More than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by missiles fired from MANPADS – surface-to-air missiles that can be carried and fired by individuals – since the 1970s.
[See also: What are MANPADS?]
The threat to passenger, commercial and military air travel posed by these deadly munitions came to general public attention in November 2002, when terrorists attempted to shoot down a civilian airliner in Mombasa, Kenya.
Since then, the United States has increased its efforts to recover MANPADS abandoned during or after conflict that may be at risk of being acquired by terrorists and other non-state actors.
Destruction of MANPADS is a key objective in a number of MAG’s programmes. We have worked closely with the US Department of State in several countries, including Libya, Sri Lanka and South Sudan, to support this initiative and combat this threat.
When the items are found, the teams will typically try to destroy them immediately. When this is not practical, the seeker head is destroyed straight away, rendering the unit inoperable, and the missile is then securely stored until destruction – in their entirety, or of their heating-seeking heads – at a later date.
MAG has found stockpiles and caches in a variety of locations and environments. In Libya, stockpiles have been located in urban environments and unsecured and damaged Ammunitions Supply Points, and in South Sudan unsecured caches have been found in the bush, abandoned by rebel forces.
In these instances, our experience has found that they are unsecured and therefore pose a serious safety concern. MAG has also been contracted directly to destroy stockpiles of MANPADS in Burundi.
What are MANPADS?
Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) are surface-to-air missiles that can be carried and fired by individuals. They pose an additional threat because they are easy to transport and conceal.
A single successful attack would have a devastating human life toll – plus an emotional and economic effect, as all world communities question their safety in the air.
Most MANPADS consist of:
• a missile contained in a tube;
• a launching mechanism (commonly known as a “gripstock”);
• a battery.
The tubes that protect the missile until it has been fired are disposable. Rudimentary sights are mounted on the tube. A single-use battery is typically used to power the missile prior to launch.