New NASIC Report Appears Watered Down And Out Of Date

The US Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) has published a new version of its widely referenced Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat report.

The agency normally puts out an updated version of the report every four years. The previous version dates from 2017.

The 2021 report (dated 2020) provides information on developments in many countries but is clearly focused on China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Especially the North Korean data is updated because of the significant developments since 2017.

The most interesting new information in the updated report is probably that the new Chinese JL-3 sea-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is capable of carrying multiple warheads.

Overall, however, the new report may be equally interesting because of what it does not include. There are a number of cases where the report is scaled back compared with previous versions. And throughout the report, much of the data clearly hasn’t been updated since 2018. In some places it is even inconsistent and self-contradicting.

The most significant data reduction is in the cruise missile section where the report no longer lists countries other than Russia, China, and Iran. This is a significant change from previous reports that listed a wide range of other countries, including India and Pakistan and many others that have important cruise missile programs in development. The omission is curious because the report in all ballistic missile categories includes other countries.

Cruise missile data is significantly reduced in the new NASIC report compared with the previous version from 2017. Click on image to view full size.

Other examples of reduced data include the overview of ballistic missile launches, which for some reason does not show data for 2019 and 2020. Nor is it clear from the table which countries are included.

Also, in some descriptions of missile program developments the report appears to be out of date and not update on recent developments. This includes the Russian SS-X-28 (RS-26 Rubezh) shorter-range ICBM, which the report portrays as an active program but only presents data for 2018. Likewise, the report does not mention the two additional boats being added to the Chinese SSBN fleet. Moreover, the new section with air-launched ballistic missiles only includes Russia but leaves out Chinese developments and only appears to include data up through early 2018.

Whether these omissions reflect changes in classification rules, chaos is the Intelligence Community under the Trump administration, or simply oversight is unknown.

Below follows highlights of some of the main nuclear issues in the new report.

Russian Nuclear Forces

Information about Russian ballistic and cruise missile programs dominate the report, but less so than in previous versions. NASIC says Russia currently has approximately 1,400 nuclear warheads deployed on ICBMs and SLBMs, a reduction from the “over 1,500” reported in 2017. The new number is well known from the release of New START data and is very close to the 1,420 warheads we estimated in our Russian Nuclear Notebook last year.

NASIC repeats the projection from 2017, that “the number of missiles in the Russian ICBM force will continue to decrease because of arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints….”

The statement that “Russia retains over 1,000 nuclear warheads on ICBMs” is curious, however, because would imply the SLBM force is loaded with fewer warheads than normally assumed. The warhead loading attributed to the SS-N-32 (Bulava) is 6, the number declared by Russia under the START treaty, and less than the 10 warheads that is often claimed by unofficial sources.

The new version describes continued development of the SS-28 (RS-26 (Rubezh) shorter-range ICBM suspected by some to actually be an IRBM. But the report only lists development activities up through 2018 and nothing since. The system is widely thought to have been mothballed due to budget constraints.

The cruise missile section attributes nuclear capability – or possible nuclear capability – to most of the Russian missiles listed. Six systems are positively identified as nuclear, including the Kh-102, which was not listed in the 2017 report. Two of the nuclear systems are dual-capable, including the 9M729 (SSC-8) missile the US said violated the now-abandoned INF treaty, while 3 missiles are listed as “Conventional, Nuclear Possible.” That includes the 9M728 (R-500) cruise missile (SSC-7) launched by the Iskander system, the 3M-14 (Kalibr) cruise missile (SS-N-30), and the 3M-55 (Yakhont, P-800) cruise missile (SS-N-26).

NASIC attributes nuclear capability to nine Russian land-attack cruise missiles, three of them “possible.” Click on image to view full size.

The designation of “nuclear possible” for the SS-N-30 (3M-14, often called the Kalibr even though Kalibr is strictly speaking the name of the launcher system) is curious because the Russian government has clearly stated that the missile is nuclear-capable.

Chinese Nuclear Forces

The biggest news in the China section of the NASIC report is that the new JL-3 SLBM that will arm the next-generation Type 096 SSBN will be capable of delivering “multiple” warheads and have a range of more than 10,000 kilometers. That is a significant increase in capability compared with the JL-2 SLBM currently deployed on the Jin-class SSBNs and is likely part of the reason for the projection that China’s nuclear stockpile might double over the next decade.

NASIC reports that China’s next-generation JL-3 SLBM will be capable of carrying “multiple” warheads. Click on image to view full size.

Despite this increased range, however, a Type 096 operating from the current SSBN base in the South China Sea would not be able to strike targets in the continental United States. To be able to reach targets in the continental United States, an SSBN would have to launch its missile from the Bohai Sea. That would bring almost one-third of the continental United States within range. To target Washington, DC, however, a Type 096 SSBN would still have to deploy deep into the Pacific.

The new DF-41 (CSS-20) has lost its “-X-“ designation (CSS-X-20), which indicates that NASIC considers the missile has finished development is now being deployed. A total of 16+ launchers are listed, probably based on the number attending the 2019 parade in Beijing and the number seen operating in the Jilantai training area.

