2018 To Walk the Earth in Safety: The Interagency MANPADS Task Force: Protecting Global Aviation
What are MANPADS?
MANPADS (man-portable air defense system) are shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles first developed in the 1960s for national militaries to protect troops and facilities. A single individual or crew can carry and fire MANPADS. Their relative compactness makes them easy to transport and conceal. Some of the most commonly produced MANPADS can fit into an automobile trunk. In the hands of terrorists, criminals, or other non-state actors, MANPADS pose a serious threat to commercial and military aircraft around the world.
Most MANPADS consist of three primary components: a missile packaged in a tube, a reusable trigger mechanism (“gripstock”), and a battery or battery cooling unit. The tube, which protects the missile until it is fired, is disposable. The single-use batteries powers the missile for a short period prior to launch.
MANPADS are usually 1.2 to 2 meters (4 feet to 6.5 feet) in length and about 76 millimeters (3 inches) in diameter. With gripstocks, they weigh about 13 to 25 kilograms (28 pounds to just over 55 pounds). 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 hit aircraft flying as high as 4.57 kilometers (about 25,000 feet) out to a horizontal range of up to 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). RPGs—unguided weapons designed for use against ground targets at much closer range—are generally much less effective against aircraft. 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 (NSPD-47) established a comprehensive strategy for aviation security to guide the U.S. government in dealing with evolving threats to aviation. NSPD-47 includes the International MANPADS Threat Reduction Plan, which established the Interagency MANPADS Task Force (MTF) to coordinate a whole of government approach to countering illicit MANPADS proliferation and mitigating the threat of MANPADS held by terrorist groups and other violent non-state actors. The MTF is comprised of representatives from numerous departments and agencies and is chaired by the Department of State.
In recent years, arms traffickers and violent extremists have looted MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons from unsecured state stockpiles in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, making efforts to reduce the threat to aviation even more crucial. PM/WRA’s stockpile security management and CWD programs, which have resulted in the reduction of over 39,000 MANPADS missiles, are critical to preventing further illicit proliferation of these dangerous weapons.
The MTF engages foreign partners to advance cooperation on MANPADS threat mitigation and counter proliferation initiatives. Foreign partners play a vital role in raising international awareness, curbing illicit proliferation, and mitigating local and regional MANPADS threats.
Specifically, the MTF works with partners to incorporate MANPADS recognition training into border and security training programs. This training helps prevent the illicit trafficking of MANPADS by providing essential personnel the ability to recognize and seize MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons when discovered. In addition, the U.S. government—through the Transportation Security Administration—has conducted more than 70 MANPADS Assist Visits (MAV) and basic training programs at airports all over the world. MAV and related training programs help build the capacity of partners to identify and mitigate potential MANPADS threats at international airports.