Man-Portable Air Defence Systems
* denotes membership of the Wassenaar Arrangement export control regime for conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies
An estimated 105 countries have MANPADS in their weapons inventories.14 In a May 2004 report, the US Government identified at least seventeen countries whose security over their MANPADS stockpiles raised concerns. These countries included Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and Serbia. Total stockpiles of MANPADS in these seventeen countries are believed to number in the tens of thousands, according to the State Department.15
Destruction of known stockpiles of militarily obsolete or otherwise unwanted missiles contributes to counter-proliferation efforts. For example, the US has funded MANPADS stockpile destruction programs in Cambodia and, with NATO, in Serbia and Montenegro.16
The illicit proliferation of MANPADS can occur through:
• theft from manufacturers
• transfers from states to non-state actors
• loss or theft from state stockholdings
• loss of inventory control due to state collapse
• illicit transfers by black market arms dealers.
In total, the US Government estimates that ‘a few thousand’ MANPADS might be outside of government control around the world (though these are not necessarily functional). Thousands more MANPADS are in the inventories of countries that do not have the resources to impose sufficiently strict export controls, physical security or inventory controls. As such, they are at risk of being stolen or channelled into the hands of non-state actors.
The US State Department estimates that at least nine non-state actors, including al Qaeda, have obtained MANPADS at various times.17
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, MANPADS in several former Soviet-bloc inventories were surplus to requirements. While some stocks were destroyed, others made their way into the black or grey markets. Black market transactions generally include small numbers of MANPADS stolen by individuals from state inventories. MANPADS have also been transferred illegally from states to non-state actors. Black markets have been identified in countries and regions in or around war zones including Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Lebanon, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and a number of African countries, including Rwanda and Somalia.18
The grey arms market can apply to both legal and illegal arms transfers. Illegal transfers include those to countries subject to international sanctions or non-state end users—such as terrorist groups. ‘Grey arms’ can also refer to outwardly legitimate state-to-state transfers, facilitated by licensed arms dealers, the details of which are not immediately known to the reporting agency.
Although government to government, some deals may not meet international best practice standards of licensing and documentation. These sales can result in MANPADS in the possession of states without the means or will to control them properly. Some African states have been involved in grey market sales, and one such arrangement may have led to the missiles used in Mombasa ending up in the hands of terrorists.
Since the implementation of the Wassenaar Arrangement Elements for the Export Controls on MANPADS (2003 and amended in 2007), there has been increased regulation in reported MANPADS deals.19 These measures have largely affected the sale of modern MANPADS systems such as the Russian SA-24 MANPADS. Other bodies, such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe—which provides advice and assistance in the control and disposal of surplus arms and ammunition, and the United Nations, have emphasised the danger presented by unregulated MANPADS.
MANPADS-producing countries—most being Wassenaar Arrangement members—subscribe to enhanced controls over exports. The remainder (including China) either have their own controls which are similar to Wassenaar controls, or have been engaged through Wassenaar Arrangement outreach programs (see Chapter Five). State collapse can also lead to proliferation. Prior to the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s forces in 2003, Iraq had a large inventory of MANPADS. Many of those were issued to security forces before the collapse of Saddam’s regime, or were looted from armouries and have passed outside of state control. This is a major source of the MANPADS missiles that have been fired at coalition or contractor aircraft since then.20 Similarly, MANPADS in the possession of the Taliban and other Afghan factions before the coalition invasion of Afghanistan were outside any rigorous control regime. Some of the missiles have been recovered or destroyed by coalition forces, but many remain outside of state control and firings against coalition aircraft have been commonplace.21
Chapter Three: MANPADS and civilian aircraft
As noted in the previous chapter, there are potentially thousands of MANPADS that are outside of official stockpiles. Many are older, less effective models and some are likely to be unserviceable today. This chapter will review the attacks that have occurred, and consider appropriate measures to lower the likelihood of future attacks and lessen the potential impact.
It is important to keep the threat from MANPADS in perspective. Attacks have been rare worldwide and almost exclusively confined to war zones. Even then, not all attempted attacks have resulted in a hit and not all hits bring down an aircraft.
MANPADS have been described by the UN as a ‘weapon of mass effect’, recognising that a credible threat of a terrorist attack is enough to affect public confidence and willingness to use civilian aviation.22 Civilian aircraft can be protected from MANPADS attacks using countermeasures. Military aircraft have carried such systems for some time but it is expensive to transfer that technology to civilian aircraft. However, technical countermeasures are only one part of a layered security approach to defeat and deter the threat posed to civil aviation posed by MANPADS. Other measures may include non-proliferation, intelligence gathering, stockpile management and airport security.
History of attacks and attempts
MANPADS attacks on civilian aircraft have occurred sporadically over the last thirty-five years. In total there have been around fifty attacks, resulting in the loss of over thirty aircraft and over 800 lives. As we know from the 2002 Mombasa attack discussed earlier and from other examples, not all attacks are successful.