The number of DF-31A and DF-31AG launchers is very low, 15+ and 16+ respectively, which is strange given the number of bases observed with the launchers. Of course, “+” can mean anything and we estimate the number of launchers is probably twice that number. Also interesting is that the DF-31AG is listed as “UNK” (unknown) for warheads per missile. The DF-31A is listed with one warhead, which suggests that the AG version potentially could have a different payload. Nowhere else is the AG payload listed as different or even multiple warheads.

The NASIC report projection for the increase in Chinese nuclear ICBM warheads that can reach the United States is inconsistent and self-contradicting. In one section (p. 3) the report predicts “the number of Chinese ICBM nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States potentially expanding to well over 200 within the next 5 years.” But in another section (p. 27), the report states that the “number of warheads on Chinese ICBMs capable of threatening the United States is expected to grow to well over 100 in the next 5 years.” The projection of “well over 100” was also listed in the 2017 report, and the “well over 200” projection matches the projection made in the DOD annual report on Chinese military developments. So the authors of the NASIC might simply have forgotten to update the text.

On Chinese shorter-range ballistic missiles, the NASIC report only mentions DF-21A (CSS-5 Mod 2) as nuclear, but not the CSS-5 Mod 6 version. The Mod 6 version (potentially called DF-21E) was first mentioned in the 2016 DOD report on Chinese military developments and has been included since.

Newer missiles finally get designations: The dual-capable DF-26 is called the CSS-18, and the conventional (possibly) DF-17 is called the CSS-22. NASIC continues to list the DF-26 range as less (3,000+ km) than the annual DOD China report (4,000 km).

An in case anyone was tempted, no, none of China’s cruise missiles are listed as nuclear-capable.

Pakistani Nuclear Forces

The report provides no new information about Pakistani nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. As with several other sections in the report, the information does not appear to have been updated much beyond 2018, if at all. As such, status information should be read with caution.

The Shaheen-III MRBM is still not deployed, nor is the Ababeel MRBM that NASIC describes as a “MIRV version.” It has only been flight-tested once.

The tactical nuclear-capable NASR is listed with a range of 60 km, the same as in 2017, even though the Pakistani government has since claimed the range has been extended to 70 km.

Because the new NASIC report no longer includes data on Pakistan’s cruise missiles, neither the Babur nor the RAAD programs are described. Nor is any information provided about the efforts by the Pakistani navy to develop a submarine-launched nuclear-capable cruise missile.

Indian Nuclear Forces

Similar to other sections of the report, the data on Indian programs are tainted by the fact that some information does not appear to have been updated since 2018, and that the cruise missile section does not include India at all.

According to the report, Agni II and Agni III MRBMs are still deployed in very low numbers, fewer than 10 launchers, the same number reported in 2017. That number implies only a single brigade of each missile. But, again, it is not clear this information has actually been updated.

Nor are the Agni IV or the Agni V listed as deployed yet.

North Korean Forces

The North Korean sections are main interesting because of the inclusion of data on several systems test-launched since the previous report in 2017. This  contrasts several other data set in the report, which do not appear to have been updated past 2018. But since the North Korean long-range tests occurred in 2017, this may explain why they are included.

NASIC provides official (unclassified) range estimates for these missiles:

The Hwasong-12 IRBM range has been increased from 3,000+ km in 2017 to 4,500+ km in the new report.

On the ICBMs, the Taepo Dong 2 no longer has a range estimate. The Hwasong-13 and Hwasong-14 range estimates have been raised from the generic 5,500+ km in the 2017 report to 12,000 km and 10,000+ km, respectively, in the new report, and the new Hwasong-15 has been added with a range estimate of 12,000+ km. The warhead loading estimates for the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15 are “unknown” and none of the ICBMs are listed as deployed.

On submarine-launched missiles, the NASIC report lists two: the Puguksong-1 and Pukguksong-3. Both have range estimates of 1,000+ km and the warhead estimate for the Pukguksong-3 is unknown (“UNK”). Neither is deployed. The new Pukguksong-4 paraded in October 2020 is not listed, not is the newest Pukguksong-5 displayed in early 2021 mentioned.

Additional background information:

Russian nuclear forces, 2020

Chinese nuclear forces, 2020

Status of world nuclear forces

Missile Watch – June 2010

Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 2
June 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Scoville Fellow Matt Buongiorno


Global News: Survey of black market prices for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles reveals large differences in missile prices
Afghanistan: No shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in seized Afghan arms caches, confirms ISAF spokesperson
Egypt: Shoulder-fired missiles found in the Sinai were old, “in very bad condition,” says Egyptian official
Iraq: Shoulder-fired missile in video of insurgent attack could be Iranian
Iraq: Missile seized in 2008 was a 30-year-old Russian Strela-2M MANPADS, documents reveal
Iraq: At least 27 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles seized from arms caches in Iraq since February
Lebanon: Israeli claim about Igla-S delivery to Hezbollah raises many questions
Peru: U.S. government concerned over reported missile diversion in Peru, but praises investigation
Somalia: Shoulder-fired missile attack at Mogadishu airport foiled by peace-keepers, according to UN report

