Homeland Security: Protecting Airliners from Terrorist Missiles
CRS Report for Congress
Protecting Airliners from Terrorist Missiles
Updated February 16, 2006
Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Specialist in Aviation Safety, Security, and Technology
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Homeland Security: Protecting Airliners
from Terrorist Missiles
Recent events have focused attention on the threat that terrorists with shoulder
fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), referred to as Man-Portable Air Defense
Systems (MANPADS), pose to commercial airliners. Most believe that no single
solution exists to effectively mitigate this threat. Instead, a menu of options may be
considered, including installing infrared (IR) countermeasures on aircraft; modifying
flight operations and air traffic control procedures; improving airport and regional
security; and strengthening missile non-proliferation efforts. Equipping aircraft with
missile countermeasure systems can protect the aircraft even when operating in areas
where ground-based security measures are unavailable or infeasible to implement.
However, this option has a relatively high cost, between $1 million and $3 million
per aircraft, and the time needed for implementation does not allow for immediate
response to the existing terrorist threat. Procedural improvements such as specific
flight crew training, altering air traffic procedures to minimize exposure to the threat,
and improved security near airports may be less costly than countermeasures and
could more immediately help deter domestic terrorist attacks. However, these
techniques by themselves cannot completely mitigate the risk of domestic attacks and
would not protect U.S. airliners flying to and from foreign airports.
Legislation introduced in the 108th Congress called for the installation of
missile defense systems in all turbojet aircraft used in scheduled air carrier service.
Homeland Security appropriations designated $60 million in FY2004, $61 million
in FY2005, and $110 million in FY2006 to fund a program to develop and test
prototype missile countermeasure systems for commercial aircraft based on existing
military technology. It is anticipated that at the conclusion of this program, the
Department of Homeland Security will be able to provide a detailed analysis of the
suitability of such systems for use to protect commercial passenger aircraft.
This report will be updated as needed.
In troduction ......................................................1
Types of Shoulder-Fired SAMs.......................................1
Laser Beam Riders.............................................3
Shoulder-Fired SAM Proliferation....................................3
Non-State Groups With Shoulder-Fired SAMs...........................4
Recent U.S. Military Encounters with Shoulder-Fired Missiles..............6
Civilian Aviation Encounters with Shoulder-Fired Missiles.................7
Options for Mitigating Missile Threats................................11
IR Countermeasures and Aircraft Improvements.....................11
Improved Pilot Training and Air Traffic Procedures..................14
Improvements to Airport and Local Security........................16
Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation Efforts...................18
Shoulder-Fired Missile Design and Manufacture....................21
Congressional Action on Shoulder-Fired Missiles.......................21
Administration Plans and Programs...................................23
List of Tables
Table 1. Non-State Groups with Shoulder-Fired SAMs:1996-2001...........5
Table 2. Suspected Shoulder-Fired Missile Attacks Against Large Civilian
Turbojet Aircraft (1978-Present)..................................9
Homeland Security: Protecting Airliners from
Shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), also known as MANPADS
(man-portable air defense systems), developed in the late 1950s to provide military
ground forces protection from enemy aircraft, are receiving a great deal of attention
as potential terrorist weapons that might be used against commercial airliners. These
missiles, affordable and widely available through a variety of sources, have been used
successfully over the past three decades both in military conflicts1 as well as by
terrorist organizations. The missiles are about 5 to 6 feet in length, weigh about 35
to 40 pounds, and, depending on the model, can be purchased on the black market
anywhere from a few hundred dollars for older models to upwards of almost a quarter
million dollars for newer, more capable models. Seventeen countries, including the2
United States, produce man-portable air defense systems. Shoulder-fired SAMs
generally have a target detection range of about 6 miles and an engagement range of3
about 4 miles so aircraft flying at 20,000 feet (3.8 miles) or higher are relatively safe.
Most experts consider aircraft departures and landings as the times when it is most
vulnerable to shoulder-fired SAM engagement. There are a number of different types
of shoulder-fired SAMs, primarily classified by their seekers.4
Types of Shoulder-Fired SAMs
Infrared shoulder-fired missiles are designed to home in on a heat source on an
aircraft, typically the engine exhaust plume, and detonate a warhead in or near the
1 Shoulder-fired SAMs have been used effectively in a variety of conflicts ranging from the
Arab-Israeli Wars, Vietnam, the Iran-Iraq War, to the Falklands Conflict, as well as conflicts
in Nicaragua, Yemen, Angola, and Uganda, the Chad-Libya Conflict, and the Balkans
Conflict in the 1990s. Some analysts claim that Afghan mujahedin downed 269 Soviet
aircraft using 340 shoulder-fired SAMs during the Soviet-Afghan War and that 12 of 29
Allied aircraft shot down during the 1991 Gulf War were downed by MANPADs.
2 Wade Bose, “Wassenaar Agreement Agrees on MANPADS Export Criteria,” Arms
Control Today, January/February 2001, p. 1.
3 Marvin B. Schaffer, “Concerns About Terrorists With Manportable SAMS,” RAND
Corporation Reports, October 1993, p. 4.
4 Seeker is a synonymous term for the missile’s guidance system which acquires the target
and guides the missile to its intended point of detonation.
heat source to disable the aircraft. These missiles use passive guidance, meaning that
they do not emit signals to detect a heat source, which makes them difficult to detect
by targeted aircraft employing countermeasure systems. The first missiles deployed
in the 1960s were IR missiles. First generation shoulder-fired SAMs such as the U.S.
Redeye, early versions of the Soviet SA-7, and the Chinese HN-5 are considered “tail
chase weapons” as their seekers can only acquire and engage a high performance
aircraft after it has passed the missile’s firing position. In this flight profile, the
aircraft’s engines are fully exposed to the missile’s seeker and provide a sufficient
thermal signature for engagement. First generation IR missiles are also highly
susceptible to interfering thermal signatures from background sources, including the
sun, which many experts feel makes them somewhat unreliable.
Second generation IR missiles such as early versions of the U.S. Stinger, the
Soviet SA-14, and the Chinese FN-6 use improved coolants to cool the seeker head
which enables the seeker to filter out most interfering background IR sources as well
as permitting head-on and side engagement profiles. These missiles also employ
technologies to counter decoy flares that might be deployed by targeted aircraft and
also have backup target detection modes such as the ultra violet (UV) mode found
on the Stinger missile.5
Third generation IR shoulder-fired SAMs such as the French Mistral, the
Russian SA-18, and the U.S. Stinger B use single or multiple detectors to produce
a quasi-image of the target and also have the ability to recognize and reject flares
dispensed from aircraft - a common countermeasure used to decoy IR missiles.6
Fourth generation missiles such as the U.S. Stinger Block 2, and missiles believed
to be under development in Russia, Japan, France, and Israel could incorporate focal
plane array guidance systems and other advanced sensor systems which will permit
engagement at greater ranges.7
Command line-of- sight (CLOS) missiles do not home in on a particular aspect
(heat source or radio or radar transmissions) of the targeted aircraft. Instead, the
missile operator or gunner visually acquires the target using a magnified optical sight
and then uses radio controls to “fly” the missile into the aircraft. One of the benefits
of such a missile is that it is not as susceptible to standard aircraft mounted
countermeasure systems which are designed primarily to defeat IR missiles. The
major drawback of CLOS missiles is that they require highly trained and skilled
operators. Numerous reports from the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s cite Afghan
mujahedin as being disappointed with the British-supplied Blowpipe CLOS missile
because it was too difficult to learn to use and highly inaccurate, particularly when
5 Schaffer, Op Cit. p. 2.
6 Ibid., p. 3.
7 “Raytheon Electronic Systems FIM-92 Stinger Low-Altitude Surface-to-Air Missile
System Family,” Jane’s Defence, October 13, 2000, p. 3.
employed against fast moving jet aircraft.8 Given these considerations, many experts
believe that CLOS missiles are not as ideally suited for terrorist use as are IR
missiles, which sometimes are referred to as “fire and forget” missiles.
Later versions of CLOS missiles, such as the British Javelin, use a solid state
television camera in lieu of the optical tracker to make the gunner’s task easier. The
Javelin’s manufacturer, Thales Air Defence Ltd., claims that their missile is virtually
impervious to countermeasures.9 Even more advanced CLOS versions, such as the
British Starburst, use a laser data link in lieu of earlier radio guidance links to fly the
missile to the target.