Table 3 provides a summary of MANPADS attacks on civilian aircraft over the last forty years.23
Source: Study by QANTAS Group Security, 2007. Note that attack statistics vary between sources,
due in part to the difficulty of distinguishing the nature of some attacks.
The map below shows the distribution of attacks around the globe and by decade. In the 1970s, attacks occurred in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where various conflicts were taking place. In the 1980s, many attacks occurred around Afghanistan, where MANPADS were in use by Mujahideen resisting the Soviet invasion or in Saharan Africa, where various conflicts occurred. The 1990s saw attacks move to the Middle East and former Soviet satellite states Georgia and Azerbaijan, coincident with the Gulf War and Chechen conflict respectively. Unstable states in Africa such as Angola, Rwanda, Congo and Sudan have been the location of many attacks over the entire time period.
Source: Study by QANTAS Group Security, 2007
By far the highest operational risk of MANPADS attack on aircraft is in war zones or places of conflict, where weapons are much more readily available, and the environment exhibits high levels of confusion, often allowing armed militants to move freely. However as the Mombasa incident shows, attacks can also occur in more peaceful locations.
Survivability of civilian aircraft
Military aircraft are designed to manoeuvre more aggressively than civilian aircraft. They are also required to be able to absorb battle damage and return to base. However, the survivability of jet-powered civilian aircraft from MANPADS attacks is high even without the defensive and avoidance capabilities of military aircraft. Many civilian aircraft designs have the inadvertent benefit of being less vulnerable to total destruction from a MANPADS hit than military aircraft, which frequently have the engines and ‘hotspots’ as a proportionally higher target surface area.
Engines in many civilian aircraft designs are mounted in pods suspended below the wings, so that damage to one will not necessarily cause damage to the others. Civilian airliners are designed, and certified by licensing authorities, to be able to fly with at least one engine inoperative. Thus, a four-engined aircraft such as a B747 can continue flight after loss of one engine, and a twin-engined aircraft, such as a B737, can operate on one engine. Prudent operation dictates that, in the event of an aircraft losing an engine, a precautionary landing is carried out at the nearest suitable airport. A hit from a MANPADS missile will not therefore necessarily result in the loss of the aircraft.
Hits on civilian aircraft by MANPADS have been infrequent, but a well-documented example of civilian aircraft survivability was provided by a DHL freight-carrying Airbus A300 that took off from Baghdad airport in late 2003. Insurgents fired two SA–7 MANPADS at it, one of which exploded on or near the left wing. The damage resulted in the loss of all hydraulic power to the control surfaces and a fire in the wing that eventually would have probably brought about its failure had the aircraft not been able to return for landing within a very-short period of time following impact.24 However, the crew managed to bring the aircraft under control to execute an emergency landing. All on board survived.
Aircrew should be able to recover the aircraft in most circumstances following a MANPADS missile impact. However, the initial damage caused by a MANPADS missile could—if corrective actions are not taken—lead to catastrophic failure of major airframe components.
US Air Force transport aircraft have been attacked flying into or out of Baghdad airport by MANPADS. A C–7 Globemaster and a C–5 Galaxy were struck by missiles, but in both cases the aircraft returned and landed safely.25 In March 2007, an Il–76 (a large four-engine Russian-designed transport aircraft) was shot down by a single SA-18 in Somalia.26
Protection of civilian aircraft
In public discussions of MANPADS threats, calls are sometimes made for the introduction of protective countermeasures on civilian aircraft.27 Military aircraft have carried such systems for some time and it seems natural to suggest that civilian aircraft should have the same protection. However, for various reasons, both technical and economic, there are significant difficulties in doing so—retrofitting systems onto existing aircraft may be prohibitively expensive. Since the September 11, 2001 hijackings in the United States, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has instigated a program to investigate the feasibility of fitting civilian airliners with protective technologies.28 The RAND Corporation in the US has estimated that the ten year cost of developing, installing, operating and maintaining such systems could be as much as US$40 billion. Ongoing costs for maintenance would run to US$300,000 per aircraft thereafter.29
There are a number of ways to reduce the threat to civilian aircraft from MANPADS, including by:
• risk mitigation strategies via a coordinated intelligence-led approach
• avoiding airports where the MANPADS threat is highest
• changing the flight paths of aircraft to reduce their exposure on take-off or landing when they are most vulnerable
• increasing the secure zone around airports and/or implement a robust ground patrolling regime
• implementing a technical countermeasure system on aircraft that can decoy or defeat a missile fired at the aircraft.
While all of these measures have their place in a layered defence when the risk of MANPADS attack is high, none is infallible. And all of them have associated costs that make implementation problematic and of questionable benefit in low-risk environments.
Avoiding airports where the MANPADS threat is highest—around war zones for example—is an obvious response, but not always possible. At some stage on the cessation of hostilities, air traffic will resume but the threat may continue. As well, chartered traffic, such as aircraft carrying international negotiators or humanitarian workers, will still be at risk.
