forces announced in 2011 that
they intend to replace it in service with a ground-launched version
of the IRIS-T missile --- a stunning reversal, as the IRIS-T is
infrared-guided, and too large to be used as part of a MANPADS
The advent of the RBS 70 NG was also a rather interesting
affair, given its timing; SAAB-Bofors publicly revealed it in
September of 2011, following the aforementioned announcement that
the Swedish Army was planning to replace the RBS 70 with an IRIS-T.
It would appear in this context that the hidden agenda of the RBS 70
NG is to pre-empt the acquisition of the IRIS-T, by undercutting it.
As of late 2016, whether the RBS 70 NG succeeds in this capacity
remains to be seen.
At present, the RBS 70 Mk.2 and Bolide remain in production,
with the RBS 70 NG likely to follow in the immediate future. The
unit cost has not been formally published, but a single Mk.2 missile
is believed to cost about $100 000.
RBS 70: Original production model from 1977. It is sometimes
referred to as the "Mk.0".
RBS 70 Mk.1: Improved RBS-70 with an increased range,
introduced in 1990.
RBS.90: Further development of the Mk.1 introduced in 1991,
with improved guidance and optics, to include a wider-angle laser
and sight, a passive thermal imaging capability, and a fire control
unit that mounts two or three launch tubes instead of one. The
RBS.90 model was developed especially for the Swedish armed forces.
It is also called the RBS 70 Mk.1+.
RBS 70 Mk.2: Successor to the Mk.1 series, with a further
increased range, and increased armor penetration as well. Introduced
Bolide: Further development of the Mk.2 first introduced in
2005, with radically improved performance. The name is often
capitalized as "BOLIDE". Employs the BORC thermal imaging sight, and
has uncooled laser diodes (previous models required Freon coolant).
RBS 70 NG: The latest weapon in the series, the RBS 70 NG
("Next Generation") employs improved sights and optics, and a
telemetry system allowing for improved training and after-action
analysis. The missile itself is apparently the same as that of the Bolide.
Lvrbv 701: The Lvrbv 701 ("Luftvärnsrobotvagn 701") is an
armored, fully-tracked air defense vehicle utilizing the RBS 70. It
utilizes a chassis converted from the retired 1950s-era Ikv 103
self-propelled howitzer. Sweden was the sole user of the Lvrbv 701,
and retired them all by 2000.
ASRAD-R: The ASRAD-R (Advanced Short Range Air Defense System
- RBS) is a turret utilizing a MANPADS missile, Active
Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, and an
infra-red search and track. First demonstrated on an
M113 Gavin chassis, it was adopted by
several nations on a variety of platforms. The missiles used in this
system vary, and include both the
FIM-92 Stinger and the Bolide.
ItO 2005: Mobile air defense system including an ASRAD-R
turret and the Bolide missile system, mounted on a
chassis. Operated by Finland.
ADATS: The ADATS (Air Defense/Anti-Tank System) is similar in
concept to the RBS 70. However, the ADATS uses semi-active laser
guidance, and is not a MANPADS weapon; it fires a significantly
larger and more powerful missile.
Starburst: British MANPADS weapon developed from the Javelin
system, utilizing a laser-beam-riding missile. It is the most
similar weapon system to the RBS 70 in service today.
Starstreak: Further development of the Starburst, with a new
kinetic energy warhead. The manufacturer claims it is the fastest
short-range SAM system ever fielded.
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