Laser Beam Riders
Laser beam riding shoulder-fired SAMs use lasers to guide the missiles to the
target. The missile literally flies along the laser beam and strikes the aircraft where
the missile operator or gunner aims the laser. These beam riding missiles are
resistant to current countermeasure systems on military and civilian aircraft. Missiles
such as Sweden’s RBS-70 and Britain’s Starstreak, can engage aircraft from all
angles and only require the operator to continuously track the target using a joystick
to keep the laser aim point on the target. Because there are no data links from the
ground to the missile, the missile can not be effectively jammed after it is launched.
Future beam riding SAMs may require the operator to designate the target only once
and not manually keep a continuous laser aimpoint on the aircraft. Even though
beam riders require relatively extensive training and skill to operate, many experts
consider these missiles particularly menacing in the hands of terrorists due to the
missiles’ resistance to most conventional countermeasures in use today.
Shoulder-Fired SAM Proliferation
Approximately 20 countries have manufactured MANPADS or their
components, and it is estimated that a total of over 1 million of these systems have
been manufactured worldwide.10 Unclassified estimates of the worldwide shoulder-
fired SAMs inventory are widely varied. Published estimates on the number of
missiles presently being held in international military arsenals range from 350,00011
to 500,00012 but disparities among nations in accountability, inventory control, and
8 Timothy Gusinov, “Portable Weapons May Become the Next Weapon of Choice for
Terrorists,”, Washington Diplomat, January 2003, p. 2.
9 “Land-Based Air Defence 2003-2004,” Jane’s, 2003, p. 37.
10 “The MANPADS Menace: Combating the Threat to Global Aviation from Man-Portable
Air Defense Systems.” Fact Sheet. Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. U.S. Department
of State. September 20, 2005.
11 “Mombasa Attack Highlights Increasing MANPADs Threat,” Jane’s Intelligence Review,
February 2003, p. 28.
12 The 500,000 figure is found in multiple sources including Gusinov, p. 2 and Thomas
reporting procedures could make these figures inaccurate. Tracking proliferation to
non-state actors is considered even more difficult by many analysts. There are a
variety of means that terrorist organizations use to obtain missiles, including theft,
black market, international organized crime, arms dealers, and transfers from states
willing to supply missiles to terrorists. Often times, the only verification that a non-
state actor has a shoulder-fired SAM is when a launcher or fragments from an
expended missile are recovered after an attack.13 As in the case of military arsenals,
estimates of shoulder-fired SAMs in terrorist hands vary considerably. Estimates
range from 5,00014 to 150,00015 of various missile types, but most experts agree that
the vast majority of them are IR guided and are likely SA-7 derivatives, versions of
which are reportedly possessed by at least 56 countries.16
Some examples attest to the large numbers of these missiles in circulation. As
of December 2002, coalition forces in Afghanistan had reportedly captured 5,592
shoulder- fired SAMs from the Taliban and Al Qaeda.17 Some of these included U.S.
Stinger and British Blowpipe missiles believed to have been left over from the
Afghan-Soviet War. Shoulder-fired missiles continue to be seized routinely during
coalition raids, suggesting that Taliban and Al Qaeda forces operating in and around
Afghanistan still have access to an undetermined number of these systems. In Iraq,
recent press reports indicate that 4,000 to 5,000 shoulder-fired SAMs may be
available to Iraqi insurgent forces.18 Africa, the region where most terrorist attacks
with these missiles have occurred, reportedly also has a large quantity of shoulder-
fired SAMs left over from Cold War sponsorships and the numerous civil wars of
Non-State Groups With Shoulder-Fired SAMs
Unclassified estimates suggest that between 25 and 30 non-state groups possess
shoulder-fired SAMs. Table 1 depicts non-state groups believed to possess shoulder-
fired SAMs through the 1996-2001 time period. Additional groups may have
obtained missiles since 2001 but details at the unclassified level are not known.
Actual or estimated quantities of these weapons attributed to non-state groups at the
unclassified level are also unknown.
Withington’s “Terrorism: Stung by Stingers,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May-June
13 Thomas B. Hunter, “The Proliferation of MANPADS,” Jane’s, November 28, 2002, p. 1.
14 Soyoung Ho, “Plane Threat” Washington Monthly, April 2003, p. 2.
15 “Mombasa Attack Highlights Increasing MANPADs Threat,” p. 28.
16 Ho, p. 2.
17 “SAMs-The New Air Security Threat,” Travel Insider, December 12, 2002, p. 6.
18 “Shoulder-Fired Missiles Not too Hard to Find,” Associated Press, August 17, 2003.
19 “Shoulder-Fired Missiles Not too Hard to Find.”
Table 1. Non-State Groups with Shoulder-Fired SAMs:
Armed Islamic Group (GIA)AlgeriaStinger (c)
Chechen rebelsChecnya, RussiaSA-7 (c), Stinger (c), Blowpipe (r)
Democratic Republic of theDemocratic RepublicSA-16 (r)
Congo (DRC) rebel forcesof the Congo
Harkat ul-Ansar (HUA)KashmirSA-7 (c)
HizbullahLebanonSA-7 (c),QW-1 (r), Stinger (r)
Hizbul Mujahedin (HM)KashmirStinger (r)
Hutu militiamenRwandaUnspecified type (r)
Jamaat e IslamiAfghanistanSA-7 (c), SA-14 (c)
Khmer RougeThailand/CambodiaUnspecified type (r)
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA)KosovoSA-7 (r)
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)TurkeySA-7 (c), Stinger (c)
Liberation Tigers of TamilSri LankaSA-7 (r), SA-14 (r), Stinger (c), HN-5
Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)EthiopiaUnspecified type (r)
Palestinian Authority (PA)Palestinian autonomousSA-7 (r), Stinger (r)
areas and Lebanon
Popular Front for the LiberationPalestinian autonomousUnspecified type (r)
of Palestine-General Commandareas and Lebanon
(P FLP -GC)
Provisional Irish RepublicanNorthern IrelandSA-7 (c)
Revolutionary Armed Forces ofColombiaSA-7 (r), SA-4 (r), SA-16 (r), Redeye
Colombia (FARC)(r), Stinger (r)
Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)RwandaSA-7 (r), SA-16 (r)
Somali National Alliance (SNA)SomaliaUnspecified types (r)
Al Qaeda/TalibanAfghanistanSA-series (c), Stinger (c), Blowpipe
National Liberation Army (ELN)ColombiaStinger (r), Unspecified types (r)
National Liberation Army (UCK)MacedoniaSA-18 (c)
National Union for the TotalAngolaSA-7 (c), SA-14 (r), SA-16 (r),
Independence of AngolaStinger (c)
United State Wa ArmyMyanmarSA-7 (c), HN-5N (c)
United Somali Congress - SomaliSomalia Unspecified types (r)
Salvation Alliance (USC-SSA)
Note: (c) is possession confirmed through intelligence sources or actual events; (r) is reported but not
20 This table is taken from p. 43 of “The Proliferation of MANPADS,” Thomas B. Hunter,
Jane’s, November 28, 2002.
Recent U.S. Military Encounters with
Recent U.S. military encounters with shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq and
Afghanistan can provide some useful operational insights which could be benefit
government, industry, and civil aviation officials involved in the protection of civil
aviation. In December 2003 an unidentified shoulder-fired SAM struck an engine of
a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft that had just departed Baghdad
International Airport.21 The aircraft, which was outfitted with missile defenses, made
an emergency landing at Baghdad International Airport.22 In January 2004, a C-5
Galaxy transport aircraft - also having an antimissile system -was hit by a shoulder-
fired SAM and the aircraft was able to and successfully.23 One senior Air Force
official reportedly stated that “for whatever reason, the [defensive] systems on the
airplanes didn’t counter [the attacks]. We don’t have any indications that it was a
system malfunction.”24 The official speculated that sensor placement, and aircraft
altitude and maneuvering played a role in these systems not functioning as they were
According to one report, from October 25, 2003 to January 2004, nine military
helicopters were shot down or crashed landed in Iraq after having been hit by hostile
ground fire, resulting in the deaths of 39 service members.26 An Army study,
commissioned after these incidents, reportedly revealed a number of findings. The
study team reportedly concluded that RPGs,27and SA-7, SA-14, and SA-16 shoulder-
fired SAMs were used in the attacks against the helicopters.28 Another study finding
revealed that the Iraqis had studied the helicopter flight patterns and had developed
effective techniques to engage the aircraft.29
According to the Chief of the U.S. Transportation Command
(USTRANSCOM), U.S. military cargo aircraft take ground fire in Afghanistan and
Iraq from shoulder-fired SAMs, anti-aircraft artillery and small arms on almost a
21 Ron Laurenzo, “Air Force Says Enemy Fire Damaged C-17,” Defense Week, December
23 David A. Fulghum, “SAMs Threaten,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, February 2,
26 Eric Schmitt, “Iraq Rebels Using More Skill to Down Copters,” New York Times, January
27 Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) are shoulder-fired grenades that are primarily intended
for use against ground targets. They are simple to use, fairly accurate, and are widely
proliferated throughout the world.
