Israeli sources are reporting that the Hamas terrorist organization is deploying man-portable air defense missiles (MANPADs). Israeli air operations near the border with Gaza, the Hamas stronghold, have already been affected. The missiles in question are reported to be versions of the Russian Strela supplied to Hamas by Iran. The Strela has a range of more than two miles and can reach aircraft or helicopters flying more than a mile above the ground. Deployed close to airfields or landing strips, such missiles could be employed with devastating effect.
The acquisition by terrorist organizations of MANPADs is a potentially game changer on counterinsurgency battlefields around the world. Those familiar with “Charlie Wilson’s War” will remember it was U.S. Stinger missiles in the hands of the Mujahideen that turned around the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Air power has been a decisive advantage for counterinsurgency forces for decades. The French war in Indochina was lost at Dien Bien Phu when the Viet Minh deployed anti-aircraft guns in the hills around the besieged base.
In Iraq and Afghanistan the coalition owns the air. This advantage has been extremely important, even vital, to the success of coalition operations. The U.S. relied heavily on air transport in Iraq to counter the challenge posed by improvised explosive devices on the roads. Only a few anti-aircraft missile attacks were experienced in Iraq. The paucity of roads in Afghanistan makes reliance on air transport an imperative. To date, the Taliban have not employed MANPADs.
If Hamas has MANPADs then it is a sure thing that Hezbollah does too. It is a short leap from this situation to anti-aircraft missiles appearing in the hands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The potential danger to friendly aircraft is obvious and serious.
The Strela is a short-range missile that cannot pose a threat to aircraft at medium and high altitude. But there are better MANPADs on the international market that could pose a threat at greater rang and higher altitudes.
Defenses against MANPADs had lagged over the past several decades. Passive defenses such as flares are increasingly ineffective and sufficient resources have not been devoted to the development of effective, small and low weight active defense systems. The Army has made the deployment of better missile defenses on its helicopters a priority.
The emergence of a MANPAD threat in the hands of terrorist organizations will also accelerate the drive to deploy armed unmanned aerial vehicles. Small UAVs are difficult to detect but could still deliver lethal effects. UAVs could also deploy missile countermeasures in support of manned aircraft and helicopters.
Find Archived Articles: