Just think of the problems when terrorists stand on the beach outside of LAX with one of these things and take down a plane leaving Los Angeles. Or in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, Denver, St Louis, ....
Hand-held missiles raise fear of terror
Passenger planes are easy targets
By Thom Shanker
New York Times
Nov. 29, 2002
WASHINGTON - The missile attack on an Israeli passenger plane departing from Mombassa, Kenya, on Thursday was a stark warning that another long-feared threat may be on the rise: terrorists shooting down jetliners with shoulder-fired missiles.
Hundreds if not thousands of the relatively cheap but effective missiles are believed to be circulating on the black market, and they have been used with deadly accuracy against civilian planes in a number of overseas war zones.
The fact that the Arkia airlines plane escaped what witnesses described as a pair of missiles did not diminish the worry. The 261 passengers aboard the Boeing 757-300 were saved, experts said, either by the inexperience of the attackers, a technical failure of the missile, or luck.
"This has been a major concern for a number of years," said Daniel Benjamin, who served as a counterterrorism adviser to President Clinton.
"Recognizing that there are so many of this type of missile out there, and with today's attack as a manifestation that there are terrorists who would truly like to shoot down civilian airliners, we have to understand that the threat has now gone up," he said.
While published statistics on the number of shoulder-fired missile attacks against commercial aircraft vary, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said there have been at least 29 instances in which civilian planes have been hit by these weapons, mostly in war zones, causing at least 550 deaths.
The U.S. government has studied the threat to commercial airline traffic from light, portable missiles and has discussed its concerns with airline executives, administration officials said Thursday.
Last summer, American officials elevated warnings of terrorist attack from shoulder-launched missiles, whose official military classification is Man-Portable Air Defense System, or Manpads.
U.S. military officials announced in June that a Sudanese man with possible ties to al-Qaida was arrested in Sudan, and that he had admitted launching an SA-7 shoulder-fired missile at an American warplane in Saudi Arabia late last year. The missile did not strike the jet.
But the discovery of the empty missile canisters prompted an FBI alert that terrorists might try to shoot down a commercial aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles.
In Israel on Thursday, investigators said the attackers in Kenya apparently used a version of the SA-7, originally designed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and named "Strela," or Arrow. The missile design was later copied for manufacture by China, Yugoslavia, Egypt and Pakistan, administration officials said Thursday.
It is similar to an early portable missile developed for the U.S. military and called "Redeye," which targets the heat from an airplane's engines, according to a Pentagon official.
Missiles like the SA-7 can overtake planes traveling at the speed of sound and up to an altitude of 10,000 to 15,000 feet, the official said. Compared with the high-performance combat jets or dizzyingly maneuverable attack helicopters for which the SA-7 is designed, a lumbering passenger plane is considered an easy target.
The SA-7 is not as capable as the newer American Stinger, which proved devastating against Soviet aircraft during the occupation of Afghanistan.