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors

Download full issue

Missile Watch – February 2010

Missile Watch
A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 1
February 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Matt Buongiorno
Graphics: Alexis Paige


Global Overview

Afghanistan: No recent discoveries of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles in insurgent arms caches
Eritrea: UN slaps arms embargo on major missile proliferator
Iraq: Fewer public reports of seized shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq, but MANPADS still a threat
Ireland: Alleged plot to shoot down a police helicopter may have involved surface-to-air missile
Myanmar: 300 shoulder-fired missiles in insurgent arsenal, claims Thai Colonel
North Korea: North Korean arms shipment included MANPADS, Thai report confirms
Peru: Igla missiles stolen from Peruvian military arsenals, claims alleged trafficker
Spain: Failed assassination attempts underscore the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles
United States: Congress to receive DHS report on anti-missile systems for commercial airliners in February
United States: Documents from trial of the “Prince of Marbella” reveal little about his access to shoulder-fired missiles
United States: No new international MANPADS sales since 1999
Venezuela: U.S. receives “assurances” from Russia regarding controls on shoulder-fired missiles sold to Venezuela, but questions remain

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors


Global Overview


This issue of Missile Watch features big news out of Thailand. A North Korean arms shipment seized by Thai officials in December contained “five crates of MANPADS SAM[s]”, according to an official Thai government report. The report, which was obtained by Bloomberg News in late January, appears to confirm North Korea as an illicit source of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles. Depending on the origins and model of the missiles, this case could have profound implications for international efforts to curb missile trafficking. Also notable are reports of a Peruvian trafficking ring that stole at least seven Strela and Igla missiles from government arsenals and sold them to Colombian rebels, and of insurgent arsenals in Myanmar that contain 300 missiles – a stockpile comparable in size to the holdings of many small states. These reports illustrate the continued availability of illicit missiles to armed groups despite a decade-long international campaign to strengthen export controls and secure government stockpiles.

The news isn’t all bad, however. Recent reports suggest that most armed groups continue to rely – often clumsily – on older first-generation infra-red seeking missiles, which are difficult to use effectively and often malfunction, as evidenced by the Basque terrorist group ETA’s failed attempts to shoot down the Spanish Prime Minister’s plane in 2001. This is not the first failed terrorist missile attack, and it will not be the last. In 2002, for example, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Kenya armed with two SA-7b missiles missed an Israeli airliner as it was leaving Mombasa. The more of these spectacular failures that come to light, the less demand there will be amongst armed groups for first and second generation missiles. Or at least that is the hope. In those comparatively rare cases when terrorists are able to acquire and effectively use newer missiles, modern anti-missile technology may provide an effective last line of defense, as illustrated by the recent “multiple IR engagement” thwarted by the missile defense system on a Chinook helicopter reportedly operating in Iraq.[1] Whether this last line of defense will be extended to commercial airliners will be determined, in part, by Congress’ reaction to Department of Homeland Security’s long-awaited report on its Counter-MANPADS program, which will be delivered to key congressional committees this month.

Also encouraging are recent actions taken against missile trafficking and the governments that facilitate it. The same month that the Thai government moved against missile trafficking in their country, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, the supplier of thousands of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to the militant Somali group al Shebab. The embargo comes none too soon. A spokesman for the group recently threatened to come to the aid of their “Muslim brothers” in Yemen,[2] an apparent reference to the al Qaeda affiliate responsible for the failed attack on the US-bound airliner in December. Extensive involvement in Yemen’s civil war by al Shebab would be very bad for the Yemeni government and its western allies, especially if the militants bring their missiles. It remains to be seen if the embargo will motivate Eritrea to stop arming Somali militants, or at least stop arming them with sophisticated light weapons.

Country Reports

Afghanistan: No Recent Discoveries of Shoulder-fired Antiaircraft Missiles in Insurgent Arms Caches, Confirms ISAF Spokesperson

No MANPADS were found in seized insurgent arms caches in late 2009, according to the US military. A spokesperson from the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) told the Federation of American Scientists that “[t]he ISAF Joint Command intelligence section is not aware of any man-portable surface-to-air missile finds by ISAF units since the IJC’s inception in October 2009.”[3] To date, the ISAF has largely been spared the problems associated with the widespread proliferation of surface-to-air missiles that has plagued Coalition forces operating in Iraq (see Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq).

While the reasons for the difference in illicit missile activity in Iraq and Afghanistan are not entirely clear, one likely factor is availability. Shortly after the US invasion, hundreds of missiles were looted from unsecured arms depots scattered across Iraq. Much of the looting, notes Government Accountability Office in a 2007 report, “…was conducted by organized elements that were likely aided or spearheaded by Iraqi military personnel,”[4] – future members of insurgent groups. There is no comparable domestic source of missiles for the Taliban. The absence of a convenient domestic source would not preclude acquisition of shoulder-fired missiles on the international black market, however, and there is strong evidence that the Taliban has acquired missiles – namely Chinese HN-5s – from sources abroad, but their numbers appear to be limited. The extent to which these missiles have been used against ISAF aircraft is unknown. Publicly available information on insurgent activity suggests, however, that few if any of the missiles have been used successfully.

