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Missiles That Matter

by John Reed on April 13, 2012

Here’s our quick mention of the North Korean Rocket fail — that made everyone angry — yesterday. Yup, the big, what turned out to be an almost non-event that everyone’s been obsessing over and will now promptly forget. (But, wait, you know someone’s going to start raising whether the failiure of the long-ragen rocket aimed at putting a “communications satellite” on orbit was due to Western sabotage.) Despite the title of this post, click here to see why that missile actually does matter. Ok, wow, enough about the DPRK’s damn rocket already.

Now to talk about some rockets that actually pose a threat. NATO yesterday said it blew up 5,000-shoulder-fired surface to air missiles (called Man-Portable Air Defense Systems; MANPADS. I love that ridiculous acronym, btw) that were rounded up after the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.

That’s all well and good, but those were only a quarter of the 20,000 or so shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that Gadhafi’s military had stockpiled around the country. We’ve written about this potential insurgent treaasure trove for a while now and just last month we saw that some of Gadhafi’s most advanced MANPADs have made their way into the hands of Levantine bad boys Hezbollah and Hamas. Remember, Gadhafi’s loose SAM stockpiles don’t just include ancient Soviet-made SA-7s that can barely find a target, they include the Russian-built SA-24 Grinch, one of the newest and most advanced shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles out there.

Now it appears that the Krazy Kolonel’s missiles and other weapons are making their way accross Africa and they may even be fueling violence everywhere from Mali to the waters off Somalia. In fact, Somali pirates may even be using naval mines looted from Gadhafi’s old bases!

Per Reuters:

“We found that Libyan weapons are being sold in what is the world’s biggest black market for illegal gun smugglers, and Somali pirates are among those buying from sellers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries,” said Judith van der Merwe, of the Algiers-based African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism.

“We believe our information is credible and know that some of the pirates have acquired ship mines, as well as Stinger and other shoulder-held missile launchers,” Van der Merwe told Reuters on the sidelines of an Indian Ocean naval conference.

I’m sure no on needs to be reminded of what a terrorist hiding near the flight path of a major airport could do with an SA-24.

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{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

dddd April 13, 2012 at 11:32 am

This supports the argument made by people such as Bruce Schneier that airport safety would benefit from a greater emphasis on perimeter security, as opposed to internal checkpoints that fail to make us any safer.


tiger April 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm

You mean like a few weeks back when a guy drove thru the fence at PHL and drove on the runway? You don't have to even be the close to use those Manpads. Plus how far to you take the Perimeter? You could pull over on the NJ turnpike & shoot at EWR. Can you watch every boat off JFK?


Tomuk April 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Agreed. The Sa-24 will reach out for you from 3.5 miles & up to 11,000 feet. Big perimeter, that.


dddd April 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Yeah, but it will be pretty difficult to get an SA-24 into an operational posture within the U.S. We should worry most about more portable systems.


tiger April 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm

IT is portable…. You stick on your shoulder & bang.

Chris April 13, 2012 at 11:54 am

Love the pic! Good to see Reebok is now sponsoring the jihad!


TMB April 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Carlos Mencia joked several years ago that we weren't in Iraq for the oil. "Hey Achmed, you're thinking small. Americans think big. Oil is worth about (finger pinch) this much compared to the money we're going to bone you out of when we open up Walmart! In two months you'll be wearing a turban with a Nike swoosh!


ffjbentson April 14, 2012 at 1:16 pm

when your stairing down the bore sight of an Apache or Reapier drone you need all the traction you can get…serpintine serpintine!!!!


Lance April 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Saw this happening after we supported the terrorist in the civil war. However im glad we did get ride of a quarter of these missiles. How ever the SA-7 may be old and dated which is easy for modern military aircraft to avoid and escape one. This isn't the case for commercial planes a old missile would have a easy time hitting one when a passenger plan is landing or just takes off. SA-14s and SA-24s are a larger threat since they can shoot down modern military planes All in the hands of Al Qaeda Hamas and Hezbollah thanks to the dumb decision to back Islamist against a bad but more controllable dictator.

We need to have our airliners like Israels to get some rudimentary counter measures to small sams asap.


DGR April 13, 2012 at 5:18 pm

The problem is that a single SA-7 isnt going to completly blow up a commercial jet. Ya it will destroy an engine, and cause a lot of damage but the aircraft wouldnt be blown out of the sky per say. Granted its not going to keep flying for to long, but there would be a good chance of getting it back to an airfield intact.

The bigger threat is that the media panic over such an incident would cripple the airlines and we would be looking at a near complete closure of air traffic as we know it. You would see airlines fold up in bankrupcy within a weeks time and within a month id be willing to bet air traffic would be almost non existant. There would be a call to install counter measures on passenger planes which would be expensive and again force airlines to spend money they dont have. In short the real danger would be economic, no shoulder fired weapon is going to obliterate a full passenger jet (unless its a lucky hit) the real damage would be the aftermath.


