Thursday, November 03, 2005

Al-Qaida's Claims

Bin Laden's operatives in Iraq are claiming credit for the recent downing of a Marine Corps Super Cobra attack helicopter in Ramadi, which killed the two-man crew.

The fact that Al-Qaida claimed responsibility isn't unusual. The terrorist group often takes credit for the latest car bombing or suicide attack, and those claims are usually correct.

What is unusual about this claim is the weapon Al-Qaida purportedly used to down the Super Cobra: an SA-7 "Strella," an early-model, Russian-built shoulder-fired surface to air missile. SA-7s are widely available in Iraq, and terrorists have fired them at coalition aircraft on numerous occasions, with poor results.

One reason for their lack of success is the self-protection equipment carried aboard most military aircraft, including attack helicopters. These defensive suites typically include missile detection systems, linked to either flare dispensers or infrared jammers. The flare dispensers decoy the missile away from the aircraft, by providing a "hotter" IR target, while the jammers are designed to fry the missile seeker.

Current self-protection suites offer excellent protection against the SA-7. However, no system is perfect, and there is a chance that the SA-7 somehow defeated the helicopter's onboard defenses. But there's also a chance that insurgents used another type of missile, and mistakenly referred to it as an SA-7, or made the claim as part of a deception effort.

There are a variety of shoulder-fired SAMs available to insurgents in Iraq. A forensic examination of missile fragments in the helicopter's wreckage will quickly reveal the type of missile used to shoot down the Cobra.

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