Sunday, September 25, 2011

MANPADs for the NYPD?

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.


We were with him, in his hi-tech command truck last Wednesday when he headed to the east side as New York hosted the United Nations General Assembly. He wanted to be there when President Obama arrived. To prepare for those 137 heads of State, Kelly has to understand the threats that all of those foreign leaders have at home so their local troubles don't play out here.

Kelly: We have to look abroad. We do that with the Secret Service, to see what the issues are in another country. Does that raise the threat level here?

The threat level in New York was already high. Intelligence said that there could be a car bomb attack on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and that worry had still not been resolved.

Extra: Kelly on 1993 WTC attack

Vinny Giordano [nat sound]: All our interior and exterior checkpoints are up and running. Bomb squad's completed all its sweeps and their Ops are up.

Kelly had the tower of the U.N. Secretariat building surrounded. Snipers on the roof tops, divers in the river, helicopters above. Mr. Obama slipped into the U.N. with the Secret Service, under the blanket of the NYPD. All of this came just ten days after Kelly's team had secured the most sensitive event in the nation.

It was the 9/11 National Memorial on the tenth anniversary of the attack on America. Osama bin Laden had written about attacking again on this very day. And Kelly had more than 8 million New Yorkers to protect.

As the names of the fallen were being read, Kelly was watching from his brand new Joint Operations Center.

From here he can see everything. All in one cavernous room Kelly has representatives from the military, the FBI, Federal Emergency Management, state and local first responders. The center is a symbol of the 10 years and three billion dollars that he has spent to prepare for every kind of threat.

Pelley: Are you satisfied that you've dealt with threats from aircraft, even light planes, model planes, that kind of thing?

Kelly: Well, it's something that's on our radar screen. I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.

Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?

Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.

Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.

Kelly: Yes.

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.


Sean D Sorrentino said...

"We're the communications capital. We're the financial capital. We're a city that's been attacked twice successfully."

So what he's saying is, let's spread out some of these communication nodes and financial institutions so that we aren't one big target, right? Because in this day of instant communication, I don't see any reason to locate in NYC except snobbery. We all know what happens to companies that trade sound financial decisions for snobbery.

jumblerant said...

I was just wondering, with no air threat (that I have heard of!) in the Iraq or Afghanistan Theatres - have these units ever been tested on actual, large, aircraft?

me said...

I wonder if they don't have the Avenger turret mounted on, or in, one of the NYPD's mobile command trucks or maybe a public works trucks? Something that you can drive down a street and nobody will pay attention to it.

azmountaintroll said...

Does the New York Army National Guard have any ADA units? I'd think that would be the simplest way to provide Anti-aircraft coverage.

TOF said...

If all this speculation is true, I wonder who gives the okay to launch against an aircraft. Who makes the determination that the aircraft is hostile and needs to be destroyed? How is that determination made? Does NYC have its own air defense sector too?

Swami said...

This is New York City we're talking about. The idea isn't actually to destroy the aircraft, it's to issue the owner as many fines as possible.

"Mister Jones, you're aircraft is on a collision course with the Statue of Liberty, we're issuing a fine and a stop work order."

"What? What? It's been hijacked! I can't stop it!"

"Violation of a stop work order. That's another fine."

Swami said...

This is New York City we're talking about. The idea isn't actually to destroy the aircraft, it's to issue the owner as many fines as possible.

"Mister Jones, you're aircraft is on a collision course with the Statue of Liberty, we're issuing a fine and a stop work order."

"What? What? It's been hijacked! I can't stop it!"

"Violation of a stop work order. That's another fine."

Swami said...

On a serious note, the claim that the NYPD can take down an aircraft is obviously BS. The NYPD has no way to detect an aircraft, other than "visual", or being told by other authorities. Given a threatening inbound at a leisurely 200 mph, spotted 20 miles away, say by a superobservant cop with binoculars from the roof of the Empire State Building, the NYPD would have 10 minutes to determine that the aircraft had to be destroyed, authorize its destruction, prepare to do so, aim the weapons and fire. And the aircraft would still be over New Jersey until the last 2 minutes... or less.

50 cal or missile, it's irrelevant, because until the last minute, the inbound plane is flying through some of the most densely flown airspace in the country. No one is going to launch a Stinger into the approaches for JFK, La Guardia, and Newark airports.

The mayor has already said they didn't have the capability to stop another 9-11 style attack in the air. But under what conceivable alternative scenario would the NYPD want to destroy an aircraft in flight?

No, the only way the NYPD's scenario could possibly work would be if they had a terrorist laden aircraft conveniently hovering over a park, river, landfill, or other "safe terrain" for an hour, with the terrorists threatening to crash it into something important if their demands weren't met.

TOF said...


Well said.

Wounded Warrior and Vet Advocate said...

The most obvious answer as to the NYC anti-air capabilities to me is this, AAA or SAM sites or capabilities on the water.
Plus with the coordination established with the military, FBI, Secret Service and other intell networks there is a higher probability of an advance warning of an attack of this nature. Plus with some CROWS system capabilities it is easy to remove a target at great distance moving at a high velocity, never underestimate the destructive capabilities of a .50 cal.