Lance April 14, 2012 at 1:59 am

Im sure if the Islamist want to bring down a airliner several SA-7s would be used and it could bring down a airliner with one hit either hitting the fuel line or its a smaller plane IE MD-80 737 ect.


EJ257 April 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Exactly. The DHL incident from 2003 in Baghdad illustrates this very well. The terrorists used a shoulder fired missile and hit the left wing of the A300. It damaged a lot of the left wing control surfaces, ruptured two of the fuel tanks and vented both the hydraulic systems. The pilots somehow manage to maintain control of the aircraft and circle around to land.



Riceball April 16, 2012 at 11:18 am

You sure that was a MANPAD and not an RPG? A MANPAD will track the hottest heat signature that it will "see" and that will almost always be the engines since wings generate negligible heat, esp. when compared to an engine. That's the reason why DGR and experts in this area have said that a single MANPAD isn't hat large of a threat to an airliner since the engines are placed in nacelles under the wings and away from the fuselage.


Sgt_Buffy April 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm

20,000 rounds or just the launchers?


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Is that 20k rounds hoarded since the Reagan administration? How long does this stuff last in storage? Stingers have a shelf-life, for example…


fromage April 14, 2012 at 11:03 am

I was under the impression that they came packaged as a complete unit. No?


Danmaku April 14, 2012 at 10:09 pm

I don't have much knowledge on the millitary besides small arms, but the SAM missiles were not specified. I guess there are versions that are fire and forget and others that require multiple shots? It would make more sense for a soldier to be carrying a launcher and some missiles than several launchers? Correct me someone if I am wrong. :P


Riceball April 16, 2012 at 11:25 am

SAMs are fire and forget, you lock on to your target, once locked you fire and the missile does the rest. At that point you either get the hell out of Dodge or attempt to reload and re-acquire your target but in a military scenario that doesn't work since your target aircraft will likely have detected in the launch and/or incoming missiles and is now moving out of range, and doing everything to make themselves harder to track and hit.

You can carry multiple reloads of most MANPADs but generally you really can't carry more than 2 or 3 due to size and weight unless you pack a vehicle full of them. But I don't think that they're quick reloading systems like an RPG since there probably would be something involving hooking up the missile to the tracking system on the launcher and by that time your target is either out of range and/or somebody is on their way to your location to put you out of business.


TMB April 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

SA-24: 42 pound full system, individual missile 24 pounds. Reloading time of 4 mins.

Curt April 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm

No, usually you have a gripstock, a battery (usually a pretty powerful but short lived thermal battery like on a Stinger), and a missile. A truck mounted system doesn't need the battery and has a different attachment and firing system. If any of the three is missing, you have modern art. Since there were no gripstocks in Libya per the Russians, there were also no batteries. So, if you can get a gripstock and a few batteries, which are controlled as tightly as the missiles, from someone else you are in business. Of course, if you have a gripstock and battery to sell someone, the odds are you have missiles as well. (see how quickly the logic breaks down)

Basic sequence,
1. Attach missile to gripstock.
2. When target is close, insert battery and activate seeker head
3. When target is aquired, pull trigger. If target isn't aquired, ditch used battery, insert new battery, and go back to step 2.


opl April 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm

20,000 missiles? really? seems incredibly inflated.


McPosterdoor April 13, 2012 at 1:51 pm

This site is a 'treaasure' trove of spelling errors. If you don't proofread the terrorists win.


SJE April 13, 2012 at 4:33 pm

It all went downhill after the famous "dictionary burning" incidents and the mass riots and suicide bombings by English teachers.


Danmaku April 14, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Great, I got raped by the Grammar Nazis even on DT.


Morty April 16, 2012 at 10:31 am
Morty April 16, 2012 at 10:35 am

If you don't spell correctly than Col.KKqNHIhfvjsnie of the Taliban will find you.


SJE April 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Successful "big news" terrorism usually requires state sponsorship. AlQaeda was sheltered in Af-Pak and by the Pak-ISI. Hezzbollah is funded by Assad. It was Ghadaffi who bombed PanAm over Lockerbie and bombed the German nightclub.

So, yeah, we should be concerned about MANPADS. At the same time, I'm not sure that we can conclude that the world is now less safe because Ghadaffi is gone.


tiger April 13, 2012 at 6:09 pm

The US have long since moved on from Lockerbie. The Bomber trial, the end of his WMD program, Visits to the UN. Obama picks & chooses who to be bugged over. I've yet to see one damn thing done about North Korea. Missles, ship sinkings, nuke tests, shellings. All they get is nasty emails……


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm

The DPRK has been in its dunce corner since…well, the beginning.

Clinton couldn't get much out of them. Bush Jr put them on the Axis list and didn't get anything out of them either.

