Air Defense: July 19, 2003

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: A portable surface-to-air missile was fired at a C-130 landing at Baghdad International Airport last week. The aircraft was not hit and was able to land safely, while troops are searching the area where the missile was believed to have been launched. Meanwhile, in southern Iraq the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force discovered and destroyed eight SA-7 missiles located in the Muhawil ammunition supply point. SA-7 'Strelas' have been found all over Iraq, so it's no wonder they haven't been used more. On June 21, an SA-7 was fired at a C-17 cargo plane as it was landing at Baghdad airport but detonated before it hit the plane. That same month, 70 to 80 missiles were discovered during a Coalition raid 150 kms northwest of Baghdad and in April, 50 more were discovered in a western cache.

The problem of terrorists wielding MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) is global. The Russians also reported on July 15th that at least eight 'Strela' shoulder-fired missile launchers were stolen from the Bolshiye Izhory naval arsenal, outside St. Petersburg. The exact figure will be announced after an investigation is completed, while the initial report didn't say when the theft took place or how thieves may have gained access to the weapons. Earlier reports said that only four of the missile launchers had been stolen.

In November 2002, two 'Strela' missiles just missed an Israeli charter plane after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya, with 271 people on board. US officials believe Al Qaeda launched the attack. Shoulder-fired missiles have been successfully used by Chechen rebels to shoot down Russian helicopters, including three that were shot down in 2002 around the main military air base near Grozny.

Israeli aviation officials are frustrated, since nothing has been done to decrease their planes' vulnerability since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon held a December 25, 2002 cabinet meeting on civil aviation security. A technological solution already exists, since the Israeli firm Elta Electronic Systems had developed and installed a system in a Boeing passenger plane. Israeli experts estimate that 1,000-2,000 passenger planes will have to be outfitted with such a protection system and the potential international market could involve 6,000-7,000 planes, including private jets. The system cost ranges from $500,000 to $3 million, meaning that the market could be worth $12 billion. 

In Sri Lanka, three MI-17 helicopters carrying 90 soldiers and 12 crew members survived a missile attack on 12 November 1997. These missiles had been neutralized by an Elta antimissile automatic system (AMAS) that had been installed in the helicopters. Elta was an Israeli pioneer in the development of missile detection radar systems for helicopters and this was the first report of the existence of such a system outside of Israel. 

After analyzing the types of threats posed by shoulder-fired missiles and their characteristics, Israeli defense officials estimated that terrorist organizations could currently have between 4,000-10,000 missiles in their possession. However, 'Strelas' deteriorate over time and it's been over a decade since the Soviets were passing these out like candy, so how many remain viable is probably substantially less. Actually getting the 'Strela' to hit a target, even on a good day, is an interesting challenge for a trained operator (let alone an adrenaline-fueled amateur terrorist).
However, all it takes is one lucky shot or "golden BB" on a cargo plane full of returning troops or a passenger liner full of tourists to completely ruin one's day. - Adam Geibel

An Iraqi ADA analysis online at:
"Iraq War Note: Iraqi Air Defenses and the Battle of Baghdad
http://www.csis.org/features/030401a_warnote.pdf

 

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