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Eritrea: UN Slaps Arms Embargoes on Major Missile Proliferator

After years of supplying weapons to Somali militants in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the UN has slapped an arms embargo on the government of Eritrea. Resolution 1907, which was approved by a 13-1 vote in the Security Council in December,[5] imposes a ban on the international transfer of arms to and from Eritrea. It also authorized UN member states to inspect cargo crossing their territory if a violation is suspected, and to seize and dispose of any illicit weapons that are discovered.

Eritrea ranks high on the list of MANPADS proliferators. In recent years, UN investigators have documented shipments containing dozens of MANPADS from Eritrea to Somalia in violation of a long-standing UN arms embargo. In 2007, an SA-18 missile “delivered by Eritrea,” according to UN investigators,[6] was used by Somali militants to shoot down a Belarusian cargo aircraft departing from Mogadishu. The Eritrean government has denied the accusations, but additional evidence collected by investigators in recent years appears to support the earlier claims. An SA-18 Igla missile “found in Somalia” by UN investigators, for example, was later traced back to a shipment of Russian weaponry delivered to Eritrea in 1995.[7]

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Iraq: Fewer public reports of seized shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq, but MANPADS still a threat

Publicly available reports of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles discovered in insurgent arms caches in Iraq dropped off precipitously in 2009, but the reason for this decline is unclear. A survey of English-language media and US military sources yielded information on only a handful of illicit MANPADS recovered from arms caches in 2009, as opposed to dozens in previous years (See Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq). Given the rigor of US and Iraqi efforts to recover illicit weapons and dismantle arms trafficking networks, it is possible that terrorists and insurgents did indeed have access to fewer missiles in 2009. It is also possible, however, that seized MANPADS simply are not being reported as frequently, possibly for security reasons. When queried about the apparent decrease, a representative from Multi-National Forces-Iraq declined to comment, saying only that “[f]or operational security, we are unable to provide such details…”[8]

Regardless of the reason for the decline in reported seizures, MANPADS remain a threat in Iraq, as evidenced by a recent incident in which a Chinook military helicopter was engaged by “multiple IR MANPADS.” The attack, which was first reported by Aviation Week’s David Fulghum, was reportedly thwarted by the helicopter’s anti-missile system.[9]

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Ireland: Alleged plot to shoot down a police helicopter may have involved surface-to-air missiles

In December, the Belfast Telegraph reported that “[d]issident republicans” had obtained an unspecified surface-to-air missile and were “…planning to use it to shoot down a helicopter full of police officers…” The article provides no additional details on the missile or the alleged plot, although an unidentified “police source” suggests that the “missile” may instead be a rocket-propelled grenade: “They [the dissidents] have access to rocket-propelled grenades or other surface-to-air missile [sic] and one of their priorities is to take out a helicopter.”[10] The Irish government and the Independent Monitoring Commission declined to comment on the story, and an email to the author of the Telegraph article went unanswered.

Too little information is available to assess the accuracy of the Telegraph’s claims. Yet even if Irish dissidents have access to a missile, a successful attack is far from guaranteed. Like many terrorist and insurgents worldwide, armed groups in Ireland have a long, largely unsuccessful history of illicit activity involving shoulder-fired missiles. Repeated attempts by the IRA to acquire Stinger missiles in the United States ended in jail time for many of the would-be missile traffickers,[11] and even when the group succeeded in procuring missiles with help of the Libyan government,[12] the IRA never effectively incorporated the missiles into its campaign against the British.[13] In the late 1990s, the group reportedly supplied some of its missiles to the Basque group ETA, who also failed to use them effectively (See below: “Spain: Alleged ETA member reveals details of failed attempts to assassinate Spanish prime minister”).

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Myanmar: 300 shoulder-fired missiles in insurgent arsenal, claims Thai Colonel

A Thai military official interviewed by the International Herald Tribune in November claimed that the United Wa State Army, a Burmese insurgent group, possesses 300 “shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles”[14] – a stockpile that is comparable in size to those of many small states. No additional details on the missiles were provided.

According to Jane’s Information Group, the Wa’s missile holdings consist of older SA-7s acquired in the early 1990s from “Cambodian black market sources,” and more sophisticated HN-5Ns from China.[15] These reports appear to be a decade old, however, so it is possible that the composition of the Wa’s current missile stockpile is very different.

If Colonel Peeranate’s estimate is accurate and the missiles are operational, the Wa’s missile stockpile is one of the largest non-state arsenals in the world. Little is known about the security of the Wa’s weapons, but the general lack of accountability and formal controls on insurgent arms caches and the size of the stockpile raises concerns about theft, loss and diversion, and the possibility that some of the missiles will end up on the black market.

