Addressing the Challenge of MANPADS Proliferation

Andrew J. Shapiro
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Stimson Center
Washington, DC
February 2, 2012

As prepared

Thank you. It is my great pleasure to be here at the Stimson Center. Stimson has long been a leader in developing our understanding of international security and I want to thank the center for having me here today to speak on this important topic. I also want to thank Linc – not just for that kind introduction – but also for all the work he did when he ran the Political-Military Affairs Bureau. U.S. efforts to destroy and secure shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles started under Linc’s watch and as Special Envoy he helped focus international attention on this threat. His efforts have well prepared us for the current challenges we are facing today.

Today, I want to talk to you about our efforts to address the threat posed by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile systems, also known as Man-Portable-Air-Defense-Systems or MANPADS. Currently in Libya we are engaged in the most extensive effort to combat the proliferation of MANPADS in U.S. history. But before I talk about Libya, let me first talk a bit about why we are so focused on this threat.

In the wrong hands, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles pose a major threat to passenger air travel, the commercial aviation industry, and possibly military aircraft around the world. Not only could a successful attack against an aircraft cause a devastating loss of life, but it could also cause significant economic damage. Airline travel is critical to our interconnected global economy. Any successful attack could therefore have very harmful economic effects not only in the region where the attack occurred, but also in countries around the world.

In 2002, just over nine years ago, the world was awakened to the threat posed by MANPADS when terrorists shot two missiles at an Israeli civilian Boeing 757 in Mombasa, Kenya. If the missiles had hit the plane, the attack could have resulted in hundreds of deaths and could have had a chilling effect on international air traffic.

While we can be thankful that no American civilian planes have been shot down by one of these systems, the use of MANPADS in Iraq and Afghanistan by insurgents has posed a threat to American and coalition troops, as well as to reconstruction efforts. Take for example the 2003 attack on a DHL cargo plane taking off from Baghdad International Airport. As it attempted to deliver mail from Iraq to nearby Bahrain, the plane was hit by a MANPADS missile, damaging the left wing and causing the loss of the hydraulic flight control systems. Miraculously, the crew was able to regain control and make an emergency landing. These attacks gained world-wide attention and prompted the U.S. government to make countering the proliferation of MANPADS a top national security priority.

MANPADS were first developed at the beginning of the Cold War by the United States and the Soviet Union. They were designed to be used by conventional armies against enemy aircraft. But today many of the older systems have almost no military utility, since they are ineffective against modern military aircraft equipped with countermeasures. Yet a number of countries still possess large stockpiles of these outdated systems. And since they are no longer militarily useful, countries’ often struggle to devote the necessary resources to properly secure them. In fact, for most countries, possession of these aging systems is often more of a liability than an asset. While these outdated weapons may be of little use to a host country’s military, they are prized systems for smugglers and terrorists. This makes improperly secured stockpiles of MANPADS a prime target for smugglers and for terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.

Just as nuclear proliferation has been a major concern in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so too is the proliferation of MANPADS. MANPADS were built to be portable, easy-to-use, and readily transferable, making them an ideal weapon for terrorists seeking to attack airliners. Some MANPADS are as small as four feet long, weighing less than 30 pounds. Yet, this light-weight weapon is capable of firing a missile at twice the speed of sound which can engage a plane flying as high as 15,000 feet and over 3 miles away within 10 seconds. By using infrared sensors, the first generation of MANPADS could lock onto an aircraft’s heat source to guide the missile to impact.

Most MANPADS require three parts to function: a missile packaged in a tube; a gripstock (also known as a launcher); and a battery. Importantly, the missile tube can only be used once. Unlike a rocket propelled grenade, it cannot be reloaded. Likewise, the battery only has enough energy to power the missile system long enough for one launch. While MANPADS are a guided system, they usually require some weapons training to be used effectively. These weapons require more than just ‘pointing and clicking,’ especially with the older models found in Libya that lack sophisticated guidance mechanisms. This is one of several factors that helps explain the limited number of successful attacks globally.

The most proliferated type of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile is also the first-generation of the system. It is an infrared-guided system designed by the former Soviet Union known as the SA-7. This weapon was introduced in the late 1960s, was heavily produced in the 1970s, and is the system most commonly held by terrorist groups. It is also the system that the Qadhafi regime stockpiled by the thousands. While MANPADS can vary greatly in the way they operate, they all pose a serious threat to international aviation.