28 Schmitt. Op cit.
daily basis.30 USCENTCOM officials were unable to provide an unclassified update
on shoulder-fired missiles attacks against U.S. military aircraft in Afghanistan and
Iraq as of September 2004, although classified data of this nature is being tracked
by USCENTCOM and DOD.31 Some analysts believe that the U.S. has significantly
improved aircraft countermeasures and defenses and modified aircraft operating
procedures, resulting in fewer successful attacks, but others suggest that attacks with
shoulder-fired SAMs have become so commonplace that they no longer garner the
attention that they once did.
Civilian Aviation Encounters with Shoulder-Fired
Estimates vary, but the most widely reported statistics on civilian aircraft
experience with shoulder-fired missiles indicate that, over the past 26 years, 35
aircraft have come under attack from these weapons.32 Of those 35, 24 were shot
down resulting in more than 500 deaths.33 While these statistics have been frequently
cited, at least one report has suggested that these figures may significantly overstate
the actual numbers of civilian-use aircraft that have been attacked by shoulder-fired
missiles.34 That report instead concluded that only about a dozen civil-registered
airplanes have been shot down during this time period and further notes that some of
these aircraft were operating as military transports when they were shot down. On
the contrary, available statistics may underestimate the total number of civilian
encounters with shoulder-fired missiles. It is possible that some aircraft shootings
may have been attributed to other causes for various reasons and are not included in
these statistics. Also, it is possible that some failed attempts to shoot down civilian
airliners have either gone undetected or unreported.
For many incidents considered to be a shoulder-fired missile attack against a
civilian aircraft, there is scant information to make a conclusive determination if that
was, in fact, the case. In some instances, while it is widely recognized that the
incident was a shooting, there is no conclusive determination regarding the weapon
used. For example, in some instances of aircraft shootings there are discrepancies
among accounts of the event, with some reporting that the aircraft was brought down
30 Nathan Hodge, “Airlifters ‘Routinely’ Take Ground Fire, General Says,” Defense Today,
July 29, 2004, p. 1.
31 CRS requested this data from the USCENTCOM Legislative Affairs Office on September
22, 2004. USCENTCOM was willing to share this classified data with appropriately-cleared
CRS staff but the use of classified data in these reports is not permitted.
32 The State Department estimates that since 1970, over 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by
MANPADS, causing about 25 crashes and over 600 deaths. Fact Sheet, OpCit.
33 Phillip O’Connor, “Planes are easy targets for portable missiles,” Saint Louis Post-
Dispatch, June 1, 2003, p. A1.; Association of Old Crows, “AOC Position Statement:
‘Missile Defense Systems for the American Commercial Airline Fleet’,” Revised August
34 Bill Sweetman, “The Enemy down Below,” Air Transport World, September 2003, 34-36.
by a shoulder-fired missile while others claim that anti-aircraft artillery was used.
Also, in many instances there are questions as to whether the flight operation was
strictly for a civilian use or may have been for military or dual use (civilian/military)
purposes. Therefore, there is no universal agreement as to which incidents should
be included in the tally of civilian aviation encounters with shoulder-fired missiles.
Based on our review of available reports and databases on the subject, the
statistic of 24 catastrophic losses out of 36 aircraft appears to be a reasonable
estimate, but not a definitive count, of the total worldwide civil aviation shootings
with shoulder-fired missiles or similar weapons. However, since most of these
incidents took place in conflict zones, they are not typically considered to be
politically motivated because the targeted aircraft may have been perceived as being
used for military purposes.35 While most of these historical examples do not provide
any particular insight into the political motivation behind shootings of civilian
aircraft in the current context of the global war on terrorism, they do provide some
indication of the possible outcomes of such an attack. Based on the commonly cited
statistic of 24 aircraft destroyed out of 36 attacks over the past 26 years, the odds of
surviving an attack are not particularly encouraging. Using these numbers, the odds
of surviving an attack may be estimated to be only about 33%. However, it is
important to note that these incidents include a wide variety of aircraft types
including small piston-engine propeller airplanes, turboprop airplanes, helicopters,
and business jets, as well as large jet airliners. Since the current legislative proposals
and administration efforts to date have been aimed at addressing ways to protect large
commercial jet airliners from shoulder-fired missiles, it is useful to examine past
incidents involving these types of aircraft in order to gain further insight regarding
CRS reviewed various sources and found only six incidents where large turbojet
airliners were reported to have been attacked by shoulder-fired missiles. These
incidents are listed in Table 2.36 Whether all of these incidents were in fact attacks
using shoulder-fired missiles is still a matter of considerable debate as conclusive
evidence supporting such a finding is lacking for most of these incidents. Of these
six encounters identified, there was a wide range of outcomes. Only two of the six
shootings resulted in catastrophic losses of the airplanes — killing all on board. In
three other incidents, the airplanes received significant damage — but no one was
killed. Finally, in the widely reported November 2002 attempt to shoot down an
Israeli charter jet in Mombasa, Kenya, the aircraft was fired upon by two missiles but
was not hit.
35 See Federal Aviation Administration, Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation (1996-2000
36 Sources: Marvin Schaffer, Op cit.; [http://aviation-safety.net/database/index.html]
(Visited on 9/30/2003); [http://www.airdisaster.com/cgi_bin/database.cgi] (Visited on
9/30/2003); [http://www.b737.org.uk/accident_reports.htm] (Visited on 9/30/2003); Thomas
B. Hunter. “The Proliferation of MANPADS,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, November 28,
2002.; Federal Aviation Administration, Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation (1996-2000
Editions); The RAND-MIPT Terrorism Incident Database [http://www.rand.org/psj/rand-
mipt.html], (Visited October 8, 2003).
Table 2. Suspected Shoulder-Fired Missile Attacks Against
Large Civilian Turbojet Aircraft (1978-Present)
Date Location Ai rcraf t Operator O utcome
1983737Airlinesof 130 people on board
9-Feb-AngolaBoeingAngolanHull Loss: aircraft overran
1984737Airlinesrunway on landing after
(TAAG)being struck by a missile at
No fatalities with 130 on
1984AfghanAircraft was damaged by
Airlinesthe missile, including
damage to two hydraulic
systems, but landed
without further damage.
10-Oct-DemocraticBoeingCongoCatastrophic: 41 fatalities
28-Nov-KenyaBoeingArkia IsraeliMiss: Two SA-7’s were
2002757Airlinesfired at the aircraft during
climb out, but missed. No
22-Nov-IraqAirbusDHL CargoHull Loss: Aircraft wing
2004A300struck by missile departing
suffered a complete loss of
hydraulic power and
departed the runway
during an emergency
In the first instance, the official findings by Angolan authorities attributed the
November 8, 1983, crash of a TAAG Angolan Airlines Boeing 737 to a technical
problem with the airplane, but UNITA rebels in the area claimed to have shot down37
the aircraft with a surface to air missile. All 130 people on board were killed,
potentially making this the deadliest single incident involving a shoulder-fired missile
attack against a civilian aircraft. However, investigation of the incident failed to
produce any conclusive evidence of missile or gunfire damage on any of the aircraft
37 [http://aviation-safety.net/database/1983/831108-0.htm]. (Visited 10/9/2003).
In the February 9, 1984, attack of a TAAG Angolan Airlines Boeing 737, the
airplane was struck at an altitude of 8,000 feet during climb out. The crew reportedly
attempted an emergency landing at Huambo, Angola, but were unable to extend the
flaps because of damage to the airplane’s hydraulic systems. Consequently, the crew
was unable to slow the airplane sufficiently before landing and overran the runway
by almost 600 feet. The airplane was a total loss but no one was killed.38
Investigators found evidence leading them to suspect that a bomb detonation in the
forward hold, rather than a missile, was responsible for the damage observed.