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North Korea: North Korean arms shipment included man-portable air defense systems, Thai report confirms

The Federation of American Scientists has learned that a cargo plane loaded with weapons from North Korea that was grounded in Bangkok in December contained man-portable air defense systems. According to a Thai report to the UN Security Council obtained by Bloomberg in January, the cargo contained “five crates of MANPADS SAM[s]”. The manufacturer, model and year of the MANPADS are not identified.[16] This information is required to fully assess the implications of the seizure, and to craft strategies for preventing similar shipments.

It is possible that the missiles were manufactured in North Korea, which has produced the Chinese HN-5 and the Soviet SA-14 and SA-16 under license,[17] and the Soviet SA-7 and US Stinger missile, which it reverse-engineered from missile technology acquired from Egypt in the 1970s and from the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s, respectively.[18] Another possibility is that the missiles were foreign-made and were transiting through, or were re-exported from, North Korea. This scenario could also have profound implications, depending on the origin and age of the missiles. Newly manufactured foreign missiles would suggest a recent government-to-government sale to North Korea – an egregious violation of the spirit if not the letter of international agreements on controlling MANPADS – or diversion from government stockpiles, which would likely be indicative of serious shortcomings in stockpile security policies and practices.

North Korea as a source of illicit MANPADS poses a significant challenge for policymakers since few if any of the diplomatic carrots and sticks used to secure MANPADS elsewhere would be effective vis-a-vis the Hermit Kingdom. Interdiction efforts associated with UN Security Council Resolution 1874 will likely make it more difficult to traffic in weaponry from North Korea, but shoulder-fired missiles are easy to smuggle, and adequately screening the contents of every plane and ship departing from North Korea would be impossible. The best that can reasonably be hoped for is that vigilance by North Korea’s neighbors and robust patrolling of international waters will limit North Korea’s arms smuggling in the near term, and that prioritization of the MANPADS proliferation threat by the six-party nations in negotiations with North Korean officials will yield a longer term solution.

The Thai report identifies Mahrabad Airport in Iran as the aircraft’s destination, although Thai officials have subsequently stated that Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates were also listed as stops in the flight documentation.[19] The Iranians have denied any involvement in the transfer, pointing out that they have no need for the shipment since Iran’s defense industry produces its own “modern weapons”.[20] But it is possible that the Iranians had ordered the weapons not for their own use but for their proxies in Lebanon or elsewhere. Foreign missiles would allow the Iranians to provide like-minded armed groups with much-needed air defense systems while maintaining plausible deniability regarding their role in the transfer. A similar strategy was pursued by the United States during the clandestine campaign to arm and train the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation.[21] If the North Korean weapons were bound for Iran, they may have been intended for a similar purpose.

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Peru: Igla missiles stolen from Peruvian Military, claims alleged trafficker

A self-proclaimed “logistics specialist” for Colombian rebels reportedly obtained seven Stela and Igla surface-to-air missiles from the arsenals of the Peruvian military according to the Miami Herald and the Lima-based La Republica newspaper. Ecuadorian national Freddy Torres allegedly acquired the missiles, along with other weapons, from a trafficking ring comprised of members of the Peruvian air force, army and police.[22] Four of the missiles were purchased between May and October 2008 and the remaining three were purchased in 2009, according to Juan Tamayo of the Miami Herald. Each of the missiles was reportedly purchased for “the sum of 45,000 US dollars.”[23]

Assuming man-portable Strela and Igla missiles were indeed stolen from Peruvian arsenals and sold to Colombian rebels, this case could have significant implications. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has tried unsuccessfully for years to acquire missiles capable of countering the Colombian armed forces growing fleet of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, which are critical to its counter-insurgency operations.  While a handful of Strela and Iglas will not turn the tide of the war in the FARC’s favor, the missiles could be very disruptive to Colombian air operations, at least in the short term.

Of greater consequence is the potential terrorist threat from the missiles.  In the hands of a trained operator, a well-maintained missile poses a significant threat to civilian planes, including airliners; at least 45 civilian aircraft have been shot down by man-portable air defense systems worldwide since 1975.[24] The missiles are of significant value to the FARC’s war against the Colombian government and therefore the rebels are unlikely to use the missiles against commercial airliners.  However, they could be used against high-value civilian targets such top government or military officials.  The missiles could also be stolen or sold on the black market, where they would they could be acquired by terrorists with designs on an airliner.

The missile theft is also a critical test of the region’s commitment to combating the shoulder-fired missile threat.  In 2005, the 35 members of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted AG/RES.2145, a set of guidelines that urges member states to, inter alia, “…adopt and maintain strict national controls and security measures on Man-Portable Air Defense Systems and their essential equipment.”  These guidelines include specific, rigorous stockpile security measures, such as separate storage of missiles and launchers, 24-hour surveillance, and strict controls on access to missiles.[25] The diversion of multiple missiles over a period of months raises serious questions about the Peruvian government’s implementation of these guidelines and the security of the rest of its missile stockpile, which numbers in the hundreds, according to Jane’s Information Group.[26] A robust response to this incident would show the region and the world that the OAS and its member states take the illicit trade in terrorist technology seriously and are willing to match rhetoric with action.

