The whereabouts of Libya’s stockpiles of shoulder-fired missiles isn’t yet known. So far, none have turned up in Afghanistan, said the leader of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command.
Gen. Ray Johns Jr., commander of the forces that fly personnel, goods and fuel to far-flung spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan, said a man portable air defense system, or manpads, has never been fired at coalition aircraft in Afghanistan.
When asked if he was concerned about reports that Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s stockpiles of shoulder-fired missiles are disappearing in Libya as the fighting there continues, Johns said he is “always worried because that’s my number one threat.”
He added: “I’m worried globally. I’m worried in Iraq. I’m worried in Afghanistan.” The command has a working group that takes a daily pulse of the threats that may affect safety near drop zones, he said.
“We’re always assessing the risk of each drop,” he told reporters Sept. 20 in Washington, D.C. Counter-measures might include having pilots fly at a higher altitude when dropping pallets, he said.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are outfitted with directed infrared counter measure systems, DIRCMs, to protect them from shoulder-fired missiles. However, the prospect that the weapons could be used in an act of terrorism to destroy unprotected passenger aircraft has long been a concern.
At the behest of Congress, the Department of Homeland Security spent some $270 million over the course of six years on pilot programs to determine the feasibility of placing DIRCMS aboard commercial airliners. That effort was eventually abandoned. One sticking point was the added costs that airlines would have had to bear. Lawmakers did not pass any legislation mandating that the technology be installed on commercial airliners.
There have been several manpad attacks against commercial airliners, according to a study by the Arms Control Association. Terrorists and non-state actors have acquired them in the past, it said.
On Sept. 3, 1978, Zimbabwe Peoples Revolution Army rebels shot down Air Rhodesia Flight 825. Al-Qaida affiliated terrorists in Mombassa, Kenya, fired two missiles at an Arkia Israel Airlines plane. Both missed, but the act marked the first attack on a civilian airliner outside a conflict zone, the report noted. In Iraq, a DHL cargo aircraft was struck with a shoulder-fired missile, but managed to land safely despite the near total loss of a wing.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government has dispatched teams to North Africa to determine the fate of Gaddafi’s shoulder-fired missiles, an Aug. 24 Reuters report stated.