However, press accounts reporting that the aircraft was struck by an SA-7 fired by
UNITA guerillas have led some to conclude that this incident was, in fact, a shoulder-
fired missile attack.39
In the September 21, 1984, incident, an Ariana Afghan Airlines DC-10 was
struck causing damage to two of the airplane’s three hydraulic systems. While some
sources40 defined this incident as a shoulder-fired missile attack, another account
indicated that the DC-10 was hit by “explosive bullets.”41
The most recent catastrophic loss of a civilian aircraft from a suspected
MANPADS attack was the October 10, 1998, downing of a Congo Airlines Boeing
727 near Kindu, Democratic Republic of Congo. The aircraft was reportedly shot
down by a missile, possibly an SA-7, that struck one of the airplane’s engines. Tutsi
rebels admitted to the shooting, claiming that they believed the airplane to be carrying
military supplies. The final call from the Captain indicated that the aircraft had been
hit by a missile and had an engine fire. It was reported that a missile struck the
airplane’s rear engine. The ensuing crash killed all 41 persons on board.42
The most recent attempted shooting of a passenger jet was the November 28,
2002, incident involving an Israeli-registered Boeing 757 aircraft operated by Arkia
Israeli Airlines. Two SA-7 missiles were fired at the airplane on departure from
Mombasa, Kenya but missed. While the threat of shoulder-fired missiles has long
been recognized by aviation security experts, this incident focused the attention of
many in Congress and the Bush Administration on this threat and options to mitigate
it. Unlike the prior attacks on jet airliners that occurred in war torn areas, the
Mombasa attack was clearly a politically motivated attack, believed to have been
carried out by terrorists with links to Al Qaeda.43 That fact, coupled with already
heightened concerns over aviation security in the aftermath of the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks, has made the shoulder-fired missile threat a key issue for
38 [http://www.b737.org.uk/accident_reports.htm]. (Visited 9/30/2003).
39 See Schaffer, Op cit.
40 See Schaffer, Op cit.; Sweetman, Op cit.
41 [http://aviation-safety.net/database/1984/840921-0.htm]. (Visited 10/9/2003).
42 Federal Aviation Administration, Criminal Acts Against Civil Aviation (1998 Edition).
43 Sweetman, Op cit.
Amid this heightened concern over the threat of shoulder-fired missiles to
commercial aircraft, a DHL cargo airplane was struck by a missile on November 22,
2004, while departing Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. The aircraft’s left wing
was struck outboard from the engine. Damage from the missile severed the
airplane’s hydraulic lines. However, the flight crew was able to return to the airport
applying differential thrust on the two engines to maneuver and operating manual
cranks to lower the landing gear. The aircraft, an Airbus A300-B4, departed the
runway on landing causing additional damage, including extensive engine damage
from ingesting sand and debris.44 While no one was killed or injured, the airplane
was determined to be a total loss.
Options for Mitigating Missile Threats
Most observers believe that no single solution exists to effectively mitigate the
SAM threat to airliners. Instead, a menu of options may be considered, including
improvements or modifications to commercial aircraft, changes to pilot training and
air traffic control procedures, and improvements to airport and local security.
IR Countermeasures and Aircraft Improvements
Military aircraft employ a variety of countermeasures to mitigate the threat
posed by SAMs. With few exceptions, commercial airlines today do not employ these
protective systems.45 Historical arguments against fielding countermeasures on
airliners include their acquisition cost, cost and difficulty of integrating them into the
aircraft, life cycle costs, environmental constraints on their use, and the fear that they
may promote perceptions that flying is not safe. Estimates of the cost of acquiring
and installing IR countermeasures on commercial aircraft range between $1 million
and $3 million per aircraft.46 According to FAA forecasts, there will be about 6,839
passenger jet aircraft in service in 2006, including 3,692 large narrow body airplanes,
599 large wide bodies, and 2,098 regional jets. Additionally, there are expected to be
1,011 all-cargo jets deployed in air carrier operations in 2006.47 Estimates on
equipping the air carrier jet fleet with IR countermeasures vary because of
assumptions regarding the type of system, whether they would be installed directly
into the aircraft or attached via a pod, and the overall number to be procured. Some
IR countermeasures could increase the airline’s operating costs by increasing the
aircraft’s weight and drag and thus the amount of fuel consumed. Another issue for
installing IR countermeasures on passenger jets is the logistics of equipping the fleet
and the potential indirect costs associated with taking airplanes out of service to
44 David Hughes and Michael A. Dornheim, “No Flight Controls,” Aviation Week & Space
Technology, December 8, 2003, pp. 42-43.
45 It has been reported that the Israeli airline El Al has deployed or is in the process of
equipping some or all of its 34 aircraft with missile countermeasure systems.
46 David Learmount, “Can Countermeasures Work?” Flight International, December 10,
Aviation Week & Space Technology, December 9, 2002, p.26.
47 Federal Aviation Administration, FAA Aerospace Forecasts Fiscal Years 2005-2016.
accomplish these installations. An analysis by the RAND Corporation found that, in
addition to an initial purchase and installation cost of about $11 billion, it would cost
about $2.1 billion annually in terms of both direct and indirect or incidental costs to
maintain and sustain aircraft-based IR countermeasures on a fleet of 6,800 passenger
For decades, military aircraft have ejected inexpensive flares to foil IR-guided
SAMs. When a white-hot flare passes through an IR-guided SAM’s field of view, its
intense IR energy can confuse the missile and cause it to lose its lock on the targeted
aircraft. Although effective against older shoulder-fired SAMs, flares often cannot
fool newer models, which use more sophisticated sensors. Also, most flares pose a
fire hazard to combustibles on the ground, and may be too risky for urban areas. DOD
has recently developed new flares and similar decoys that may be more effective
against modern IR-guided missiles, and pose less of a fire hazard.
Military aircraft also use a variety of transmitters known as IR countermeasures
or IRCMs to create fields of IR energy designed to confuse shoulder-fired SAMs.
Unlike flares, IRCMs do not pose a fire hazard to combustibles on the ground. Like
flares, however, they are only effective against older IR-guided missiles. Recent
advances in lasers have led to the development and employment of directed IRCMs
(DIRCMs), that focus their IR energy directly on the incoming SAM. DIRCMs are
able to generate more jamming power than IRCMs, and may offer the most effective
defense against modern shoulder-fired SAMs. DIRCM weight, size, cost, and
reliability, however, may not yet make them attractive for commercial airlines.
Military aircraft use flares and IRCMs preemptively: in anticipation of a SAM
launch, a pilot can eject numerous flares, or turn on the IRCM to foil a potential
threat. However, environmental considerations may make the use of flares difficult
for commercial airlines. DIRCM’s can’t be used preemptively. They must be aware
that a missile has been launched, and use missile approach and warning systems
(MAWS) for that function.49 Because IR-guided SAMs are difficult to detect,
MAWS performance is a key factor in the overall effectiveness of the aircraft’s
protection system. DIRCM reliability and maintainability has also frequently been
cited as a key factor that will determine the cost effectiveness of these systems for
commercial use. Some estimate that current DIRCM system reliability will have to
improve by a factor of 10 before they will be cost effective in a commercial setting.50
“Camouflaging” commercial aircraft, (i.e. reducing their optical and IR
reflectivity and emissivity) would make it more difficult for terrorists to employ
most shoulder-fired missiles. Suppressing or otherwise mitigating the engine’s hot
exhaust may be the most effective way to “camouflage” commercial aircraft. DOD
and industry studies indicate that the IR signature of large aircraft engines can be
48 James Chow, James Chiesa, Paul Dreyer, Mel Eisman, Theodore W. Karasik, Joel Kvitky,
Sherrill Lingel, David Ochmanek, and Chad Shirley. Protecting Commercial Aviation
Against the Shoulder-Fired Missile Threat. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
49 MAWS are also employed on aircraft that use flares and IRCMs.
50 Conversation between CRS and DHS representatives, February 6, 2004, DHS
Headquarters, Washington, DC.
reduced by as much as 80% by shielding or ducting the engine exhaust, or mixing
ambient air with hot jet exhaust.51 These measures may adversely affect engine
performance or aerodynamic drag. Also, integrating these measures into existing
aircraft may cause problems with aircraft weight and balance. Regardless, DOD has
conducted numerous studies on IR-signature reduction, and the exploration of this
body of work may merit investigation for commercial applications.52
DOD is also developing paint that is designed to reduce an aircraft’s IR
reflectivity and visual profile. IR camouflage paint would not reduce an engine’s heat
signature, but it might make it more difficult for terrorists to visually see the aircraft,
and thus could avert a SAM launch. The Navy is studying IR camouflage paint on
the V-22 Osprey.53 The cost and maintainability of this paint is still being studied,
but the paint might actually be lighter than conventional aircraft paint. Today, IR
paint appears to offer few complications for airline application compared to other
Infrared signature reduction techniques appear worth examining. However, it
should be recognized that these measures cannot make aircraft completely invisible
in the IR spectrum. An airplane’s IR signature will always be much stronger than that
of the surrounding sky. Thus, like many other options discussed in this report, IR
signature reduction techniques may be able to reduce an aircraft’s vulnerability to IR-
guided weapons and mitigate the IR missile threat to some degree, but they cannot
completely eliminate the threat. Regardless, some in Congress recognize that IR-
signature reduction may be one tool to help mitigate IR-guided missiles. In their
FY2006 report (H.Rept. 109-359) appropriations conferees added $1.3 million to the
Navy’s $42.6 million request for electronic warfare development. The purpose of
this added funding was to pursue “infrared signature reduction to mitigate terrorist
In addition to equipping airliners with missile countermeasures, strengthening
the airframe to better withstand missile strikes has been suggested. To date, the
FAA’s Commercial Aircraft Hardening Program has primarily focused on studying
how hardened aircraft can better withstand internal bomb blasts.54 The survivability
of passenger jets following missile strikes is largely unknown, although DOD’s Joint
Live Fire program and the Air Force have initiated a multi-year effort to test the
vulnerability of large turbofan engines, such as those that power commercial aircraft,
51 Fact Sheet on Large Aircraft IR Signature, Department of the Air Force, Office of the
Secretary Legislative Liaison. (SAF/LLW) for CRS, November 17, 2003.