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Spain: Failed assassination attempts underscore the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles

Intelligence obtained from an alleged member of the Basque terrorist group ETA revealed three failed attempts to shoot down the Spanish prime minister’s plane with a shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile acquired from the Irish Republican Army in 1999. According to the Telegraph, the plots came to light after the arrest of the suspected ETA member, who reportedly told Spanish investigators that the group had tried three times in April and May 2001 to shoot down the plane but that the missile had malfunctioned each time. A letter addressed to the IRA discovered in the suspect’s home reportedly complains about defective missiles allegedly sold to ETA by IRA members based in Germany.[27] The missiles were seized from an ETA arms cache by French authorities in 2004.[28]

Media reports do not indicate whether authorities believe that the missiles used in the botched attack was indeed faulty or was used incorrectly. Contrary to popular belief, shoulder-fired missiles aren’t simply point-and-shoot weapons; they require training to use effectively, and it is not clear what training, if any, ETA members received in the operation of the missiles. Regardless of the reason for the failed attacks, this case underscores the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles, especially when the missiles are first generation technology that is nearing the end (or is past) its estimated shelf life and may have been tampered with or stored improperly. It is hoped that ETA’s bumbling – along with other spectacular failures like the unsuccessful missile attack on an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002 – will reduce black market demand for the most widely available (i.e. first generation) shoulder-fired missiles as terrorists recognize the folly of planning high-profile attacks around weapon systems that they do not fully understand and that may not function properly.

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United States: Congress to receive DHS report on anti-missile systems for commercial airliners in February

The Federation of American Scientists has learned that a long-awaited report on the feasibility of installing anti-missile systems on commercial airliners is nearly finished, and will be delivered to Congress in February. “The report is nearing the end of review; we are still expecting a February delivery to Hill staff,” a DHS spokesperson confirmed in a correspondence with the Federation of American Scientists. The report, which will be sent to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, summarizes the results of a program launched in 2003 to assess the “…viability, economic costs and effectiveness of adapting existing technology from military to commercial aviation use.” As noted in the last issue of Missile Watch, the response from Congress to the report will be a critical indicator of whether its early enthusiasm for outfitting commercial airliners with anti-missile systems – a multi-billion dollar undertaking – has survived DHS’ lengthy evaluation process and a constant barrage of competing agenda items.

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United States: Documents from trial of the “Prince of Marbella” contain additional information on shoulder-fired missiles

Court documents recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists provide some additional insight into the historic case of famed arms trafficker Monzer Al Kassar, but many important questions remain unanswered. In 2007, Kassar was arrested after allegedly agreeing to sell thousands of weapons, including shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, to undercover informants posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A year later, Kassar was extradited to the United States and tried in New York, where he was convicted of, inter alia, conspiring to “acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles.”[29] The surprising arrest and conviction of Kassar brought an abrupt end to the career of one of the most prolific traffickers in recent history. According to the US government, clients of Kassar’s have included armed groups in Bosnia, Brazil, Croatia, Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, and Somalia, among others.[30]

Hundreds of court documents obtained by the Federation of American Scientists provide additional insight into the case, including Kassar’s offer to sell MANPADS to Colombian rebels. Summaries of phone conversations between Kassar and the DEA informants indicate that Kassar “…spoke about various types of surface-to-air missile systems– including SAM-7s, SAM-16s, and SAM-18s – and the systems’ respective abilities to destroy U.S. helicopters.” Previously released documents only reference the SA-7, a first generation Soviet-era missile that is easier to acquire and less capable than the SA-16 and SA-18. However, none of the documents reveal whether Kassar actually had access to the missiles, or – if he did – how many he had or where he acquired them. The Federation of American Scientists will continue to research these questions and report any additional findings in future issues of Missile Watch.

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United States: No New International MANPADS Sales since 1999, says Raytheon

A spokesperson for the US defense firm Raytheon recently told the Federation of American Scientists that the U.S. government has not entered into new deals for Stinger MANPADS with foreign clients since 1999. In an email correspondence, Raytheon official Ty Blanchard told said that “[s]ince 1999, the U.S. government has denied requests from non-NATO countries asking for Stinger MANPADS. We have not had any requests from NATO countries in the last ten years.”[31]

This record of restraint illustrates the disparity in the policies of the major arms exporting states. Even as the US has curtailed international sales of man-portable Stingers, other countries have sold advanced systems to governments with dubious stockpile security and end-use controls.[32] Failure to align the policies of exporting countries could erode nascent global standards for MANPADS exports and undo much of the progress toward eliminating the terrorist missile threat achieved to date.

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Venezuela: U.S. receives “assurances” from Russia regarding controls on shoulder-fired missiles sold to Venezuela, but key questions remain

The Federation of American Scientists has learned that US officials have received “assurances” from the Russian government regarding end-use controls on SA-24 MANPADS sold to Venezuela, but detailed information on the nature and implementation of these controls remain scant. This information is critical to determining whether the SA-24s and the “thousands” of additional missiles[33] that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claims to be importing are in danger of being diverted to armed groups in the region or elsewhere.

