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MANPADS: Worse Now Than 9/11


The acronym MANPAD means “Man Portable Air Defense System”.  It was meant to level the playing field between the average infantry troop walking on a battlefield carrying 80lbs of kit and the fighter jock, in a multi-million dollar high tech aircraft, seeking to target those on the ground.  Early on in the defense industry, we (USA) created our version commonly known as a “Stinger” and the Russians designated theirs as “SA-7’s”.  When the Russians were fighting their version of the “Afghanistan War” (’79-’89) our CIA provided truckloads of Stingers to Mujahedeen (freedom fighters) who downed Soviet fighter jets by the dozens and helped turned the tide of the war in favor of the Afghani fighter.  They’re simple to use, little training required, and still highly effective against fighter jets with electronic counter-measures meant to defeat them.  After the Red Army left Afghanistan in defeat (1989) the CIA quickly tried to buy back what Stingers were left ($100,000 a piece) but the Afghanis’ were not giving them up.  Very few were reportedly bought back.


For whatever reason, multi-national forces started bombing Libya in early 2011.  Personally, I’m no fan of Mohammar Khadafy and would love to see a 500lb laser guided munition (no nation preferred, anyone welcome) strike him on the a#$.  I still remember his state directed terrorism against our soldiers in Germany in the mid-80’s, by bombing them in nightclubs and then the PAN AM Flight 103 mass murder event he ordered in 1988 killing hundreds of innocent men women and children of every nation at 35,000 feet over Scotland and on the ground.  However, like all warfare that is geopolitically driven (today you are my enemy and tomorrow you are not), whenever a country loses control of it’s arsenal either through invasion, theft and pilferage or political upheaval, these events makes us less secure.


You had better believe that before NATO started bombing Libya, it’s special forces (either U.S. Army Delta, British SAS, French 1er RPIMa, etc.) were on a mad dash to locate serious weapons cache’s of the Libyan military that nobody wants falling into the hands of terrorists, especially, in the terrorists new backyard of North and East Africa – the second generation of what we think of the original al-Qaeda.  From there weaponry can go anywhere throughout the Continent and then the World.  An ABC News report on 27 September 2011, alerted there are upwards of 20,000 MANPADS unaccounted for (See Video “Nightmare in Libya: Thousands of Surface to Air Missiles Unaccounted For) below.  Some journalists have said they saw pick-up trucks loaded with MANPADS being driven away from formerly secured Libyan military bases.  The identity of the drivers were unknown, didn’t look like the good guys, but in a region of the World where bribes, payoff’s and corruption are considered normal and acceptable business practices, we can assume this isn’t good. 


So, how serious of an issue is it for U.S. Aviation if terrorists used MANPADS to attack our civilian airliners?  First, they have shown a desire to do so; there are upwards of 40 recorded attacks having already taken place somewhere throughout the World (fortunately not here yet).  Second, our FAA has seriously looked at this issue and has formulated plans and technical counter-measures for each civilian aircraft to have access to an effort to defeat this threat, by their own admission.  Now, comes a problem of a larger magnitude than losing control of 20,000 MANPADS in the first place.  Nothing has been implemented.  I conducted an interview with a former career military pilot who also retired as a pilot for big commercial aircraft from a major U.S. carrier.  His assessment?  Huge problem.  It’s inevitable that at some point MANPADS will be used here without any stumbling blocks unless politicians stop playing politics.  Here is the political stonewall; defenses to MANPADS are expensive and each airline carrier likes to keep a healthy profit margin.  It’s been argued that the FAA (government agency) is too cozy with the aviation industry in the first place, so their assertiveness with forcing a solution is tempered.  In other words the plans are on the table, the technology exists, but the government doesn’t want to make private aviation implement the defensive measures, because it costs money.  Who do elected officials listen to?  You ought to know not us by now, but lobbyists who are the direct connection to big campaign dollars. 


How could this all shake out?  Terror cell “A” enters U.S. (if not already here), gets MANPADS through our porous borders, the members of Cell “A” read the manual, practice the attack by playing a video game available to our kids (of course rated “V” for Violence), and then deploy separately during a high travel time and drop four or five 737’s on final approach (person I interviewed assessed this would be the most dangerous point for the aircrew subject to an attack of this sort).  Thousands potentially dead from air to ground, air travel suspended, here comes our “triple dip recession” and the politicians will point their fingers again at each other “across the isle” and the fairy tale continues.  How is counter-terrorism a problem for the average street cop?  You are the first responder when the aircraft come down.   Make sure you see the article below by the Federation of American Scientists, because it details the components of MANPADS and what you should look for when doing traffic stops, investigations, searches of homes, etc., during the normal course of your duties.


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About The Author:

Keith R. Lavery, M.A., CMAS, is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching at a public Career Center, University System of Ohio. He has facilitated and designed criminal justice, security, and law enforcement courses of instruction at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career spanning nearly 20 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, to include HIDTA Drug Unit, CLANLAB Enforcement Team, SRT and Supervision. In 2008, Keith was awarded the Certified Master Anti-Terrorism designation from the Anti-Terrorism Accreditation Board. Academically, he has completed post-graduate course work dedicated toward a Doctorate in Education. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.