Changing flight paths is cheap and straightforward, though not always possible. For example, the threat of MANPADS attack can be reduced by routing take-offs and landings onto runways where security can be more easily maintained. Where geography allows, that could mean making more approaches from the seaward side of airports. While that is not foolproof, because MANPADS can be mounted on boats (as they sometimes are in military applications), it adds another level of complication for a would-be shooter. In times of threat alert, it would also make the job of the security authorities easier, since a vessel in the threat zone would be much more visible than a would-be shooter hiding in an urban area or in a nearby forest or jungle.
Securing and expanding an airport perimeter is not easily done in major cities. As noted in Chapter 1, the threat footprint is measured in hundreds of square kilometres. There would be a major social and economic cost to expanding the perimeter of an airport that is embedded in a suburban area. For that reason, a threat assessment of the areas surrounding an airport is crucial, as it allows law enforcement to target launching zones which present the highest risk to air traffic.
The more sophisticated sensors and software of modern missiles make them less susceptible to simple countermeasures. Countermeasure systems need to be more sophisticated, and capable of operating in a variety of settings against a range of potential missile threats. That drives up the cost and complexity of protection systems. Commercial airlines tend to be supportive in principle but concerned at the impact of increased costs.
Civilian airline representatives in the US and the International Air Transport Association have been working closely with the Department of Homeland Security and US defence industries on the development of low cost, low maintenance adaptations of the sophisticated military technical counter measures. The technology may provide viable future solutions.
The false alarm rate of existing countermeasure systems also creates a problem. While acceptable in many military settings, a false alarm on an aircraft approaching or departing a major airport creates a dilemma for air traffic control. Until the alarm is resolved—which may not be possible other than by physical inspection of the entire airport area—all other traffic would be put on hold or diverted to another airport.
Finally, no solution will be infallible in dealing with a missile that has already been launched. Any countermeasure systems have to be backed up by ongoing efforts to prevent the illicit proliferation of MANPADS to terrorists and non-state actors through strengthened export controls and secure stockpile processes.
Chapter Four: The cost of a successful MANPADS attack
Since 2001, we have witnessed a number of terrorist attacks around the world that have had major impacts on the psychology and economic interests of target nations.
The direct cost to a civilian airline of the destruction of an aircraft by a MANPADS missile would be very high. The replacement of a large passenger aircraft would cost upwards of US$250 million,30 while litigation, compensation payments and the economic loss due to death and injury could see the total cost rise to around the US$1 billion mark.31 Flow-on impacts will significantly raise the total cost.
Additionally, there is potential for collateral damage, and resultant costs should an aircraft crash into a populated area, leading to the deaths of people on the ground, and the destruction of buildings/infrastructure.
The total cost of a MANPADS attack would consist of a number of components, including: 32
• deaths of passengers and people on the ground (impact site)
• destruction of property and infrastructure
• direct cost to airline and passengers
• short-term airport closures
• productivity loss due to reduced seats for travel and/or increased travel times
• impacts on the cost and availability of airfreight space if flight numbers are reduced
• reduced tourism numbers
• longer-term impact on passenger numbers due to loss of confidence
• job losses in airline/tourism industries.
The September 11 2001 attacks in the US caused a fall in international and domestic air travel. It was three years before the industry fully recovered. The biggest impact was in the first year following the attack, with a 10% fall in international travel to and from the United States. In the second year the decline was down to 3% and by year three there was a slight increase in passenger numbers compared to the year before the attack. Without the attack, numbers would have increased steadily over the three year period in keeping with long-term trends.33
The RAND Corporation has estimated that a successful MANPADS attack in the United States would have a significant economic impact. A shutdown of all US airports for a period is estimated to cost US$3 billion during the first week. The flow on effects could rise to more than US$15 billion over the following months.34
Even an unsuccessful MANPADS attack, if reported widely, is also likely to have an economic impact, even though no aircraft is lost. The impact is likely to be less than if an aircraft crashes, but could easily still run into the billions of dollars if significant numbers of tourists decide to opt for other destinations. For example, Kenyan tourism destinations saw a marked downturn in visitors after the 2002 MANPADS attack and near-simultaneous hotel bombing.35
There is little doubt that any nation that depends on air travel and freight for a significant proportion of its economic activity is vulnerable to any disruption to commercial air transport. That is why it is important for the world community to work to minimise the opportunities for successful attacks to occur. International efforts against MANPADS proliferation is part of that effort.
Chapter Five: Counter-proliferation
Australia has been active in promoting efforts to secure global MANPADS stocks and to bolster export controls. Other like-minded countries are also working to promote action to lower the risk of MANPADS attacks against civilian aviation. Due to the transnational nature of MANPADS production and proliferation, a sustained and coordinated international effort is required to address the truly global MANPADS threat.
The international approach aims to prevent the proliferation and illegal trade of sophisticated modern MANPADS, and to effectively manage or reduce existing military stockpiles of MANPADS. Current stocks must be stored securely and be well-accounted for. Obsolete stocks should be destroyed to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. A number of multilateral and regional organisations have taken a proactive approach to the export control and stockpile management of extant MANPADS, and to the destruction of surplus systems.
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