In response to a query about the sale, a State Department spokeswoman told the Federation of American Scientists that U.S. officials “…have expressed our concerns to the Russian government on the control and security of arms transferred to Venezuela” and that they have “…received assurances from the Russian government that the deal conforms with end-use controls that meet international standards.”[34] The official did not indicate whether Russia has provided the US government with a list of specific controls, or the extent to which these controls have been implemented. The Russian and Venezuelan governments have yet to respond to requests from the Federation of American Scientists for additional information.

The most prominent set of ‘international standards’ on MANPADS controls are the Elements for Export Controls of MANPADS. Under the Elements, Russia has agreed to “…satisfy itself of the recipient government’s willingness and ability to implement effective measures for secure storage, handling, transportation, use of MANPADS material, and disposal or destruction of excess stocks to prevent unauthorised access and use.”[35] A more detailed set of procedures is laid out in an annex to the OSCE’s Best Practice Guide on National Procedures for Stockpile Management and Security of MANPADS, which the Russian government helped to draft. Minimally, the Russian government should ensure that Venezuela’s stockpile security and end-use policies and practices conform to the Wassenaar Arrangement’s Elements and the OSCE’s Best Practice Guide, and the Organization of American States’ Guidelines for Control and Security of MANPADS. Given the history of diversion from Venezuela’s arsenals,[36] regular on-site inventories and inspections by Russian officials are also merited. Failure to take these steps would raise serious questions about the Russian government’s commitment to implementing key international agreements and guidelines, including guidelines it helped to draft.

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Additional News & Resources (11/ 2009- 1/2010)

About the Authors

Matt Schroeder is the Manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Since joining FAS in February 2002, he has written more than 80 books, articles and other publications on US arms transfers, arms export policies, and the illicit arms trade. He is a co-author of the book The Small Arms Trade (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), and a consultant for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

Matt Buongiorno is currently serving as a Scoville Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists where he is working on small arms issues, U.S. nuclear policy issues, and Iranian nuclear issues. In addition to his work with FAS, Matt is staffing the 2010 National Model United Nations, a conference in New York that draws over 4,000 students and aspiring diplomats. He earned a B.A. in economics and political science from Texas Christian University in 2009.

About Missile Watch

Missile Watch is a quarterly publication by the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists that tracks the illicit proliferation and use of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and international efforts to combat the terrorist threat from shoulder-fired missiles.

To sign up for Missile Watch, go to /press/subscribe.html.

[1]David Fulghum, “Laser Saves Helo in Multi-SAM Ambush,”, 7 January 2010.

[2]“Yemen slams Shebab pledge to send fighters,” AFP, 2 January 2010.

[3]Correspondence with Major Steve Cole, spokesman for the IJC, 5 January 2010.

[4]DOD Should Apply Lessons Learned Concerning the Need for Security over Conventional Munitions Storage Sites to Future Operations Planning, Government Accountability Office, March 2007, p. 7.

[5]Colum Lynch, “U.N. Security Council orders arms embargo on Eritrea,” The Washington Post, 24 December 2009.

[6]Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia, S/2007/436, 18 July 2007, p. 15.

[7]Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia, S/2008/274, 24 April 2008, p. 24-25.

[8]Correspondence with MNF-Iraq, 19 November 2009. FOIA requests for similar information have also been denied. In January, US Central Command denied the release of six documents responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the FAS for information on “man-portable air defense systems collected or seized by Iraqi Security Forces or Coalition forces from 1 January 2007 to 1 June 2008.”

[9]David Fulghum, “Laser Saves Helo in Multi-SAM Ambush,”, 7 January 2010. While US Army officials did not identify the location of the attack, “…other military sources indicate it was in Iraq,” according to Fulghum.

[10]Deborah McAleese, “New Dissident Target…a Police Helicopter; Plan to Blast Lightly-armoured PSNI Chopper out of the Sky,” Belfast Telegraph, 2 December 2009.

[11]See Schroeder, Stohl and Smith, The Small Arms Trade (Oneworld Publications, 2007), p. 98-103.

[12]Smuggling efforts involving Libya were more fruitful. In the 1970s and 80s, the group acquired several MANPADS as part of a series of weapons shipments allegedly arranged by the Libyan government. But even these shipments were vulnerable to interdiction. The Eskund, for example, which reportedly contained 150 tons of weaponry, including 20 SA-7 missiles, was seized by French authorities in 1987.

[13]See Ian Bruce, “Why They’re Never Short of a Gun,” The Herald (Glasgow), 26 January 1998.

[14]“A Rebel Stronghold in Myanmar on Alert,” International Herald Tribune, 6 November 2009.

[15]“United Wa State Army (UWSA),” Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism, updated 11 November 2009 and Anthony Davis, “Myanmar heat turned up with SAMS from China,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 28 March 2001.

[16]Some media reports identified the missiles as Chinese HN-5s, but these claims have not been corroborated.

[17]O’Halloran and Foss, Jane’s Land-based Air Defense 2008-2009 (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 22.

