MEDIA CONTACT: John Mazor, 703/481-4440


Washington, D.C.

June 22, 2004

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents 64,000 airline pilots who fly for 42 airlines in the U.S. and Canada, was among the first organizations to publicly express concerns regarding the Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) threat to aviation. The significance of the threat was included in several presentations to member organizations of the aviation security community and voiced internally to the ALPA membership nearly 20 years ago.

ALPA’s concern became apparent shortly after the termination of the Russian-Afghan War from 1979 to 1989. During the war, the U.S. supplied the Taliban with thousands of ‘Stinger’ type missiles to defend against the large Soviet helicopter fleet. They were designed to attack relatively slow moving targets and proved to be very effective when utilized within the scope of the designed missile’s capabilities.

Following the war, several MANPADS type weapons started to show up on black markets around the world. There were so many, in fact, that for decades the U.S. has had an ongoing effort directed at ‘buying-back’ as many of these as possible. Unfortunately, 20 or more countries manufacture about 30 different MANPADS systems and there could be as many as 600,000 of them available globally.

ALPA first became aware of the potential MANPADS threat in reference to the drug war involving the interdiction of airborne drug traffic between South America and the U.S. Drug-running aircraft were being shot-down and the potential reactive use of MANPADS by narco-terrorist groups appeared to be a reality.

The 9/11 attacks on America immediately shifted the primary focus from the narco-terrorist threat, posed by the drug runners, to the radical Muslim fundamentalist groups and their terrorist Jihad. The availability, lightweight, portability, and historical success of the MANPADS weapons system placed them even higher in the terrorist tactical threat matrix.

Depending upon which statistical data is referenced, it is generally concluded that there have been between 30 and 60 documented MANPADS incidents since 1978. To date, all of these have occurred in war zones or contested areas experiencing terrorist and/or hostile activity of some type. Since 9/11, there have been approximately 60 countries identified as either being sympathetic to or actually supporting the radical Muslim fundamentalist movement responsible for the majority of the world’s terrorist activities. Admittedly, that situation represents a significant portion of geographic global aviation operations area in which a MANPADS threat could reasonably exist.

Despite their proven success, shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missiles represent only a single threat vector among a host of tools and tactics available to the terrorist community. There are many others, some of which are also included in the MANPADS category, such as RPGs and large .50 caliber rifles. In addition, there are mortars, rockets, mines and pre-positioned command detonated devices, EMP/RF devices, vehicle bombs and other weapons that are currently available. These threat vectors will continue to challenge aviation security regardless of what ECM systems we place on the aircraft or on the ground around airports. In reality, many of these weapons are much cheaper, more readily available, and easier to use than shoulder-fired, hand-held devices.

Rather than discuss the various types of MANPADS systems and their respective threat envelopes, it is significant to recognize the most critical factor of all, the actual historical survivability of aircraft after sustaining a MANPADS hit. One source reports that seven of the recorded successful MANPADS hits have been sustained by jet aircraft. Of these, six aircraft landed successfully. This is a most significant factor when conducting consequence threat assessment modeling and associated fund allocation for overall aviation security. It is apparent from the analysis, that the larger the aircraft, the better the odds are of successfully surviving a hit.

MANPADS do have their limitations. They have relatively small warheads, various operational seeker and tracking considerations including the position of the sun and target visibility. MANPADS require a fair amount of training and operator proficiency, have a limited power supply and, although somewhat disputed in recent testing, a limited shelf life.

MANPADS can be very costly and their price range varies considerably depending on the age and generation of the system. An older SA-7 type can be had for as little as $5,000. A new third-generation device (e.g., SA-16 or SA-18) can cost $150,000 on the black market. These ‘pricey’ missiles have a larger warhead and are also quite a bit more difficult to defeat with ECM.

It is no secret that the financial state of the aviation industry is in poor condition. The major carriers are fighting for survival and face a very uncertain future with no apparent relief in sight. The rising cost of fuel and effects of the current Iraqi war and the 9/11 attack on America have left the largest air carriers financially crippled to the point that several are either already into, or are contemplating, bankruptcy protection. Additional security costs could easily put them out of business. ECM equipment and maintenance is frighteningly expensive, especially when looking at outfitting the entire fleet of 4,000 to 6,000 aircraft currently operating in the U.S. commercial airline industry.

Costs for effectively equipping commercial aircraft are estimated by the manufacturers to be between $1.3 and $3 million per aircraft. That’s a lot of money when one considers that current military developed technology is largely incompatible with commercial airline operations. Current ECM systems such as DIRCM, LAIRCM, and flare systems all have very high price tags for installation and maintenance. The training, ground support equipment, logistical support and operational considerations for the entire fleet at U.S. airports could cost as much as $5 to $10 billion annually. This cost is over and above the initial costs of installation.

Nevertheless, the MANPADS threat is real and therefore it needs to be effectively addressed. A realistic approach to this involves dividing the threat vectors into three categories: prevention, protection and response. This framework provides a more structured overview of the challenge that we face and an opportunity to efficiently allocate funding to various aspects regarding MANPADS defense.

The ‘prevention’ category would include all of the factors directed at denying the terrorist the opportunity to prepare for and perpetrate a MANPADS attack. Included in this category would be:

• Maximizing intelligence gathering on potential MANPADS attacks.

• Infiltrating terrorist organizations

• Purchase/buyback of black market systems

• Reward program for information

• Public awareness, educational programs, i.e.: "Aviation security is everybody’s business!"

• Testing the effectiveness of current MANPADS systems on aircraft

• Airport vulnerability assessments

• Establishing very stiff penalties for possession and /or use of MANPADS

• Contingency planning for departure-arrival paths at airports in the event of an attack

Protective measures could include the installation of countermeasures and other defensive equipment on aircraft and appropriate modifications to increase the survivability of a MANPADS attack. This category would include:

• The installation of Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) such as DIRCM, LAIRCM, flares, decoys, etc. on aircraft.

• Aircraft modifications intended to ‘harden’ engines and other aircraft systems against the damage sustained in a MANPADS attack

• Installation of both airborne and ground-based defensive equipment

• Simulator crew training for operating in the MANPADS environment and procedures to enhance survivability following a MANPADS hit.

The ‘respond’ category lists those considerations to be addressed following a MANPADS attack. These would include:

• A national alert system capable of immediately advising all pilots, government agencies, ATCs, airline security entities and other appropriate parties of an actual attack

• Modifying departure/arrival paths at airports in the event of an attack

• Procedures for limiting the adverse effects of an industry ‘shutdown’ and reestablishing normal operations ASAP following an attack

• Utilizing an effective public communications campaign to restore public confidence in the aviation industry to offset the adverse effects of the terrorists following an attack

The threats against the industry are many and the resources to combat them are limited. There are no ‘silver bullets’ to guarantee anything with a degree of predictable reliability. Therefore, the industry must limit risk through effective resource management and the proper allocation of funds is essential to survivability.

ALPA has established its own internal MANPADS Task Force incorporating air safety, engineering, and aviation security disciplines. The Task Force was created to evaluate the MANPADS threat and to explore viable solutions to most effectively respond to the threat. The Task Force coordinates its efforts with such DHS organizations as the Science and Technology Directorate and Counter-MANPADS Special Program Office.

In conclusion, while ALPA is not yet convinced of the wisdom of mandating ECM on commercial airlines, we are continuing our own information gathering and analysis and we will continue to work with government and industry. We look forward to the DHS’ completion of its congressionally mandated study and report.