Blowpipe was designed by Shorts and was in use with the British Army around 1978 through to about 1985 when it was finally withdrawn from service. In 1986 some of the mothballed units were secretly sent to Afghanistan to help the Mujahideen fight the Russians.
Blowpipe was used by both sides during the Falklands War in 1982. With the targets being fast flying aircraft, flying low and using the ground to hide their approach the Blowpipe teams had about 20 seconds to spot the target, align and fire the unit.
Guidance of the Blowpipe is initially semi-automatic with the missile gathered to the centre of the sight’s crosshairs by the infrared optic atop the aiming unit. Two to three seconds after launch, missile guidance is switched to fully MCLOS mode, and the operator regains full control of the missile.
The operator has to steer the missile all the way to its target manually via a small thumb Joystick. The operator can opt not to use auto-gathering when engaging low flying targets such as helicopters, but then has to super-elevate the launcher to ensure the missile does not hit the ground.
Four flares in the tail of the missile make it visible in flight, first to the infra-red optic, then to the operator.
Detonation is either by proximity or contact fuse. In emergencies, the operator can end an engagement by the operator shutting off the power to the transmitter with the system switch, after which the missile will immediately self-destruct. The aiming unit can then be removed from the empty missile container and fitted to a new round. (source)
A British officer compared using the weapon to ‘trying to shoot pheasants with a drainpipe.’ The official report stated that of the 95 missiles fired, only 9 managed to destroy their targets and all of these were slow flying planes and helicopters. A later report indicated that only 1 kill could be attributed to Blowpipe. The poor performance led to it being withdrawn from UK service.
It was reported that much of weaponry handed or sold to the Mujahideen during that conflict was used against the very countries that supplied it a some years later (see right)