According to reports, some “armed groups” in Syria have acquired an unknown number of man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS).
The threat is real. Israeli sources say the shoulder-launched missiles taken by terror groups in Syria are advanced and pose a serious threat to civil and military aircraft.
A report from Switzerland’s Small Arms Survey research group was released just hours after the US Federal Aviation Administration issued a notice to US airlines banning all flights in Syrian airspace.
The agency says armed extremists in Syria are “known to be equipped with a variety of anti-aircraft weapons which have the capability to threaten civilian aircraft”.
The FAA had previously warned against flights over Syria, but had not prohibited them outright.
Yiftah Shapir, head of the Middle East military balance project at the Israel-based Institute for National Security Studies, told Flightglobal that some of the MANPADS in the hands of terrorist groups in Syria may have been smuggled out of the war-torn country, and are Russian- and Chinese-made.
Shapir says the systems are probably the IGLA S (SA-24) Russian-made system and the Chinese-made QW-1.
“These families of shoulder-launched missiles are very dangerous, mainly because they are immune against many of the countermeasures being operated today,” he adds.
The researcher says there are many variants of the two systems – and they are a considerable threat to both civil and military aircraft.
Israeli air force aircraft operating in zones near Syria and Lebanon are operating countermeasures on every mission.
Israel identified the threat after an attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002. In early 2014, the installation of the commercial multispectral infrared countermeasure dubbed “Sky Shield” began on Israeli passenger aircraft. The system was developed by Israeli firm Elbit Systems.
However, the world has been slow in understanding the threat.
This is a process that psychologists may explain. Governments tend to ignore imminent threats until they get hit full in their faces.
The world has not realised the true threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq. If you combine this body with the availability of MANPADS, the threat escalates.