Over the last decade, international awareness of the threat has grown and some important steps have been taken by the international community. For instance, regulations have been tightened on MANPADS exports. Guidelines have been established for stockpile management. And technological developments have been explored that could limit the use or the effectiveness of these weapons.

For years the United States has also worked to secure stockpiles of conventional weapons in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of criminals and terrorists. This remains one of the United States government’s top priorities.

In 2006, the U.S. government established an interagency MANPADS Task Force led by the State Department. To counter-proliferation, the MANPADS Task Force helps countries’ secure its stockpiles, maintain reliable inventories of its systems, and safely dispose of MANPADS stocks that are no longer needed for their national defense. Since 2003, our cooperation with more than 30 countries around the globe has led to the destruction of nearly 33,000 excess, loosely secured, or otherwise at-risk MANPADS.

This is also very much a multi-agency effort. The Department of Defense provides its technical expertise in providing physical security and stockpile management assessments to countries. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has a program within the Transportation Security Administration that assists countries to better protect their airports from a possible attack. DHS sends teams to countries to conduct vulnerability assessments in order to identify areas around international airports where MANPADS could be launched. DHS also help these countries’ develop a plan to counter this threat.

The State Department, along with our interagency partners, has worked in numerous post-conflict countries, including the Balkans, Burundi, and Liberia, to secure and destroy obsolete and excess weapons, especially MANPADS. For instance, between 2003 and 2004, we worked with Bosnia to destroy its government-held stockpile of almost 6,000 MANPADS. In each of these countries, these governments realized the enormous threat that unneeded weapons posed. Not only can these weapons end up in the hands of terrorists, but poorly maintained weapons depots also pose a threat to people who live near these sites.

Additionally, our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan required us to work in conflict environments. In both countries we worked to set up integrated Conventional Weapons Destruction programs that targeted high value weapons, specifically MANPADS. We also worked to protect the civilians from landmines, IEDs, unexploded ordnance, and excess weapons and unstable munitions. For example, in Iraq, the United States has invested more than $200 million in conventional weapons destruction projects since 2003. After more than three decades of violent conflict, Afghanistan is severely contaminated by landmines, unexploded ordinance, and excess conventional weapons and unstable munitions. Since the 1990s, the State Department has provided more than $200 million in humanitarian mine action and conventional weapons destruction assistance to Afghanistan. Our work in these countries, much of it under Linc’s stewardship, has helped prepare us for the challenge posed by the crisis in Libya.


For decades, the Qadhafi regime stockpiled MANPADS. By the time of the regime’s collapse, Libya had accumulated the largest stockpile of MANPADS of any non-MANPADS producing country in the world. Overall we estimate that the Qadhafi regime acquired a stockpile of approximately 20,000 MANPADS in the past four decades. The collapse of the regime has therefore created a major proliferation challenge for the new Libyan government, the region, and the entire international community.

In response to the crisis, the United States – as Secretary Clinton announced in Tripoli in November – has committed to providing $40 million dollars to assist Libya’s efforts to secure and recover its weapons stockpiles. We have also helped galvanize an international response to this crisis and have worked tirelessly in support of the new Libyan government.

We were concerned about Libya’s stockpiles of MANPADS well before the outbreak of fighting last spring. In fact, during the brief earlier effort to reestablish relations with Libya, MANPADS was a topic that we sought to address with the Qadhafi regime. As the Arab Spring spread and as protests gathered momentum in Libya, our MANPADS Task Force was well aware of the scope of the challenge. With our team’s experience working in other conflict countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, we also knew what to expect and we were ready to respond.

When the fighting escalated and the Qadhafi regime was pushed back from Benghazi, we took immediate steps to try to mitigate the proliferation dangers. In April of last year, we began providing $3 million in funding to NGOs to get them on the ground. These NGOs specialize in conventional weapons destruction and stockpile security and have significant experience. They immediately began working with the Transitional National Council or TNC to clear unexploded ordnance and remnants of war and assisted the TNC in securing loose weapons, including MANPADS.

We also deployed a team from our MANPADS Task Force to brief countries in the region on the potential proliferation dangers. Before Qadhafi was ousted from Tripoli, we had visited all of Libya’s neighbors and offered assistance with border security and provided advice on potential steps to improve aviation security.