52 See, for example, Kellie Unsworth, “Next Generation IR Engine Suppression,” Aircraft
Survivability, Joint Aircraft Survivability Program Office, Department of Defense, Fall
53 Stephen Trimble, “Glitches Pose Little Threat to V-22 Flight Trial Results, Navy Says,”
Aerospace Daily, January 29, 2003.
54 Howard J. Fleisher, “Commercial Aircraft Vulnerability Assessment and Threat
Mitigation Techniques,” Aircraft Survivability, Fall 2002, pp. 24-25. Available at
[http://www.bahdayt on.com/survi ac/asnews.htm] .
to shoulder-fired missiles.55 It is expected that developing hardened aircraft structures
will be a challenging problem given that IR guidance systems seek hot engine exhaust
and will likely detonate at or near an aircraft engine.
Since most jet airliners have wing-mounted engines, hardening of surrounding
aircraft structure will likely be infeasible, particularly with regard to modifying
existing aircraft. However, some aircraft survivability experts believe that isolating
critical systems, like redundant hydraulic lines and flight control linkages, and
improving fire suppression and containment capabilities could prevent catastrophic
failures cascading from the initial missile strike.56 While such options can be
integrated into new aircraft type designs, they are unlikely to have any near term
impact on reducing the threat since retrofitting existing air carrier jets with damage
tolerant structures and systems is likely to either be technically infeasible or not
economically practical. Moreover, aircraft hardening options will likely require
extensive research and testing before their feasibility and effectiveness can be
adequately assessed. Initial indications suggest that aircraft hardening and structural
redesign, if feasible, will likely be very costly and could take many years to
Improved Pilot Training and Air Traffic Procedures
Airline pilots already receive substantial simulator training on handling loss of
power to one engine during critical phases of flight such as takeoffs and landings.
This training should already prepare flight crews to handle a loss of engine power
resulting from a missile strike. Therefore, additional training for handling missile
attacks may be of limited benefit. On the other hand, specific simulator exercises
using missile attack scenarios may be beneficial by preparing pilots to fly and land
a damaged aircraft. Modern airliners are built with redundancy in avionics and flight
control systems, and consequently, a missile strike that does not cause a catastrophic
structural failure would likely be survivable if the flight crew is properly trained to
handle such a scenario.
Another potential mitigation technique is training flight crews in evasive
maneuvers if fired upon by a shoulder-fired SAM. However, this approach would not
likely be effective and presents significant risks. Without a missile detection and
warning system, it is unlikely that a flight crew would have any indication of a
missile launch. Also, large transport category airplanes are generally not
maneuverable enough to evade a shoulder-fired SAM. There is also concern that
defensive maneuvering of large transport category airplanes could result in a loss of
control or structural failure.57 Consequently, most observers concur that evasive
55 Robert Wall, “Research Accelerates Into Hardening Aircraft Against Manpads Strikes,”
Aviation Week & Space Technology, August 23, 2004, p.59.
56 Bill Sweetman, Op cit.
57 See Dave Carbaugh, John Cashman, Mike Carriker, Doug Forsythe, Tom Melody, Larry
Rockliff, & William Wainwright, “Aerodynamic Principles of Large-Airplane Upsets,”
FAST Special: Airbus Technical Digest, June 1998. Available at
maneuvering is not a viable option for mitigating the risk of missile attacks.
However, properly trained crews may be able to use other special procedures to evade
missile attacks. Examples of procedures that may be considered to reduce the
airplane’s heat signature and vulnerability to missile strikes include minimizing the
use of auxiliary power units and other heat sources when operationally feasible;
minimizing engine power settings; and, if a missile launch is detected, reducing
engine power settings to minimum levels required to sustain flight at a safe altitude.
The effectiveness and safety risks associated with techniques such as these will need
to be carefully assessed before procedural measures are implemented.
Another mitigation technique may be to alter air traffic procedures to minimize
the amount of time airliners are vulnerable to missile launches and make flight
patterns less predictable. Current arrival procedures rely on gradual descents along
well defined and publicly known approach courses that place airplanes within range
of shoulder-fired SAMs as far away as 50 miles from the airport.58 Similarly,
departing aircraft with heavy fuel loads operating at high engine power, often along
predefined departure routes, may be particularly vulnerable and can be targeted up
to 30 miles away from the airport before they climb above the effective range of
Military aircraft often use spiral descents from altitude above the airfield when
operating in hostile areas. Using spiral descents may be an option for mitigating the
threat of terrorist SAM attacks to airliners approaching domestic airports. Doing so
can limit approach and descent patterns to a smaller perimeter around the airfield
where security patrols can more effectively deter terrorist attacks. While spiral
approaches may be implemented on a limited basis, wide scale use of spiral patterns
would likely require extensive restructuring of airspace and air traffic procedures.
This technique may present safety concerns by greatly increasing air traffic controller
workload and requiring pilots to make potentially difficult turning maneuvers at low
altitude. The use of spiral patterns could also reduce passenger comfort and
confidence in flight safety. Also, this technique would not mitigate the risk to
departing aircraft, which are generally considered to be the most vulnerable to missile
Another technique used by military aircraft, particularly fighter jets, to reduce
vulnerability on departure is to make steep, rapid climb outs above the effective range
of surface to air missiles over a short distance. Like spiral descents, such a technique
has limited application for civilian jet airliners. A typical climb gradient for these
aircraft is between 400 and 500 feet per mile, which means that they remain in range
of shoulder-fired missiles for about 40 to 50 miles after departure. Even if the
airplane were to double its climb rate, which would probably be close to the
maximum practically achievable climb rate for most jet airliners, the distance
traveled before safely climbing above the range of shoulder-fired missiles would still
[http://www.airbus.com/customer/fastspecial.asp]. (Also published in Boeing Aero No. 3).
58 Marvin B. Shaffer, Op cit.
59 Robert Wall & David A. Fulghum, Op cit.
be 20 miles or more. Climbing out at such a steep rate would also pose a risk to the
aircraft since it may not provide an adequate margin of safety if an engine were to fail
during climb out. Also, steep climb angles are likely to be perceived as objectionable
Another option that may be considered is to vary approach and departure
patterns. Regularly varying approach and departure patterns, in non-predicable ways,
may make it more difficult for terrorists to set up a shoulder-fired SAM under a
known flight corridor; and, may increase the probability that they will be detected,
while trying to locate a usable launch site, by ground surveillance, local law
enforcement, or civilians reporting suspicious activities. One challenge to
implementing this technique is that aviation radio frequencies are not protected, and
terrorists might gather intelligence regarding changing flight patterns. Also, flight
tracking data are available in near real time from Internet sources and may be
exploited by terrorists to gain information about aircraft position. Nonetheless, this
approach could be a deterrent by making overflights of particular locations less
predictable. Limitations to this approach include disruption of normal air traffic flow
which may result in delays, increased air traffic controller workload, and possible
interference with noise mitigation procedures. Varying air traffic patterns may be a
viable mitigation technique, particularly at airports with low to moderate traffic and
for approach and departure patterns that overfly sparsely populated areas. Also,
maximizing the use of over water approach and departure procedures, when
available, coupled with measures to limit or restrict access to and increase patrols of
waters under these flight paths has also been suggested as a mitigation alternative.60
Other suggested changes to air traffic procedures include the increased use of
nighttime flights and minimal use of aircraft lighting. However, this approach is
likely to be opposed by the airlines and passengers since there is little demand for
night flights in many domestic markets. Furthermore, minimizing the use of aircraft
lighting raises safety concerns for aircraft collision avoidance. While the airspace
system includes good radar coverage in the vicinity of airports and airliners are
required to have collision avoidance systems, the last line of protection against midair
collisions is the flight crew’s ability to see and avoid other aircraft. Therefore,
increased use of night flights and minimizing aircraft lighting is not thought to be a
particularly viable mitigation option.