The United States moved on with Libya with a mere armchair guarantee that Gaddafi would disassemble his WMD program. Saddam made similar promises and even had UN inspectors on the ground, and nobody believed him.

Once the US gave Gaddafi the Gold Star of Rehabilitation the floodgates opened. The UN came. FN could sell weapons to Libya. So could the Russians. Everyone was happy…


SJE April 16, 2012 at 11:57 am

My point is not whether we have moved on or not. The point is that the risk posed by loose MANPADS has to be balanced against the decreased risk for getting rid of a known sponsor of terrorism.


Ems April 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm

aren't those SA24 all suppose to be truck mounted launch system…rather than actually portable ? much harder to transport to the US


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm


"To fire Iglas as a man-portable weapon you need a separate trigger mechanisms that were not supplied to Libya"

Strangely, I am *not* reassured…


tiger April 13, 2012 at 6:11 pm

The USA is full of trucks….. Not that hard.


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 6:14 pm

And considering the things the rebels mcgyvered together, I don't think the absence of a trigger firing mechanism is going to deter them. They'll build/fabricate a mount.


Curt April 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Except you need more than a truck, you need the firing system that mounts on a truck which is in decidedly limited supply in the US.


JackBlack April 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm
Hotel55 April 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm

The worst ones are the Western Origin Man Portable Air Defense Systems, or WOMANPADS, for short… Those things can be nasty!


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Total production of the Stinger is allegedly between 70-80k…but that's /total/. Hard to imagine Gaddafi sitting on that many missiles. Not that many helicopters to shoot down?


Nick T. April 13, 2012 at 6:38 pm

Well, the Colonel certainly didn't lack for Paranoia. I think his train of thought was that he would have to fight a full fledged invasion, and have the support of his people in milita form. Surprise, his people didn't like him as much as he thought, and he was left sitting on a honkin' pile of ManPad's he didn't need.


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I suspect he had more supporters than I give him credit for. He certainly sounds like he prioritized western libya over east and overtly used the tuareg as his prateorians and gone all pan-African; and perhaps if he hadn't been so overtly favoritist the rebellion might never have gotten as far.

He was kooky, and it didn't help his credibility with some of the masses.


anantoniusbauwens April 14, 2012 at 8:21 am

That news I like blowing up 5,000 shoulder armed missles at one timenow lets stop making them so we can all fly.I dont think there is a need for artm. since we have high alltitute pilotless planes so lets get rid of more of these missles,from dictators countries that have fallen.We surelly do not want them on any street in any country showing up in wrong hands of terror…


fromage April 14, 2012 at 11:05 am

See McPosterdoor's comment above.


tom April 18, 2012 at 11:39 am

Those nutty norks trying to play big boy in the real world, doesn't "chaz bono" oops! i mean Uno should understand that they could benefit far more with peaceful methods then trying to sabre rattle. China keeps them as a counter balance and a leverage for the west.If it was up to china the korea as we all know it would be united and be a powerhouse in the world markets beyond what Uno could ever think of. Rightnow Uno has to please the old guard to hold his future spot as god(this is a joke i know) an has to jump through the loops.China is learning this lesson and maybe the norks will some decade down the road


anthony May 12, 2012 at 5:20 am

I hope they will destroy most of them,before they destroy innocent people.The markt in weapons id so big ,let alone the sales,lets get those dictator led countriesdown before they can buy such to use against us when to late!!


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Twidget at large April 13, 2012 at 11:30 am

Just 15,000 to go.


SJE April 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

All true. OTOH, supporting the insurgency in Libya was never seen as merely about Ghadaffi.
1. It consolidated the reforms in N. Africa and Africa in general.
2 It signals support for democratic reform in the middle east. The revolt in Syria flows from the Arab spring and has been fueled by the the change in Libya.
3. The current pressure on Assad has undermined Hezbollah and Hamas.


blight_ April 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm

If we are afraid of weapons proliferation after every regime change, I guess we paid the price after invading Iraq. Then again, weapons didn't spread across the globe…they stayed to be used against our troops.

Of course, if we went in and out, the weapons would've disappeared over the border into Iran overnight.


Black Owl April 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm

I love your optimism, guys.


tiger April 13, 2012 at 6:03 pm

A year later I see far more dead bodies in Syria than in Libya. Yet, no "No Fly" non sense. We kicked the easy can for really not good reason. Saddam had it coming. Gahadffi was on decent terms with the West.


guess April 16, 2012 at 2:40 am

Don’t forget Libyan oil interests of European based Companies. Sadly its looking like that might have contributed


dddd April 16, 2012 at 12:20 pm

i thought it was truck-mounted


TMB April 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm

That whole family of MANPADS look a lot like the ones in the photo. As the article said several times, "man portable" "shoulder fired."


Curt April 17, 2012 at 11:15 pm

But without the stock (which the Libyans didn't have) it still is only vehicle mounted.


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