On the streets of New York? In an interview with CBS News, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly stated his department has the ability to "take down" aircraft which threaten the city--without assistance from the federal government. Kelly's comments have raised speculation the NYPD has acquired a system like the Boeing Avenger, shown here during a 2003 deployment in Washington, D.C. The Avenger has Stinger missiles mounted on a HUMVEE (UPI photo).
Tonight's edition of 60 Minutes featured a segment on one of the world's most sophisticated anti-terrorism units--the New York City Police Department. Over the past decade, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly (and the city) have spent $3 billion on measures designed to prevent or mitigate future attacks.
According to Kelly, more than 1,000 NYPD officers are assigned to the counter-terrorism unit, which was essentially created after the 9-11 attacks. In his interview with Scott Pelley, outlined the obvious strategy behind this organization, and one of its very surprising capabilities:
Ray Kelly: We're the number one target in this country. That's the consensus of the intelligence community. We're the communications capital. We're the financial capital. We're a city that's been attacked twice successfully. We've had 13 terrorist plots against the city since September 11. No other city has had that.
Obviously, there are only a certain number of ways to bring down an aircraft, namely jet fighters, anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles. Since we haven't seen any F-15s or F-16s with NYPD markings (or AAA guns deployed around New York), it seems rather obvious that the New York police force has been equipped with shoulder-fired SAMs, most likely a Stinger variant.
While we understand the reasoning behind this capability, it does raise some pertinent questions, namely, what are the ROE for downing a suspect aircraft, and what coordination--if any--would occur before an NYPD aims his MANPAD, uncages the seeker and pulls the trigger. Under most scenarios, we assume there would be some warning from NORAD, alerting the police to the situation and giving them time to deploy MANPAD teams.
But we're also reminded of the confusion that might exist under such circumstances. For well over an hour on the morning of September 11, 2001, no one was really sure how many planes had been hijacked, and when United Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania, senior government officials assumed it had been shot down by U.S. Air Force F-16s. Only later did they learn that heroic passengers had thwarted the terrorists' plans by storming the cockpit and forcing them to crash the jetliner into the ground.
More than a decade later, coordination between NORAD and other government agencies has improved dramatically. But there can't be any hesitation (or uncertainty) when a police MANPAD team is dispatched to intercept a plane that appears to threaten New York City. Under those conditions, the NYPD (and its partners in the anti-terror mission) have only one chance to get it right--or horribly wrong.
While Mr. Kelly won't provide specifics on his department's "air defense" system(s), one likely candidate is the Boeing Avenger system, which consists of pedestal-mounted Stinger missiles on a HUMVEE chassis. The Avenger has been deployed around the nation's capital on several occasions, in response to increased terror threats. Still, if the NYPD has this system, it's rather amazing that the distinctive vehicles have never been seen in New York.
Another option would be Stingers carried in ordinary police vehicles, manned by officers trained in MANPAD operations. However, that employment method would have a major drawback--limited communications. An Avenger vehicle has the ability to link into air defense network, giving gunners a complete air picture, making it easier to track and engage threat aircraft.
ADDENDUM: Sources tell the New York Post the police department's "anti-air" capabilities consist of a .50 caliber sniper rifle which could--theoretically--be used to target vital components on a threatening aircraft (talk about a one-in-a-million shot). And Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that the NYPD's air defense weaponry "could not" have prevented the 9-11 attacks, suggesting the department's capabilities are less robust that originally believed. However, the mayor refused to discuss specifics, suggesting (again) that the NYPD may have more in its anti-air arsenal than a sniper rifle.