Improvements to Airport and Local Security
One of the most expedient measures that can be taken to mitigate the risk from
shoulder-fired SAMs to airliners is to heighten security, surveillance, and patrols in
the vicinity of airports served by air carriers. The difficulty with implementing these
security measures is that the approach and departure corridors where aircraft operate
within range of shoulder-fired SAMS extend for several miles beyond airport
perimeters. Therefore, while heightening security in the immediate vicinity of an
airport may reduce the threat from shoulder-fired SAMs, these measures cannot
effectively mitigate the threat during the entire portion of flight while airliners are
vulnerable to attack. Nonetheless, using threat and vulnerability assessments, airport
60 Marvin B. Schaffer, Op cit.
and airspace managers can work with security forces to determine those locations
beyond the airport perimeter that have high threat potential and where aircraft are
most vulnerable to attack. Using this information, security can concentrate patrols
and surveillance in these high risk areas. Airport security managers will likely need
to work closely with local law enforcement to coordinate efforts for patrolling these
high risk areas.
Terrorist acts are preceded by planning activities, much of which is observable.
Because law enforcement officers can’t be everywhere, public education and
neighborhood watch programs in high risk areas may also be effective means to
mitigate the threat. The Air Force has instituted a “neighborhood watch”- type
program that might serve a model for broader application. Civilians and
servicemembers are trained in the “Eagle Eye Program” to recognize elements of
potential terrorist activity, and how to most effectively report their observations.61
Aerial patrols using sensor technology, such as Forward Looking Infrared
(FLIR), may also be an effective tool for detecting terrorists lurking underneath flight
paths. However, use of aerial patrols may significantly impact normal flight
schedules and operations, particularly at the nation’s larger airports.
Detecting and eliminating a terrorist threat before an attack is initiated is the
optimal solution. If terrorists are not detected prior to launch, rapid detection and
accurate identification of a missile attack would be a critical step in an effective
defense. In 2004 DOD evaluated ground-based warning systems composed of
networked arrays of different kinds of sensors (e.g., electro-optical, radar). Such
ground-based sensor grids could potentially warn and cue aircraft-based, or ground-
based missile countermeasures.
Ground-based missile countermeasures could potentially take many forms.
Randomly dispensing flares in the vicinity of airports has been suggested, noting that
the Israeli airline El Al occasionally used this technique during periods of heightened
tension in the 1980s. However, ground-based flares pose a risk of fires on the ground
and therefore would not be suitable at many airports in the United States, particularly
those surrounded by populated or wooded areas. Furthermore, dispensing flares may
be annoying to some and may also diminish public confidence in the safety and
security of air travel. Ground based interceptors are another option that has been
suggested. These interceptors could be vehicle-mounted SAMs like the Marine
Corps “HUMRAAM” system, or directed energy weapons like the Army’s tactical
high-energy laser (THEL). The THEL has successfully intercepted rockets and
artillery shells in tests.62 Cost, reliability, probability of intercept, and potential side-
effects and unintended consequences would have to be weighed when considering
these options. Older “lamp-based” IR countermeasures might also offer some missile
jamming capability, by generating wide, if relatively weak, fields of IR energy near
airports. Industry is also exploring, and promoting, the potential deployment of
61 2nd Lt. Ashley Conner. “Eagle Eyes in Action.” Air Force Print News. September 14,
62 Marc Selinger, “Laser to Target Large-Caliber Rockets for First Time, U.S. Army Says,”
Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, April 19, 2004.
microwave-based countermeasures. Ground-based antennas could emit a microwave
pulse intended to defeat a terrorist missile by “jamming” or confusing its electronic
systems. Again, costs, potential side-effects, and unintended consequences of all of
these potential approaches would have to be assessed. The risk of interfering with,
or actually shooting down a commercial aircraft, for example, may be of primary
Another way to mitigate the threat of shoulder-fired SAMs is through
intelligence and law enforcement efforts to prevent terrorists from acquiring these
weapons, particularly terrorists operating inside the United States. Congress may
consider ways to improve current missile non-proliferation efforts, and may also wish
to debate ways to better share intelligence information with airport security managers
so that appropriate security measures can be implemented to respond to specific
Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation Efforts
Legal transfer of shoulder-fired SAMs is not governed by an international
treaty. The Wassenaar Arrangement63 is the only international agreement that
addresses shoulder-fired missiles sales and provisions governing these sales were not
adopted by its 33 members until December 2000. In December 2003, the Wassenaar
Arrangement adopted strengthened guidelines over control of shoulder-fired SAM
transfers.64 Recent actions by the Administration may, however, renew emphasis on
nonproliferation. According to press reports and a White House Fact Sheet65
President Bush obtained commitments from 21 Asian and Pacific Rim members of
the Asia Pacific Economic Group (APEC) to “adopt strict domestic export controls
on MANPADs; secure stockpiles; regulate MANPADs production, transfer, and
brokering; ban transfers to non-state end users; and exchange information in support
of these efforts.” APEC leaders meeting in Bangkok also agreed to strengthen their
national controls on MANPADs and review progress at next year’s APEC meeting
63 The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use
Technologies was established in 1995 to promote greater transparency and responsibility
with regard to transfers of armaments and sensitive dual-use goods and technologies. For
detailed information see [http://www.wassenaar.org].
64 See [http://www.wassenaar.org/2003Plenary/MANPADS_2003.htm] for recently-adopted
MANPADS export controls.
65 “New APEC Initiatives on Counterterrorism,” Fact Sheet from the Office of the Press
Secretary, the White House, Bangkok, Thailand, October 21, 2003; Philip Shenon, “U.S.
Reaches Deal to Limit Transfers of Portable Missiles,” New York Times, October 21, 2003;
Joseph Curl, “Asian Nations Agree to Aid Effort to Battle Terrorism,” Washington Times,
October 22, 2003.
66 “New APEC Initiatives on Counterterrorism.”
Since September 11, 2001, the G-8 countries67 have given increased emphasis
to multilateral efforts to reduce the proliferation of and risk from MANPADS in
terrorist hands. At the 2003 G-8 summit, member countries agreed to promote
adoption of Wassenaar’s strengthened MANPADS export guidelines by non-
Wassenaar countries. The G-8 also implement the following steps to prevent terrorist
acquisition of MANPADS:
!“To provide assistance and technical expertise for the collection,
secure stockpile management and destruction of Manpads surplus to
national security requirements;
!To adopt strict national export controls on Manpads and their
!To ensure strong national regulation of production, transfer and
!To ban transfers of Manpads to non-state end-users; Manpads should
only be exported to foreign governments or to agents authorised by
!To exchange information on uncooperative countries and entities;
!To examine the feasibility of development for new Manpads of
specific technical performance or launch control features that
preclude their unauthorized use;
!To encourage action in the International Civil Aviation Organization
(ICAO) Aviation Security (AVSEC) Working Group on Manpads.”68
At their 2004 Summit, G-8 countries agreed upon an action plan to implement and
expand the scope of the 2003 recommendations.69
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations
Specialized Agency, has also increased efforts to limit the proliferation of
MANPADS. ICAO has proposed that all 188 member countries adopt the Wassenaar
Arrangement MANPADS export guidelines, and develop a “universal regime of
control for MANPADS.”70
The U.S. State Department has undertaken a number of bilateral and multilateral
efforts to reduce the number of shoulder-fired SAMs that could conceivably fall into
67 The G-8 is composed of the major industrial democracies that meet annually to address
the major economic and political issues facing their domestic societies and the international
community. The six countries at the first summit in 1975 were Britain, France, Germany,
Italy, Japan and the United States. Canada joined in 1976 and the European Union joined
in 1977. Membership in the G7 was fixed and the USSR and then Russia participated in a
post-summit dialogue with the G7 since 1991. Russia fully participated in the 1998 Summit,
giving birth to the G8.[http://www.g7.utoronto.ca/what_is_g8.html].
the hands of terrorists.71 Through the Small Arms and Light Weapons Destruction
Program72 the State Department is working with countries or regions where there is
a combination of excess shoulder-fired SAMs, poor control, and a risk of
proliferation to terrorist groups or other undesirable groups to destroy excess stocks
and develop security and accountability measures.
