COUNTER TERRORISM: Potential MANPADS Boom on Black Markets (Update)

March 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

Libyan Fallout

An SA-7 heat seeking missile in action during the Cold War. (Defense Department photo via Wikipedia)

An SA-7 heat seeking missile in action during the Cold War. (Defense Dept. photo via Wikipedia)

Forget rising oil prices, defense analysts say fallout from the unrest in Libya could include more small arms flooding the black market – including portable heat-seeking missiles capable of shooting down an airliner, the New York Times reports.

Besides the assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns and ammunition taken by rebels from the captured armories and supply depots of the embattled Qaddafi regime, the Times says photos indicate some civilians are carrying around Soviet-era missiles like the Strella SA-7.

The fear is that more sophisticated shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADS (for Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) could wind up in the hands of terrorists, after years of non-proliferation efforts to collect and destroy what the U.S. State Department calls a “serious potential threat to global civilian aviation.”

MANPADS are an attractive weapon for terrorists and irregular armed forces because they are light, easy to conceal, widely available and relatively cheap, according to a June 2010 report by the Federation of American Scientists

The U.S. has destroyed more than 32,000 MANPADS in 30 countries since 2003, the State Department says The U.S. Homeland Security Department explored – but never deployed – a number of counter-MANPADS technologies for commercial airliners in the years after the 9/11 terror attacks, particularly after two missiles were fired at an Israeli charter airliner in East Africa in 2002 and one struck a civilian cargo jet over Baghdad in 2003. There was no loss of life in either incident.

While military aircraft have long had countermeasures to blind or confuse the infrared seeker mechanism of a MANPADS that focuses on the heat coming from an aircraft engine, similar technology was tested but ultimately rejected for U.S. commercial airline fleets as too expensive to install, too difficult to maintain — especially at foreign airports — or as too much of a drag on fuel efficiency, thus driving up operating costs. A RAND study in 2005 projected that it would cost as much as $11 billion to equip all U.S. commercial carriers with MANPADS countermeasures, and another $2.1 billion a year in operating costs.

So we found it interesting that the Fiscal 2012 defense budget seeks $21.4 million for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to continue developing Excalibur, a lightweight defensive laser weapon, to protect unmanned aerial vehicles and other low-flying aircraft from next generation MANPADS.

Times reporter C.J. Chivers updated his original story on a Times Blog site.


Entry filed under: Africa, Aircraft, Homeland Security, Iraq, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Unmanned Aircraft, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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