Air Defense: The Unfriendly Skies

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July 1, 2008: Pilots flying into Somalia are being warned that Russian Strela (SA7) portable ground-to-air missiles are in the hands of Islamic radical groups below. These radicals are willing to shoot down any helicopter or aircraft they see.

The SA7 has been around since the 1960s, and is still popular because it remains potent against non-military transports. The SA7 is unable to deal well with decoys or the other types of countermeasures that are so common on military aircraft. The SA7 itself is about 4.6 feet long, weighs 33 pounds and has a max range of 3.2-4.2 kilometers (depending on the model). It can't hit anything above 6,000 feet and has a warhead of 3-4 pounds (again, depending on the model). Against larger transports, it will more likely damage than destroy. But one and two engine commercial aircraft, and helicopters, are very vulnerable.

About 200 SA7s were brought into Somalia from Iran last year, to supply Islamic radicals. A dozen or more of these missiles were fired at transports and helicopters so far. One transport crash landed, while a helicopter was shot down last year. Most of the missiles are still out there, either for sale, or being held for use in the continuing Somali civil war.

Over 50,000 SA7 missiles have been built since the 1960s, and copies of the SA7 design are still produced by some countries (like China), mainly for use by irregular forces. Russian firms offer refurbishment and upgrades for older SA7 missiles.

 


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