Promising agreements have been reported. On February 24, 2005, for example,
the United States and Russia announced an agreement to facilitate efforts to destroy
obsolete MANPADS and cooperate in reducing the potential for future
proliferation.73 The United States has also worked with its NATO partners to reduce
MANPADS stockpiles. On February 18, 2005, the NATO Partnership for Peace Trust
Fund Project was established to help the Ukraine destroy its stockpiles of excess
munitions, including MANPADS. Other countries, such as Serbia, Bosnia-
Herzegovina, Cambodia, Nicaragua, and Liberia have pledged to destroy excess
MANPADS in their possession.
These formal and informal agreements have led to a reduction in MANPADS.
As of September 20, 2005, the State Department reported a total of 17,000 excess or
illicitly held MANPADS have been destroyed world-wide. When countries have
balked at implementing their pledges, economic and diplomatic pressure have been
brought to bear. The Bush Administration, for example, threatened to withhold
military aid to Nicaragua until that country destroyed approximately 1,000 SA-7s74
There are a number of both formal and informal counterproliferation actions that
could be undertaken. Informally, U.S. and coalition forces routinely seize and destroy
caches of shoulder-fired SAMs during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq,
thereby reducing the number of these systems available for terrorist use. Formally,
the U.S. is offering $500 for each shoulder-fired SAM turned over to authorities in
both Iraq and Afghanistan.75 According to one press report, 317 shoulder-fired
missiles had been turned over to U.S. military authorities in Iraq since May 1 2004,
with the U.S. paying out over $100,000 in rewards for the missiles.76 Other formal
options could include infiltrating black market, organized crime or terrorist groups,
71 Information in this paragraph is from a U.S. State Department information paper titled
“Department of State’s MANPADS Threat Reduction Efforts,” dated September 30, 2004,
72 See [http://www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/] for program details.
73 The “United States-Russia Arrangement on Cooperation in Enhancing Control of Man-
Portable Air Defense systems” facilitates mutual destruction of obsolete or excess
MANPADS, exchange information on controlling MANPADS including improving
measures to enhance physical security, and to share information about MANPADS sales and
transfers to third countries.” State Dept. Fact Sheet. OpCit.
74 Pablo Bachelet. “U.S. Withholds Aid Over Missing Weapons.” Miami Herald. March
75 “Rewards Offered for Missile Launcher,” USA Today, August 1, 2003, p. 6.
76 Raymond Bonner, “The Struggle for Iraq: Missing Weapons; U.S. Can’t Locate Missiles
Once Held in Arsenal of Iraq,” New York Times, October 8, 2003.
and seizing or destroying these missiles or setting up “sting” operations to arrest arms
brokers and seize their missiles.
Shoulder-Fired Missile Design and Manufacture
It may be possible to incorporate specific characteristics in the design and
manufacture of new shoulder-fired missiles that would make it more difficult for
terrorists to use them. While these measures would have no effect on the shoulder-
fired missiles that have already been manufactured and proliferated, they could be
part of a long-term strategy for reducing the threat to commercial aviation.
Permissive Action Links (PALs) is one example of a technology that could be
incorporated in future shoulder-fired missiles to “tamper-proof” them. PALs are
essentially microchip-based cryptographical “trigger locks” that ensure that only
authorized personnel can use a given weapon system. Congress has shown interest
in exploring PALs for Stinger missiles (H.R. 3576, p.219), but a lack of
implementation suggests resistance on the part of the Army. It may be that Army
representatives fear that PALs could complicate legitimate use of a shoulder-fired
missile. Incorporating PALs could potentially raise the cost of a weapon system.
Thus, incorporating them on a multi-lateral basis may be required so U.S.
manufactures are not put at an export disadvantage vis-a-vis foreign manufacturers.
Congressional Action on Shoulder-Fired Missiles
Many in Congress have expressed concern about the threat MANPADS could
pose to civil aircraft. Specific concerns include protecting civilians and mitigating the
potential financial burden for an already besieged airline industry. Legislation has
been proposed, and congressional committees have received classified briefings on
the subject in closed door hearings.77 During the 108th Congress, Representative
Steve Israel and Senator Barbara Boxer introduced legislation (H.R. 580, S. 311)
directing the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations requiring airliners to be
equipped with missile defense systems.78
Language in the conference report accompanying the Emergency Wartime
Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-11; H.Rept. 108-76) directed the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under Secretary for Science and
Technology to prepare a program plan for developing such missile protection systems
for commercial aircraft. This program was subsequently funded in appropriations
legislation and is progressing. The program is described in detail below in the section
of this report addressing Administrative Plans and Programs.
77 Marc Selinger, “Lawmakers Push Anti-missile Systems for Commercial Aircraft,”
Aerospace Daily, January 21, 2003 and Walt, Op cit.
78 S. 311 was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and
Transportation on February 5, 2003.On February 28, 2003 H.R. 580- was referred to the
House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Total Force. Executive comment was
requested from DoD, and unfavorable comment was received on May 14, 2003.
The National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458) directs the
President to urgently pursue international treaties to limit the availability, transfer,
and proliferation of Man-portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADSs), such as
shoulder-fired missiles, worldwide. The act further directs the President to continue
to pursue international arrangements for the destruction of excess, obsolete, and
illicit MANPADS stockpiles worldwide. The act requires the President to report on
diplomatic efforts to address MANPADS non-proliferation and requires the Secretary
of State to provide the Congress with annual briefings on the status of these efforts.
The act also requires the FAA to establish a process for expedited certification of
airworthiness and safety for missile defense systems that can be mounted on
commercial aircraft. The act also requires the DHS to provide a report within one
year assessing the vulnerability of aircraft to MANPADS attacks and plans for
securing airports and aircraft from this threat.
At least three other bills introduced during the 108th Congress addressed
methods for mitigating the threat of shoulder-fired missiles to commercial aviation.
H.R. 4056, H.R. 5121 Section 23, and H.R. 10 Section 4103 all called for the pursuit
of further diplomatic and cooperative efforts (including bilateral and multilateral
treaties) to limit availability, transfer, and proliferation of MANPADS. Additionally,
they call for a continuation of current efforts to assure the destruction of excess,
obsolete, and illicit stocks of MANPADS worldwide. These bills also called for the
establishment of agreements with foreign countries requiring MANPADS export
licenses and prohibiting re-export or retransfer of MANPADS and associated
components to a third party, organization, or foreign government without written
consent of the government that approved the original transfer.
Section 2241 of the State Department Authorization Bill (S. 2144) mirrored the
provisions of the three bills described above. Section 2125 of the bill provided $10
million in the “Nonproliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining, and Related Programs”
account for multilateral and bilateral efforts to reduce the threat of MANPADS. (P.L.
In FY2006, several committees considered legislation pertaining to counter-
MANPADS programs. DoD requested $13.3 million in research and development
funds for a “MANPADS Defense Program” (P.E. # 0604618D8Z). This is to
investigate the development of a ground-based, electro-optical sensor grid that is
hoped to provide launch detection and warning of shoulder-fired missiles. Key
aspects of this program are to leverage commercially available technologies to lower
cost, and to ensure that system is suitable for use in urban environments. Defense
authorization conferees (H.Rept. 109-360, p. 600) matched the administration’s
funding request. Appropriations conferees (H. Rept. 109-359, p.444) provided $5.5
more than requested.
Administration Plans and Programs
In response to P.L. 108-11/H.Rept.108-76, DHS submitted a plan to Congress79
on May 22, 2003. The plan specifies a two year time frame for development,
design, testing, and evaluation of an anti-missile device on a single aircraft type. The
plan anticipates that a parallel FAA certification effort will coincide with this system
development and demonstration leading to an FAA-certified system that can be
operationally deployed on commercial aircraft at the end of the two year project or
The program plan submitted by DHS estimated that the costs to carry out this
project would consist of $2 million in FY2003 for administrative costs, $60 million
in FY2004 for system development and initial testing, and an unspecified amount, not
to exceed $60 million, in FY2005 to complete development and demonstration of the
system and obtain FAA certification. The Department of Homeland Security
Appropriations Act for 2004 (P.L. 108-90) fully funded the requested $60 million in
FY2004 for this effort and an additional $61 million was appropriated in FY2005
(H.R. 4567/P.L 108-334). For FY2006, the requested amount of $110 million was
fully appropriated for carrying the program into the next phase of more detailed
system refinement, testing, and certification for deployment on a wide variety of
commercial passenger jets. This effort is expected to conclude in FY2007.
