Murphy's Law: The Search For Politically Correct Weapons

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June 17, 2013: Syrian rebels want anti-aircraft missiles. France is willing to oblige but first wants to prevent embarrassing incidents. So France is now openly seeking help in modifying shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles so that they cannot be used to do anything France, or any other missile donor, might regret. Like shooting down an airliner full of civilians.

This is all part of the U.S. (and most of its Western allies) recently agreeing to increase their aid for the Syrian rebels. Now they have to decide just how much aid to provide. The rebels want what Libya got two years ago, especially the air support and a lot of weapons, ammo, and technical advisors (trainers, air controllers, intelligence, and so on). The rebels want all they can get and they want it right away. That’s not going to happen because some forms of aid are considered too dangerous to give. The prime example of that is shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, especially current models of the American Stinger and similar systems from Europe. The rebels want these because they are the best weapon for wiping out what’s left of the Syrian Air Force (which has lost about a third of its strength in the last year).

The missiles may be a problem because the rebels could (and probably would) also use these missiles to shut down the major airports the government operates. That would involve shooting down an airliner or two, with great loss of life. The Assad government has already warned commercial aircraft landing at Aleppo and Damascus to be alert to the possibility of ground fire. Pilots of Iraqi, Russian, and Iranian airliners and transports are particularly alert for this threat, which if it becomes acute enough will cause these two major international airports to be shut down. This would be a great victory for the rebels, even if a few hundred civilians had to die to make it happen.

France is willing to provide anti-aircraft missiles if there is some assurance that the missiles will not be used for attacks that will make France look bad. The most obvious solution is to equip each missile with an electronic device that uses GPS and locations where the missile cannot be fired. The electronic access system could also include a timer that would brick the missile after a certain time (say a year) and require the missile to be turned into the donor country to be revived.

The problem with this solution is that it’s possible for the GPS system to be bypassed. It’s not the sort of thing your average Islamic terrorist could handle. No, these guys tend to be recruited from the shallow end of the gene pool. But with enough cash you can recruit someone who could jailbreak your missiles. For Western donors that might be an acceptable risk. But then there’s another problem. Unless France can find someone who has already developed such a weapons access system, it would take too long (months, at least) to develop, test, and install such a system. The rebels want their missiles right away, as they and their families are under attack from Syrian warplanes daily.

The most likely outcome is that no one will provide modern missiles, or even older models. Better to have more Syrians die could mean allowing the media to get their hands on a story that can make France, or any other donor state, look bad.

 

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