2016 To Walk the Earth in Safety: The U.S. Interagency MANPADS Task Force
More than 40 civilian airliners have been hit by MANPADS since the 1970s. It wasn’t until 2002 that the world became aware of the threat posed by this type of weapon, when terrorists used two MANPADS to try to shoot down an Israeli civilian airliner in Mombasa, Kenya. Terrorists and rebel forces have used MANPADS to fight government troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, destroy humanitarian flights in Angola and Sudan, and target civilian aircraft across Africa and elsewhere. In recent years, arms traffickers and violent extremists have looted MANPADS and other advanced conventional weapons from unsecured state-held stockpiles in Libya and Syria. The United States is working hard to decrease the availability of these dangerous weapons.
What are MANPADS?
MANPADS are surface-to-air missiles. They were originally developed in the 1960s for national military forces to protect troops and facilities. A single individual or crew can carry and fire MANPADS.
Most MANPADS consist of three components: a missile packaged in a tube, a reusable trigger mechanism (called a “gripstock”), and a battery. The tube, which protects the missile until it is fired, is disposable. A single-use battery typically powers the missile prior to launch.
MANPADS tubes usually range from about 1.2 to 2 meters (4 feet to 6.5 feet) in length and are about 76 millimeters (3 inches) in diameter. With gripstocks, they weigh from about 13 to 25 kilograms (28 pounds to just more than 55 pounds). This makes them easy to transport and conceal. Some of the most commonly produced MANPADS can fit into an automobile trunk.
Although they look similar, a MANPADS missile should not be confused with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). MANPADS missiles can travel at twice the speed of sound and strike aircraft flying at altitudes up to 4.57 kilometers (about 25,000 feet) or out to a horizontal range of up to 5 kilometers (3.2 miles). RPGs are unguided weapons designed to be used against ground targets at much closer range, so they are generally much less effective against aircraft. However, some RPG attacks on aircraft flying at low altitudes and relatively slow speeds have been mistaken for MANPADS attacks.
What the Task Force Does
In 2006, the U.S. government established the MANPADS Task Force to mitigate the threat posed by the proliferation of MANPADS around the world. The MANPADS Task Force—made up of experts from numerous departments and agencies—runs programs, carries out policies, and coordinates efforts within the U.S. government, with partner nations, and among international organizations.
As an example, the MANPADS Task Force coordinates the activities of the Departments of State and Defense to improve the PSSM of a partner government’s MANPADS stockpiles. The Task Force also helps develop U.S. approaches with other MANPADS exporters and producers to track unaccounted-for MANPADS and reduce the spread of weapons. The goal of these cooperative activities is to stop violent extremists from obtaining and possibly using such weapons.
Since early 2011, the MANPADS Task Force has led U.S. efforts to battle the trafficking of MANPADS from Libya, Syria, and other countries suffering from internal instability or regime collapse. The Task Force coordinates across the U.S. government on border security, weapons trafficking, and related activities to prevent illicit movement of MANPADS from one country to another.