Note: After this entry was posted, the Associated Press revealed that the item in question is actually a 20-year-old expended AT-4 anti-tank missile launcher that posed no threat.
This morning a woman from Jersey City discovered a “missile” lying in the grass on her front lawn. Niranjana Besai showed the missile to her neighbor, who told CBS 2 News that at first he thought the 6-foot-long item was just a pipe. Upon closer inspection, he concluded that it looked like the missile launchers he’d seen on TV. The New Jersey television station said that their “sources” told them that the “device is the type used ot shoot shoulder-fired rockets and is capable of taking down an aircraft.”
Little else is known about the item, but initial descriptions are consistent with the physical appearance of many man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), the launch tubes of which are approximately 5 to 6 feet long and look a bit like a pipe. Private ownership of MANPADS is ilegal in the United States, and the version used by the US military – the Stinger missile – is one of the most tighly guarded weapons in its arsenals. If the item is indeed a MANPADS, it would have profound national security and policy implications.
On Friday, the Washington Post posted an Associated Press story with a video still of a man in civilian clothes holding what appears to be an advanced SA-18 Igla man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).* To date, the only MANPADS reported to be in the arsenals of the Somali insurgents were the less sophisticated SA-7.** The video was reportedly obtained by the Associated Press from an individual associated with Shabab, the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which controlled much of Somalia before it was routed by Ethiopian troops in December 2006. Last October, UN investigators reported that the ICU had received six weapons shipments containing several dozen shoulder-fired missiles.
In a report released this week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), FAS analyst Matt Schroeder provides an unprecedented look at global efforts to counter the terrorist threat from Man-portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). The report, which appears as an appendix in this year’s edition of the SIPRI Yearbook, goes beyond mainstream media coverage of counter-MANPADS efforts (i.e. the myopic focus on anti-missile systems) by providing detailed summaries of oft-ignored but critically important programs to secure MANPADS inventories, destroy surplus missiles, collect missiles from the black market, and strengthen export controls. Also assessed are the strengths and limitations of the various anti-missile systems that are currently being considered for installation on commercial airliners and at airports. The appendix concludes with a list of recommendations for expanding and strengthening international counter-MANPADS efforts.
The FAS has acquired, via a Freedom of Information Act request, additional information about a cache of “22 surface-to-air missiles” discovered by Coalition Forces north of Baghdad on 4 January 2006. According to the responsive document – a redacted entry from a database maintained by Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) – the missiles were SA-13 “Gopher” surface-to-air missiles. The SA-13 is a short-range, low altitude, infra-red seeking missile that is typically launched from a pedestal mounted on the back of an armored vehicle. The weapons cache, which included 5000 rounds of 32 mm cannon ammunition, was located with a mine detector and appeared at the time to have been “emplaced in the last 2 weeks.” It is unclear from the DoD documents if the missiles were operational or who they belonged to.
On Thursday, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introduced a new bill that would require the Pentagon to establish a pilot program “to determine the feasibility and desirability” of equipping turbojet planes in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) with anti-missile systems. The CRAF is a Defense Department program that draws on civilian passenger and cargo aircraft to supplement the military’s existing airlift capacity during emergencies. As of November 2006, there were 1,379 aircraft enrolled in the CRAF.
The program established by the ‘Civil Reserve Air Fleet Missile Defense Pilot Program Act of 2007’ (HR 2274) would require the installation of DoD-certified anti-missile systems on at least 20 CRAF planes for a two-year period. The bill authorizes $75,000,000 to cover costs associated with the program, and is co-sponsored by Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL).
In a recent article on the resurgence of Islamic rebels in Somalia, Associated Press reporter Chris Tomlinson provides new information on the shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles allegedly supplied to Somali Islamists last year. Tomlinson claims that the Shabab – the military wing of the Council of Islamic Courts – received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea, one of three countries that allegedly shipped missiles to Somalia last year in violation of a long-standing UN arms embargo.
In the latest issue of the Federation of American Scientists’ Public Interest Report, analysts from three continents provide new insights into arms trafficking in Africa, Venezuela’s small arms build-up, and the UN Small Arms Review Conference. Links to these articles, along with an issue overview by FAS analyst Matt Schroeder and a summary of the new book, The Small Arms Trade, are included below.
“Where Have All the Antonovs Gone? The Illicit Small Arms Trade in Africa” by James Bevan, Researcher, Small Arms Survey (Geneva)
“A Recurrent Latin American Nightmare: Venezuela and the Challenge of Controlling State Ammunition Stockpiles” by Pablo Dreyfus, Research Coordinator, Small Arms Control Project, Viva Rio (Rio de Janeiro).
“United Nations Action on Small Arms: Moving Forward from Failure” by Rachel Stohl, Senior Analyst, Center for Defense Information (Washington DC)
“Global Approach Needed to Stem the Trade of Illicit Small Arms,” by Matt Schroeder, Manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project, Federation of American Scientists.
“Book Summary: The Small Arms Trade”
In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) attributes the looting of Iraq’s arms depots to the “ovewhelming size and number” of these depots and “prewar planning priorities and certain assumptions that proved to be invalid.” The report finds that the US military “did not adequately secure these [conventional munitions storage] sites during and immediately after the conclusion of major combat operations” and “did not plan for or set up a program to centrally manage and destroy enemy munitions until August 2003…” The munitions looted from Iraqi arsenals, claims the GAO, have been used extensively in the deadly improvised explosive device (IED) attacks that have become tragically commonplace in Iraq.
But the IED threat is only part of the story. Iraq’s arsenals were also brimming with shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, thousands of which disappeared during the widespread looting of the regime’s numerous arms depots in 2003.
In November 2006, FAS analyst Matt Schroeder interviewed Mr. Dave Diaz, formerly the program manager for the DTRA SALW Program and currently the DoD Liaison on the Interagency MANPADS Task Force, about the importance of strong stockpile security practices for preventing the theft, loss and diversion of shoulder-fired missiles, and US efforts to improve stockpile security worldwide.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.
The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”
The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?