Illicitly proliferated Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or All-purpose Tactical Guided Missiles (ATGMs), continue to pose risks to international skies. Small and portable, MANPADS and ATGMs are incredibly lethal and carry with them sensitive advanced technology. With the safety of commercial and military aircraft at stake, securing airspace is a priority for the U.S. government and partner and Allied governments worldwide.
While some terrorists, criminals, and other non-state actors possess MANPADS and ATGMs, states and international organizations can act to prevent further proliferation of such weapons. The U.S. Interagency MANPADS Task Force (MTF) at the Department of State coordinates U.S. government efforts to reduce the threat that these dangerous weapons pose to international airspace. One element of this effort is training technical and policy officials from partner countries how to recognize, document, and safely secure these weapons. Together with representatives from other U.S. government agencies, members of the MTF conduct in-person and virtual MANPADS and ATGM Recognition Training (MART) in nearly every region worldwide, teaching partners how to identify each weapon system and record their manufacturing markings.
Since 2018, the MTF has led 133 training events for 2,417 recipients across the world. These training events help spread global awareness of the threat posed by MANPADS and ATGMs, encouraging partners to systematize their own standard operating procedures and build the technical capabilities of front-line customs and border security officials.The MTF’s training also supports other U.S. initiatives by building trust with international partners and often providing useful information on cases of suspected diversion.
As one example of this training, in March 2023, the MTF joined the Arab Civil Aviation Organization (ACAO), the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Government of Morocco to lead a U.S.-funded Aviation Security Workshop in Marrakech. Top civilian aviation officials from over 14 countries in the Middle East and Africa attended the conference, where they learned how to identify and mitigate threats to commercial airspace.
Additionally, the MTF has been closely cooperating with the Government of Ukraine and other governments in Europe to mitigate the potential risks of illicit weapons diversion resulting from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. In fact, the MTF assess that pro-Russia forces’ capture of Ukrainian weapons – including donated material – poses the greatest risk of diversion at this stage and could result in onward trafficking. To address this, the MTF provides MART in states neighboring Ukraine and is coordinating efforts with European partner governments to counter potential diversion. These efforts help Ukraine and neighboring countries improve accountability, strengthen their border management, and build the capacity of security forces and law enforcement to detect, deter, and interdict illicit trafficking of weapons, particularly advanced conventional weapons.
MANPADS and ATGMs may already be in the hands of some malicious actors, but the MTF’s recognition and reporting training enables partners to prevent these weapons from spreading further. While there is still much left to be done, the MTF’s training with others in the U.S. government as well as partners and Allies around the world continues to take significant steps toward creating global awareness of risks and the importance of securing international airspace.
The United States remains the world’s largest international donor to Conventional Weapons Destruction, providing more than $4.6 billion to support humanitarian mine action, physical security and stockpile management, and associated activities in more than 120 countries since 1993. For more information on how the State Department is strengthening human security, facilitating economic development, and fostering stability through demining, risk education, and other conventional weapons destruction activities, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Megan Edenfeld is an intern on the interagency MANPADS Task Force in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.