Additionally, we worked to galvanize an international response to the crisis. We engaged our NATO allies and other close partners, and worked closely with the United Nations to develop an international response.

Once the stalemate broke and the fighting rapidly shifted in the TNC’s favor in August, we immediately deployed a State Department expert from the MANPADS Task Force to Benghazi. Mark Adams, who you will hear from shortly on the panel, is the head of our MANPADS Task Force and spent considerable time on the ground in Libya and can talk more about his experience. The initial primary objective was to reach an agreement with the TNC to set up a MANPADS control and destruction program that would enable us to set up what we call our Phase I efforts. Phase I entailed an effort to rapidly survey, secure, and disable loose MANPADS across the country. To accomplish this, we immediately deployed our Quick Reaction Force, which are teams made up of civilian technical specialists.

A fact often overlooked in our response to events in Libya, is that – unlike in Iraq and Afghanistan – we did not have tens of thousands of U.S. forces on the ground, nor did we control movement and access. This meant we did not have complete freedom of movement around the country. Our efforts on the ground therefore had to be carefully coordinated and fully supported by the TNC. To keep the Libyans in the lead, our technical specialists were embedded in support of TNC-led teams to pursue loose MANPADS. While this did lend some constraints on our ability to ramp up, it also had the important benefit of ensuring that we had complete TNC support for our efforts. And I can tell you, we didn’t need to explain to the TNC the importance of securing weapons. They fully understood that weapons proliferation was a real threat to a new Libya and they worked rapidly to organize teams to secure and recover weapons.

In September, as the fighting was still going on, these teams swept the country, scouring ammunition storage sites and more than 1,500 bunkers to find MANPADS. Additionally, teams and experts were also provided by the British Government – and a British colleague who oversaw this deployment, is here today as well. Thus far these teams have helped to identify, recover, and secure approximately 5,000 MANPADS and components.

But this raises the question – how many are still missing? The frank answer is we don’t know and probably never will. There are a few reasons for this:

First, we do not have precise information about the Qadhafi regime’s weapons stockpiles. The Qadhafi regime was anything but transparent. And we don’t have exact information about the regime’s weapons inventories. Our teams are working to piece together information we have gained from packing slips in the MANPADS crates that can give us information on the quantities of various shipments. But there is a lot that we don’t know about Qadhafi’s weapons stockpile. For instance, we don’t know how many systems over the last 20-40 years were used in training or military exercises or were damaged or destroyed as a result of improper storage or exposure to the elements. Therefore, getting an exact figure on the number missing is difficult because we don’t know exactly how many the Qadhafi regime still possessed at the time of its collapse.

A second reason is that weapons storage sites were a major target of NATO airstrikes. For months, NATO forces pounded away at the Qadhafi regime’s weapons depots. Time and time again our teams came across weapons storage sites where we knew MANPADS were stored only to find that these sites had been completely obliterated by NATO strikes. Whatever weapons were in these storage facilities were likely destroyed and were buried under mounds of rubble left behind. While this is good news from a counter-proliferation perspective, it makes coming up with an exact count a challenge to say the least. Additionally, the NATO bombing campaign focused intently on taking out Libya’s air defense systems and their corresponding storage sites. We believe that many MANPADS were stored with other anti-aircraft artillery at these facilities and were likely destroyed during the campaign.

Third, many of these weapons were taken by militias and anti-Qadhafi forces during the fighting. The Libyan opposition – including militias and private citizens – removed significant quantities of weapons from weapons depots, including MANPADS during the uprising. As has been well documented by journalists on the ground, Libyan rebels often took whatever weapons were available. Despite the fact that MANPADS are only designed to target aircraft, have little utility against opposing ground forces, and are dangerous for the user when used this way, we know that opposition forces regularly used MANPADS in direct combat against Qadhafi loyalists. This is significant because it means that many of the unaccounted for missiles may have been used in the fighting.

Furthermore, because many militias believe MANPADS have some utility in ground combat, many militia groups remain reluctant to relinquish them. As the process of demobilizing militias continues, we expect to see many of these weapons being turned over to the control of the Libyan national army. While the integration process has been slow and challenging, at the very least, we believe this means that the large stockpiles of weapons under militia control have remained inside Libya – albeit outside the control of the Libyan government. We don’t have precise numbers on how many are under militia control. But given that these were the forces that were often the first to liberate weapons sites from Qadhafi control, we believe that a substantial number are held by these militias.

