Accession Number:



Shoulder Launched Missiles (A.K.A. MANPADS): The Ominous Threat to Commercial Aviation

Descriptive Note:


Corporate Author:


Personal Author(s):

Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



The United States faces a multitude of security challenges in todays post-September 11, 2001, era. One glaring threat to the nations economic well-being and public safety is the commercial aviation industrys vulnerability to shoulder-launched missiles, also known as MANPADS Man Portable Air Defense Systems. This industry sustains the flow of goods and services in todays globally connected economy and is critical to the American way of life. Currently, 27 terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, have confirmed or reported possession of MANPADS. Since 1994, there have been 10 high-profile attempts to target commercial aircraft, with four being shot down. Furthermore, MANPADS fit Al Qaedas mode of operation perfectly and are relatively easy to use, convenient to transport, widely available, inexpensive, and lethal. This capability coupled with Al Qaedas direction from its leader, Osama bin Laden, to kill Americans and their allies -- civilians and military, is a potentially catastrophic combination. With the means and motive to inflict harm in place, and its propensity to favor economic, symbolic, and mass casualty targets, all that remains is opportunity. It is only a matter of time before Al Qaeda penetrates a seam and strikes a United States carrier at home or abroad. Time is of the essence and a scenario that could exceed the economic impact of 911 lies in the balance. This paper reviews the histories of MANPADS use by non-state groups and MANPADS seizures describes the technical aspects of various MANPAD systems examines the worldwide proliferation of MANPAD systems among non-state groups explores the probable economic and psycho-social repercussions of a MANPADS attack on a commercial airliner and provides a strategy template that combines offensive operations, counterproliferation, and interdiction activities abroad while increasing security, countermeasures, vulnerability reduction, and risk management measures at home.

Subject Categories:

  • Commercial and General Aviation
  • Government and Political Science
  • Civil Defense
  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Surface-Launched Guided Missiles

Distribution Statement: