The Manpad Threat – An Update
threat from man-portable surface-to-air missiles has worried aviation experts
for years, but in the past week it has become far more than a theoretical risk.
It is now time for the federal government to undertake a crash program to
protect the nation’s civilian airliners from the dangers of “Manpad”
missiles, as the weapons are known.
an article about the Manpad threat last year (“Terror
in the Sky – the Manpad Threat,” DefenseWatch,
only a matter of time before [a Russian Manpad] or a Stinger purchased with
drugs on the world-wide black market brings down a passenger liner in a way that
leaves no doubt about what happened. The havoc experienced by the airline
industry following 9/11 will pale against the public’s reaction to a confirmed
terrorist downing of a passenger plane. Tragically, there is little we can do
about this threat, except to be as vigilant as possible in ferreting out trades
before they happen. But they will happen. The inevitable result cannot be
scenario appeared closer to playing out on
point last year was that there is little that can be done about these threats
except to nip them in the bud, which is exactly what our guys did. Working in
close cooperation with British and Russian officials over several months, the
FBI finally arrested Lakhani,
British arms dealer, when he attempted to sell a Russian SA-18 Igla Manpad to an
undercover FBI agent posing as an Islamist terrorist.
is more to this story, however. It appears that Lakhani
did not actually develop his Russian contacts on his own, but had significant
help from Russian undercover agents. In fact, the Manpad he procured for resale
to the American “Islamist” was not an actual working missile, but a
realistic training mock-up supplied by those undercover agents.
News revealed last week that the government’s key witness in this case is an
informant seeking leniency on federal drug charges. Furthermore, it appears that
Lakhani may not have ever carried out this operation on his own. He appears to
have been a small-time operator with a bark more vicious than his bite – until
his attitude brought him to the attention of British authorities, who contacted
the Americans, who, with the Russians, set Lakhani up for his fall.
the question here is, do we score one for the good guys, or do we chalk this one
up to our guys trying too hard?
don’t have a problem with locking Lakhani away for his natural life.
Regardless of the circumstances, he really did believe he was arranging for a
Manpad to shoot down a large American plane. But while our guys were playing
cat-and-mouse games with this small-timer, how many real missile sales into the
brings us back to the main issue: What can we do to prevent the inevitable
besides intercepting potential Manpad shipments?
turns out, quite a lot. There are viable missile defense systems that can be
installed on civilian airliners.
Israeli and American defense contractors have been working on the problem ever
since it was first identified. Their efforts have produced two approaches to the
solution. Both use radar onboard the aircraft to detect incoming missiles. Since
all Manpads rely upon some kind of heat-seeking technology, one defensive system
automatically launches hot flares to divert the missiles from the plane’s jet
engines, which they would otherwise track. The other concept illuminates the
incoming missiles with intense laser beams that confuse their guidance systems.
systems have been manufactured in
flare systems are inherently less expensive than the laser systems, but they
introduce an added hazard to civilian aircraft because of their combustibility.
The laser systems weigh just over 300 pounds and operate with full autonomy,
informing the pilot in real time that a missile is being diverted. The laser
system can be retrofitted on any civilian aircraft during a short down-time –
12 to 24 hours.
is the good news.
bad news is that current production models cost over $3 million apiece. There is
a ready solution for this, however.
full production, these same laser units will cost only $1.2 million, installed.
initial cost for manufacture and installation of this system on all our civilian
passenger aircraft amounts to $8.2 billion. I suggest that Congress pick up this
tab immediately, as a “loan” to the airline firms. Then, each passenger will
be charged a $25 surcharge commencing immediately to repay this money. The cost
would be recovered in 326.4 million passenger flights, which calculates out to
1.3 million airline trips, or just under 200 flights per plane.
means that the airline industry could fully repay the taxpayers in about a year.
though we have intercepted at least one attempt to sell Manpads to terrorists in
Congress chooses, we can accomplish the installation of these laser systems on
all 6,800 of our civilian aircraft within a week or so after the defenses are
built (give contractors a month to build all 6,800), and pay it off over the
coming year at a cost of $25 per passenger, per flight.
my book that’s a bargain.