Yet clearly we cannot rule out that some weapons may have leaked out of Libya. Our efforts in Libya are therefore designed to reduce risk and mitigate the threat as effectively and comprehensively as we can. This is why the United States and the international community have been working with countries in the region to improve border security and improve their aviation security. We are working closely with NATO, the EU, and the UN to coordinate our efforts on the ground and across the region. To date, the United Kingdom has pledged at least £1 million pounds and, as mentioned, has provided a team of technical experts to support and coordinate activities. The Netherlands has contributed €900,000 Euros. Germany has contributed €750,000 Euros. And Canada has pledged $1.6 million Canadian dollars. Other countries, such as France and Italy have also made significant contributions.


The work to secure and recover Libya’s weapons stockpiles is a long-term effort. Now that we have completed our initial rapid sweep across the country, we are entering what we call Phase 2. This involves helping the new Libyan government conduct a full inventory of all weapons stockpiles, as well as assisting them to improve border security to help detect and interdict illicit activity.

In December I travelled to Tripoli to get an update on our progress and to discuss the transition to this new phase in our efforts with the new Libyan government. And from my visit, and from the experience of our teams on the ground, I can tell you the new Libyan government is firmly committed to addressing this issue.

In early December, the Libyan government signed a Conventional Weapons Destruction Technical Arrangement, which provides the basis for expansion into Phase 2 operations. This was the first bilateral agreement the new Libyan Ministry of Defense has signed and is a key indicator of the new Libyan governments’ desire to comprehensively address weapons security. This agreement also created the Libya Center for Mine Action or LMAC, which was named as the Ministry of Defense’s (MOD) lead for these issues. Our contract specialists will help support the LMAC. The LMAC is also functioning as the central point for coordination of international efforts to assist the Libyans in conventional weapons destruction.

Our conventional weapons destruction efforts are also serving to support Libya’s new government. Our Phase 2 efforts will also help aid the Libyan government’s efforts to integrate militias and veterans of the fighting. We plan to assist the Libyans to conduct a thorough inventory of all weapons storage areas in Libya to create a full picture of both old, unstable, obsolete, or at-risk, as well as up-to-date weapons and munitions. This is not just about MANPADS, but about all weapons. And it entails helping the Libyans consolidate weapons into secure facilities and assisting them to destroy items that the Libyans deem in excess of their security requirements. Throughout Phase 2, the State Department will also maintain 2 Mobile MANPADS teams which will operate independent of the survey, inventory, and destruction activities. They will respond to any ad-hoc MANPADS discoveries or issues throughout Libya.

Completing an entire survey of Libya’s weapons stockpiles, will take time and will require a lot of manpower. It entails an effort to find out exactly how many MANPADS were inside of each of the weapons sites that were targeted by NATO. This is a painstaking process that will require heavy equipment and excavation crews. Additionally, before we can even begin to excavate these sites must be swept for unexploded ordnance from the bombing campaign. To complete this task our funding will help support the hiring of many veterans of the conflict, who will be trained in conventional weapons destruction activities. We believe that this is a win-win for the government of Libya and for the United States. We are helping Libya get a handle on its weapons stockpiles, while at the same time aiding their demobilization efforts.

Once this time-consuming process is completed we plan to transition to a third Phase that will seek to ensure Libya’s weapons stockpiles meet modern standards. This involves updating storage facilities, improving security, and assisting the Libyans efforts to implement the most up-to-date stockpile management practices.

This will clearly be a long-term effort and there is a lot of work to do between now and Phase III, but the United States and the international community are committed to assisting the new Libyan government on this path.

To conclude, I believe our efforts in Libya and around the world have demonstrated our strong commitment to addressing the threat posed by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. While there is no easy solution to the proliferation challenge posed by MANPADS, this Administration and the international community is working vigilantly to take steps to reduce the threat posed by these weapons.

I know in these budget constrained times, State Department assistance programs are under great scrutiny. But our diplomatic and development work saves lives and helps foster stability in every region of the world, which helps strengthen U.S. national security. There is no clearer example of this than our efforts to counter the proliferation of MANPADS. This work, along with our other Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, helps create the conditions for stability to return to war-torn regions. By removing or securing these destabilizing systems, as well as other deadly remnants of war, we are helping children, families, and communities to live in safety and therefore helping war-torn countries recover.

And with that, I would be happy to take a few questions.