2017 To Walk the Earth in Safety: The U.S. Interagency MANPADS Task Force

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

What are MANPADS?

MANPADS (Man-portable Air Defense System) are surface-to-air missiles. They were originally developed in the 1960s for national military forces to protect troops and facilities. A single individual or crew can carry and fire MANPADS.

Most MANPADS consist of three components: a missile packaged in a tube, a reusable trigger mechanism (called a “gripstock”), and a battery. The tube, which protects the missile until it is fired, is disposable. A single-use battery typically powers the missile prior to launch.

MANPADS tubes are usually 1.2 to 2 meters (4 feet to 6.5 feet) in length and are about 76 millimeters (3 inches) in diameter. With gripstocks, they weigh from about 13 to 25 kilograms (28 pounds to just more than 55 pounds). This makes them easy to transport and conceal. Some of the most commonly produced MANPADS can fit into an automobile trunk.

Although they look similar, a MANPADS missile should not be confused with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). MANPADS missiles can travel at twice the speed of sound and strike aircraft flying at altitudes up to 4.57 kilometers (about 25,000 feet) or out to a horizontal range of up to 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). RPGs are unguided weapons designed for use against ground targets at much closer range, so they are generally much less effective against aircraft. However, some RPG attacks on aircraft flying at low altitudes and relatively slow speeds have been mistaken for MANPADS attacks.

The Interagency MANPADS Task Force

Since 1973, more than 40 civilian airliners have been hit by MANPADS. In 2002, terrorists used two MANPADS to try to shoot down an Israeli civilian airliner in Mombasa, Kenya. In 2006, National Security Presidential Directive 47 established a comprehensive strategy for aviation security, comprised of seven plans that guide the U.S. government in dealing with the ever-evolving threats to aviation. The International Aviation Threat Reduction Plan delineates specific responsibilities of various U.S. government agencies to mitigate the threat to aviation from MANPADS and other stand-off weapons. The Interagency MANPADS Task Force coordinates and facilitates U.S. government action to counter the illicit proliferation and use of MANPADS. In the hands of terrorists, criminals, or other non-state actors, MANPADS pose a serious threat to commercial and military aircraft around the world.

In recent years, arms traffickers and violent extremists have looted MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons from unsecured state stockpiles in Libya and Syria, making efforts to mitigate the MANPADS threat to aviation even more crucial. The Interagency MANPADS Task Force has continued to champion this effort with priority country engagements, increased MANPADS recognition training, and assessments of airports globally. These efforts are in addition to PM/WRA’s stockpile security management and CWD programs, which have resulted in the reduction of over 39,000 MANPADS missiles.

The MANPADS Task Force engages foreign partners in further cooperation and collaboration on MANPADS threat mitigation and counterproliferation initiatives. These engagements increase international awareness of threats posed by illicitly-proliferated MANPADS and act as a force multiplier for U.S. government threat mitigation efforts.

Additionally, the MANPADS Task Force works with various U.S. government entities to incorporate MANPADS recognition training into ongoing border and security training programs. This training helps prevent the illicit trafficking of MANPADS between borders and checkpoints by providing essential personnel the ability to identify and secure MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons when discovered.

Finally, the U.S. government has conducted more than 60 MANPADS assessment visits to airports all over the world, especially those identified as last points of departure to the United States. These assessments identify potential weaknesses to a MANPADS attack in an effort to improve airport security. The ongoing coordinated global efforts of the U.S. Interagency MANPADS Task Force promote stability and security both in the air and on the ground.