With the fall of Gadhafi in Libya its arms depots were looted. Some 10,000 MANPADS (man portable air defense systems) are unaccounted for. While many of them were likely destroyed during NATO airstrikes, many also have probably made it into the hands of terrorists and other militant groups.
In this Stratfor article Scott Stewart discusses the past use of MANPADs by terror groups, thier strength and weaknesses and possible uses of the missing Libyan MANPADS. It is obviously an issue of great concern.
The beginning of the article is excerpted below, with a link to the full article at the end of the excerpt.
As I considered the most appropriate Hot Stratfor Babe for the article, all of the talk of missles brougt the movie The Rocketeer to mind, and so Jennifer Connelly became an easy choise for the honor. The Rocketeer, is a fairly goofy, yet entertaining, retro comic-booky sort of a movie. It failed to gain traction when it was first released, but has aged well and is much better regarded these days.
Ms Connelly started working as a child model and moved into film as an ingenue while attending first Yale and the Stanford. She's had a solid career. although not always to rave reviews for her acting, and she did win both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her work in A Beautiful Mind.
The Continuing Threat of Libyan Missiles
By Scott Stewart, May 3, 2012
In March 2011, while many of the arms depots belonging to the government of Libya were being looted, we wrote about how the weapons taken from Libyan government stockpiles could end up being used to fuel violence in the region and beyond. Since then we have seen Tuareg militants, who were previously employed by the regime of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, leave Libya with sizable stockpiles of weapons and return to their homes in northern Mali, where they have successfully wrested control of the region away from the Malian government.
These Tuareg militants were aided greatly in their battle against the government by the hundreds of light pickup trucks mounted with crew-served heavy weapons that they looted from Libyan depots. These vehicles, known as "technicals," permitted the Tuareg rebels to outmaneuver and at times outgun the Malian military. Moreover, we have recently received reports that Tuareg rebels also brought back a sizable quantity of SA-7b shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).
While we have not yet seen reports of the Tuaregs using these missiles, reports of close interaction between the Tuaregs in northern Mali and regional jihadist franchise al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) raise concern that AQIM could buy or somehow acquire them from the Tuaregs. We have seen unconfirmed reports of AQIM fighters possessing MANPADS, and Algerian authorities have seized MANPADS among the weapons being smuggled into the country from Libya. For example, in mid-February, Algerian authorities seized 15 SA-24 and 28 SA-7 Russian-made MANPADS at a location in the southern desert called In Amenas.
For the Tuareg militants, the MANPADS are seen as a way to protect themselves against attack by government aircraft. They also serve the same function for AQIM, which has been attacked by Mauritanian aircraft in northern Mali. However, the possession of such weapons by a group like AQIM also raises the possibility of their being used against civilian aircraft in a terrorist attack -- a threat we will now examine in more detail.
Uses and Weaknesses of MANPADS
MANPADS were first fielded in the late 1960s, and since that time more than 1 million have been fielded by at least 25 different countries that manufacture them. These include large countries such as the United States, Russia and China as well as smaller countries such as North Korea, Iran and Pakistan.
By definition, MANPADS are designed to be man-portable. The missiles are balanced on and fired from the shooter's shoulder, and the launch tube averages roughly 1.5 meters (5 feet) in length and 7 centimeters (3 inches) in diameter. Since MANPADS are intended to be operated by infantry soldiers on the front lines, durability is an important part of their design. Also, while the guidance mechanism within the missile itself can be quite complex, a simple targeting interface makes most MANPADS relatively easy to operate.
The SA-7 has a kill zone with an upper limit of 1,300 meters, while some newer models can reach altitudes of more than 3,658 meters. The average range of MANPADS is 4.8 kilometers (about 3 miles). This means that most large commercial aircraft, which generally cruise at around 9,140 meters, are out of the range of MANPADS, but the weapon can be employed against them effectively during the extremely vulnerable takeoff and landing portions of a flight or when they are operating at lower altitudes.
Despite their rugged design, MANPADS are not without limitations. Some research suggests that battery life makes the weapon obsolete after about 22 years. Missiles treated roughly, stored poorly and not maintained well may not last anywhere near that long. Since replacement batteries can be found on the black market, battery life is not necessarily a key limiting factor. For example, two SA-7s used by al Qaeda to target an Israeli civilian flight over Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002 were 28 years old and appeared to be fully functional. It is believed they did not hit their target due to countermeasures employed by the aircraft. Some of the classified U.S. military reports released by WikiLeaks indicted that, many times in Iraq and Afghanistan, the older SA-7s were ejected from their tubes and had engine ignition but failed to acquire and lock onto the intended target. This may also have been the case in the Mombasa attack.
Perhaps the most limiting factor to MANPADS' utility has to do with the kind of aircraft being targeted. As MANPADS were developed and refined for military use, so were countermeasures for military aircraft. This means that most modern military aircraft are equipped with countermeasures that are effective against older models of MANPADS. Due to budget constraints, however, most commercial airliners and general aviation aircraft are not equipped with military-style countermeasures systems, which can alert a pilot that a missile has been launched so proper action can be taken, including evasive maneuvers, the deployment of infrared flares to decoy the missile or lasers to blind the missile's seeker. Industry estimates indicate that outfitting and maintaining the entire U.S. airline fleet with countermeasures that could foil missiles would cost $40 billion. Because of the high cost of such defensive systems, the bulk of the civilian aviation fleet worldwide remains undefended and vulnerable to MANPADS.
MANPADS in Terrorist Attacks
The SA-7 was first deployed by the Soviet army in 1968 and was sent to North Vietnam, where it was used in combat against American military aircraft in the early 1970s. But it did not take long for militant groups to understand how the weapons could be utilized in a terrorist attack. In January and September 1973, Black September militants attempted to use SA-7s against Israeli civilian aircraft in Rome (the January flight was carrying then-Prime Minister Golda Meir). Both attempts were thwarted in their final minutes.
Two years later, the first successful MANPADS attack against a civilian aircraft occurred when North Vietnamese forces launched an SA-7 missile against an Air Vietnam flight, resulting in the deaths of all 26 passengers and crewmembers. One of the most famous civilian MANPADS attacks was in 1994, when two SA-16s were used to shoot down a Rwandan government flight, killing the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and sparking the Rwandan genocide, which resulted in approximately 800,000 deaths in 100 days (the identity of the attackers remains a matter of debate). Over the years, MANPADS attacks have been plotted and actively attempted in at least 20 countries, resulting in more than 900 civilian fatalities. The most recent MANPADS attack that resulted in loss of life was the strike by al Shabaab over Somalia in 2007 against a Belarusian cargo plane. Eleven people were killed. The attack reportedly involved a Russian SA-18 that was manufactured in Russia in 1995. It was one of a batch of SA-18s sent from Russia to Eritrea, some of which were provided to the Somali jihadist group.
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