[18]O’Halloran and Foss, p. 22 and Schroeder, Stohl, Smith, The Small Arms Trade, p. 88.

[19]Daniel Ten Kate, “Thailand Urges UN Action on N. Korean Arms Cache as Cost Rises,” Bloomberg, 3 February 2010.

[20]“Seized Weapons Plane in Thailand not Heading for Iran: Official,” Tehran Times, 3 February 2010.

[21]The Central Intelligence Agency purchased weapons, including MANPADS, from Eastern European countries and China, refraining from sending more effective US Stinger missile until the final years of the campaign.

[22]Juan Tamayo, “Farc Rebels’ Missile Purchase Raises Concerns,” Miami Herald, 16 February 2010 and “Stolen Peruvian Arms Sold to Colombian Rebels,” EFE, 13 January 2010.

[23]Tamayo, “FARC Rebels’ Missile Purchase Raises Concerns”

[24]US Government data provided to the Federation of American Scientists, January 2010.

[25]Denying MANPADS to Terrorists: Control and Security of MAN-Portable Air Defense Systems, Adopted 7 June 2005, available at /asmp/campaigns/MANPADS/2005/OASmanpads.pdf.

[26]See “Peru,” Jane’s World Armies, posted 8 January 2010.

[27]Fiona Govan, “Spanish PM saved from assassination by faulty IRA missile,” Telegraph, 18 January 2010.

[28]“French police find anti-aircraft missiles in ETA cache,” Associated Press Worldstream, 5 October 2004.

[29]“International Arms Trafficker Monzer al Kassar and Associate Sentenced on Terrorism Charges,” US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, 24 February 2009.

[30]United States of America –v. – Mozer Al Kassar, a/k/a “Abu Munawar,” a/k/a “El Taous,” Tareq Mousa al Gahzi, and Luis Felipe Moreno Godoy, June 2007, p. 1.

[31]Correspondence with Ty Blanchard, Raytheon’s business development manager for army advanced programmes, 2 February 2010.

[32]See, for example, Andrei Chang, “China ships more advanced weapons to Sudan,” UPI Asia, 28 March 2008.

[33]“Chavez: Venezuela acquires thousands of missiles,” Associated Press, 7 December 2009. According to the Associated Press, Chavez claimed in early December 2009 that “[t]housands of missiles…”and rocket launchers, reportedly Russian-made, “…are arriving” in Venezuela, although he did not identify the type of missiles and rockets.

[34]Correspondence with State Department officials, 12 January 2010. The full response from the State Department reads as follows: “Russia is a major supplier of arms to Venezuela. We have expressed our concerns to the Russian government on the control and security of arms transferred to Venezuela. We have received assurances from the Government of Russia that the deal conforms with end-use controls that meet international standards. Particularly given reports of Venezuelan-origin [weapons] surfacing in neighboring countries, we urge the Government of Venezuela to implement strict controls to prevent the diversion of arms and ammunition.”

[35]These measures include monthly physical inventories of all imported missiles and launchers, storage of missiles and launchers in separate locations, continuous (24-hour) surveillance, and limiting storage site access to two people with proper security clearances, among others.

[36]For a partial list of recent reports, see footnote 5 in “Securing Venezuela’s Arsenals,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 24 August 2009.

Missile Watch #4: Global Update (January – March 2009)


In March, the Sunday Times of London reported on the Taliban’s alleged acquisition of Iranian-supplied SA-14 missiles, which the Afghan insurgent group reportedly wants for a “spectacular” attack on coalition forces. The accusation reportedly came from unidentified “American intelligence sources.” According to the Sunday Times, “…coalition forces only became aware of the presence of SA14s two weeks ago when parts from two of them were discovered during an American operation in western Afghanistan.” The article provides no information on the number of SA-14s allegedly circulating in Afghanistan, their condition, or Iran’s alleged connection to them. When queried about the Sunday Times article, a US military official told the Federation of American Scientists that “[man-portable air defense systems] have been recovered in Afghanistan since 2007,” but refused to provide additional details because of “operational security concerns.”

Other types of MANPADS reportedly acquired by the Taliban and other unauthorized end-users in Afghanistan include the Chinese HN-5, photographs of which were obtained by the Washington Times in 2007, and the ubiquitous SA-7.

For information on Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia, click here.

Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq

Despite a million dollar buyback program and hundreds of raids on illicit weapons caches, US and Iraqi forces are still finding surface-to-air missiles in insurgent stockpiles.  US military press releases and media reports reveal that, since October 2006, at least 121 such missiles have been recovered, along with 4 additional launchers and various components.  These reports suggest that insurgents still have ready access to surface-to-air missiles, including MANPADS, at least some of which are reportedly still operational.  The missiles pose an immediate threat to civilian and military aircraft in Iraq and a potential threat to aircraft in the region.

To read the rest of Missile Watch #3, click here.

New Information on Iraqi Missile Cache

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.

Iraq’s Looted Arms Depots: What the GAO Didn’t Mention

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.

Questions about Iranian Weapons in Iraq

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?