Theodore's World: Shoulder-Fired Missiles Pose Serious Threat to Passenger Jets

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March 30, 2006

Shoulder-Fired Missiles Pose Serious Threat to Passenger Jets

Nicaraguan soldiers carry SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles during a parade in Managua.

U.S. Planes Have No Defense Against Cheap, Widely Available Weapons

March 27, 2006 — The potential target: an American commercial jet.

The potential weapon: a shoulder-to-air missile that terrorists fire at the jet on takeoff.

Worldwide, at least 24 civilian aircraft have been brought down by shoulder-fired missiles, and more than 500 people have been killed. And experts say that shoulder-to-air missiles can be bought for only a few thousand dollars on the black market. But U.S. commercial aircraft still have no defense system against these portable missiles.

Scare in Los Angeles

Last November, just minutes after takeoff from Los Angeles International Airport, an American Airlines pilot reported that something resembling a rocket might have been fired at his aircraft.

"American 612, can you verify whether you saw a flare or a rocket?" radioed an air-traffic controller.

"It looked more like a rocket to me," the pilot responded. "I'm pretty sure it was a rocket of some kind, because it had a definite plume coming out behind it."

The immediate concern was that the plume was in fact the trail of a shoulder-fired missile. The Coast Guard dispatched a cutter and a helicopter, and the FBI opened an investigation.

"We searched the area," said U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Clay Clary. "Nothing was found."

Although officials concluded it was most likely a hobby rocket, the investigation remains officially open.

"We had a scare in Los Angeles," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation. "We've been told that they cannot rule out the fact that it was a shoulder-fired missile."

Although all the attacks to date have been on foreign soil, a potential attack on an American commercial jet remains a very serious concern. They say that an estimated 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles, most of them made in Russia, are for sale on worldwide black markets.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," Boxer said.

And from another article but this one is dated.....12/3/03 USA Today

The biggest obstacle may be the price tag. Government officials estimate it could cost $1 million to $3 million per plane to install the equipment; some industry estimates are 10 times higher. Either way, it would be the most expensive security upgrade ever ordered for the nation's commercial passenger fleet. And those estimates don't include maintenance costs, which could run as high as $10 billion a year for the fleet.

Intelligence officials estimate that as many as 150,000 of the world's roughly 500,000 portable shoulder-fired missiles are in the hands of at least 27 terrorist or guerrilla groups, including al-Qaeda.

Wild Thing's comment.....
OK as a girl and not knowledgable about this stuff like all you guys are. If they suspected this years ago, and yes it would cost a lot.....I am wondering mostly about security. The bad guy ( terrorist) would still have to get close enough to shoot one of these off so I am wondering how much ground around a Jet is allocated at airports to make sure no one could be close enough at take offs and landings to do an attack with a missile like this. Just curious.

Posted by Wild Thing at March 30, 2006 12:40 AM

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WT, there is probably not enough area around most airports to put these missles out of range. My hope is that a ground type radar that picks up and disrupts their lock-on/guidance system has been developed. That way each airport can have a system rather than each aircraft. Much less expensive and also able to alert airport security to possibly pinpoint the bastards.

Posted by: TomR at March 30, 2006 01:31 PM

WT. I doubt most airports have enough area to keep these missles out of range. I hope a ground based detection system has/will be developed that can detect and neutralize these missles when their system is activated. That way airport security may be able to actually pinpoint and catch anyone with a missle.

Hope somebody else has some good info on this.

Posted by: TomR at March 30, 2006 01:35 PM

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