The DHS established the system development program in a manner that would
apply existing technologies from the military environment to the commercial airline
environment rather than developing new technologies. In this manner, the DHS
hopes to leverage military investment in counter-MANPADS technology in order to
identify a technical solution that can be deployed in the civil aviation environment
in a much faster time frame assuming that such a system can be tailored to meet the
operational needs and requirements of civilian flight operations.
The DHS established a Counter-MANPADs Special Program Office (SPO) to
manage the program which the DHS envisions will consist of three phases. Phase I,
which was completed in July 2004, consisted of an intensive six-month effort to
assess proposed solutions based on threat mitigation capabilities, system costs,
airframe and avionics integration, and FAA certification issues. Three contractor
teams led by Northrop-Grumman, BAE Systems, and United Airlines were awarded
$2 million each to develop detailed systems descriptions and analysis of economic,
manufacturing, maintenance, systems safety, and operational effectiveness issues for
applying their systems in the commercial aircraft environment.
Following a DHS-led review of each contractor team’s Phase I work and their
proposals for Phase II, on August 25, 2004, DHS awarded $45 million to BAE
Systems and Northrop Grumman to carry out Phase II of development.80 Phase II
79 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Program Plan for the Development of an
Antimissile Device for Commercial Aircraft, Washington, DC.
80 “BAE, Northrop Grumman Tapped for Counter MANPADS Development, Prototypes,”
Defense Daily, August 26, 2004.
consisted of an 18-month prototype development and evaluation based on existing
technology. Both contractors received awards of about $45 million each for this
effort which is currently wrapping up with the delivery of two complete
countermeasure units per contractor. Both contractors developed systems that rely
on laser-based directed IR countermeasures (i.e., DIRCM) to protect commercial
aircraft from IR-guided MANPADS attacks. The United Airlines-led team which
was not selected for Phase II, had instead proposed a system that would have used
expendable flare decoys to divert incoming missiles.81 According to DHS officials,
two primary reasons why the United team was not selected was that there were safety
issues on the flight line for the expendable pyrotechnic decoys and that there were
issues with the system concerning false alarms.82
The BAE Systems team, which also includes American Airlines and Honeywell,
and the Northrop Grumman team, which includes Federal Express and Northwest
Airlines, have developed prototypes over an 18 month period that are being tested on
commercial aircraft. The Northrop Grumann prototype system, called Guardian, and
the BAE Systems prototype, dubbed JetEye, both underwent airborne testing on
widebody airliners to determine their effectiveness. Final flight testing and
completion of Phase II, originally targeted for January 2006, has been delayed until
late February or early March 2006, although representatives from both companies
stated that initial data indicate both systems have been able to meet test requirements
specified by DHS.83 Both firms, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman, have also
developed directed energy infrared countermeasures systems for the U.S. military. 84
Northrop Grumman is currently delivering its Large Aircraft IRCM system for
installation on U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 transports while BAE is developing
and delivering an IRCM system for U.S. Army aircraft.85
That next phase of the DHS counter-MANPADS program for commercial
aircraft was funded in FY2006 appropriations and the intent of this additional funding
is to gain further experience installing and testing the systems on a broader array of
commercial aircraft types and improve the robustness of the systems under
operational conditions encountered in the commercial aviation environment. The
FY2006 DHS Appropriations Act (P.L. 109-90) provides $110 million to award
contracts for Phase III of the civilian airline counter-MANPADS program. This
phase will include delivery and installation of pre-production equipment on
commercially operated aircraft by U.S. cargo carriers similar to those aircraft
dedicated to meet the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) requirement. To foster
competition, the funds are planned to be used to maintain two contractors in Phase
83 “Anti-missile Bids Set for Next Stage.” Flight International, January 31, 2006.
84 Calvin Biesecker, “Counter-MANPADS Challenge Is Making the Commercial Fit, Firms
Say,” Defense Daily, August 27, 2004, pp. 5-6.
III.86 During the Phase III effort, both companies will install test systems on a variety
of aircraft types and obtain certification for use on additional aircraft types. The
goals of Phase III include live-fire testing, improving system reliability to meet
performance specifications for commercial airline applications, adding ground
notification alerting capabilities, and developing security features to safeguard
sensitive military technology in units installed on aircraft that travel internationally
or are exported to foreign countries.87
A House proposal to designate $10 million of the FY2006 appropriation for the
DHS counter-MANPADS program toward emerging alternative counter-MANPADS
technology was not included in the final FY2006 appropriation. That proposal,
contained in House report language, expressed concern that counter-MANPADS
technologies currently being pursued under the DHS program “will not be sufficiently
able to meet the challenges of commercial application at a cost that is economically
feasible” and recommended that some funds be directed toward assessing other
emerging technologies, principally ground-based countermeasures, that “may be
simpler and more cost effective, but are far from fully developed.”88 While annual
operating and support (O&S) costs — estimated by the RAND Corporation to be a
little over $300,000 per airplane89 — has raised significant concerns among both
commercial airplane manufacturers and airlines over the use of aircraft-based
counter-MANPADS systems, policymakers have not directed the DHS to formally
examine alternative technologies, although the House did recommend doing so.
However, as previously noted, FY2006 DoD appropriations included R&D funding
for ground-based electro-optical sensor arrays to detect and warn of shoulder-fired
The FY2007 President’s budget request includes $4.88 million for the Counter-
MANPADS SPO to continue oversight and evaluation of the Phase III contracts
expected to be awarded in FY2006 and carried out in the FY2006-FY2007 time
frame. The FY2007 President’s budget does not seek any additional funding for new
DHS Counter-MANPADS initiatives beyond or in addition to the Phase III contracts.
No single solution can immediately and completely mitigate the shoulder-fired
SAM threat. As Congress considers possible legislative and oversight approaches, it
is likely that it may consider implementing various combinations of available
mitigation alternatives in whole or in part. In addition, Congress may consider
phasing in mitigation options to best respond to available threat assessments or other
86 Budget-in-Brief Fiscal Year 2006. Department of Homeland Security. Washington, DC.
87 “Anti-missile Bids Set for Next Stage.” OpCit.
88 H.Rept. 109-79, p. 116.
89 James Chow, James Chiesa, Paul Dreyer, Mel Eisman, Theodore W. Karasik, Joel Kvitky,
Sherrill Lingel, David Ochmanek, and Chad Shirley. Protecting Commercial Aviation
Against the Shoulder-Fired Missile Threat.RAND.
criteria. For example, if threat assessments indicate that large widebody airplanes are
most at risk, Congress may consider whether initially equipping these airplanes
would more effectively deter the threat of missile attacks. Congress may also
consider whether it would be more effective to initially equip aircraft used on
overseas flights, particularly those operating in countries or regions where the risk of
missile attacks is greatest. Congress may also debate whether equipping only a
portion of the air carrier fleet would be a sufficient deterrent, whether all-cargo jets
should be equipped, whether passenger carrying regional jets should be equipped, or
whether equipping the entire air carrier fleet is needed to adequately mitigate the
Equipping aircraft with missile countermeasure systems has advantages.
Countermeasures are fixed to the aircraft, require little or no flight crew intervention,
and can protect the aircraft even when operating in areas where ground-based security
measures are unavailable or infeasible to implement. Down sides include a high
cost, and potentially undermining passenger confidence in the safety and security of
air travel. Also, because implementation will take time, countermeasures cannot
immediately mitigate today’s terrorist threat. Procedural improvements such as flight
crew training, changes to air traffic management, and improved security near airports
may be less costly than countermeasures and could more immediately help deter
domestic terrorist attacks. However, these techniques by themselves cannot
completely mitigate the risk of domestic attacks and would not protect U.S. airliners
flying to and from foreign airports.
Congress and the Administration have initiated preliminary actions intended to
provide a degree of protection to commercial airliners. Legislation introduced in theth
108 Congress (H.R. 580/S. 311) called for the installation of missile defense
systems in all turbojet aircraft used in scheduled air carrier service. The Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) appropriations for 2004 (P.L.108-90) designated $60
million for development and testing of a prototype missile countermeasure system for
commercial aircraft and DHS initially envisioned a two year program totaling about
$100 million to develop, test, and certify a suitable system. Congress provided an
additional $61 million to continue the program in FY2005 (P.L.108-280), and for
FY2006, designated $110 million to conduct a more extensive third phase of the
project that is anticipated to be carried out over the next two years. These actions
may constitute a starting point for the consideration of additional protective measures
designed to address all aspects of the shoulder-fired SAM threat.