Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Clear and Present Danger

From the Soldiers for the Truth (SFTT) website, via Michelle Malkin. Earlier this month, security personnel at Tinker AFB, OK observed three individuals of Middle Eastern descent outside the base perimeter. The three men had binoculars and what appeared to be a "large" weapon, possibly a man-portable (shoulder-fired) surface-to-air missile (MANPAD SAM) launcher. The weapon appeared to be aimed at a low-flying aircraft, later identified as a B-1 bomber. As security forces personnel approached the men, they left the area. Both the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) and the Oklahoma City FBI office have deemed the threat credible.

The incident observed at Tinker AFB could have likely been a dress rehearsal for a planned MANPAD attack against a military or civilian aircraft. The B-1, which is not based at Tinker, was probably a target of opportunity for the training session. With its size and IR signature, the B-1 provided a convenient substitute for E-3 AWACS aircraft (which are stationed at
Tinker), or civilian airliners that fly in and out of the nearby Will Rogers International Airport. Like most military aircraft, the E-3 and B-1 have defensive systems that provide some protection from shoulder-fired SAMs, but civil aircraft lack on-board countermeasures.

According to various intelligence estimates, there are literally tens of thousands of MANPAD SAMs missing from military arsenals around the world. They range from early model Russian SA-7s and U.S. Redeyes, to more advanced SA-16s (also produced by Russia) , as well as basic STINGER variants, given to Mujahedin rebels in Afghanistan during the 1980s. While many of these missiles have exceeded their shelf life, they are quite durable and remain a threat to civilian and military aircraft. In fact, their only serious liability as a terrorist weapon lies in how insurgents are trained to use them. I won't go into additional detail on that point; suffice it to say that MANPADS are a serious threat, one that demands serious attention.

The U.S. government has embarked on a crash program to develop an effective MANPAD counter-measures system for civilian aircraft, but such devices are years away from deployment. Until then, we can only hope that law enforcement proves adept at dealing with threats like those observed outside the perimeter at Tinker AFB.

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