The threat of insurgents using MANPADS is exaggerated (SOP for our experts)

Summary:  One cause of our America’s increasing paranoia are the persistent exaggerations of threats by our experts.   This is another article in our efforts to help readers become better consumers of news.

An important role of geopolitical experts is to exaggerate threats to the US.  Failure to do so results in marginalization, being regarded as unserious.  Exiled from conferences, denied exposure in the mainstream media, no longer consulted by politicians.  Only the strongest reputation can survive, like Andrew Bacevich’s.   On the other hand, As the Team B exercise proved, gross overestimates leads to career success (for more about Team B, see “Team B: The trillion-dollar experiment” and “Team B Strategic Objectives Panel“).

Today’s example:  “Man-Portable Air Defense Systems: A Persistent and Potent Threat“, Stratfor, 1 February 2010 – Summary:

For more than three decades, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles have been used to attack civilian as well as military aircraft. While counterproliferation efforts worldwide have focused attention on the threat — and managed to contain it to some extent — these “man-portable air defense systems” remain highly prized and sought-after by militant groups. This is because they provide a cheap, simple and reasonably effective way to bring down an airplane full of people. And while missile technology continues to be refined, counterproliferation efforts are being offset by arms transfers on the black and gray markets.

This article about MANPADS shows a craftsman’s hand at work.  Technically detailed and accurate.  But skillfully avoiding discussion of actual wars.  Especially significant, Stratfor does not discuss why these powerful and easy to get weapons remain unobtainable (except small numbers, mostly obsolete versions) by our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our helicopters make tempting targets should our enemies get them in decent numbers.  Insurgents failure to obtain them during a decade of conflict constitutes prima facie evidence that these articles poorly describe the situation.

Note that Stratfor lists 50 suspected and attempted attacks against civilian aircraft during the past 37 years.  18 resulted in no deaths; 13 were by UNITA.

Furthermore, the limited use of MANPADS by our enemies (those mostly old, obsolete weapons) contradicts a second narrative:  that the insurgents we fight are supplied by Iran.  Iran has the resources to obtain modern MANPADS from a third-party and deliver them to the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Restated,  the Shiite theocracy of Iran has the ability to supply advanced weapons to the mostly Sunni insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.  But they’ve obviously chosen not to do so.  Of course, we continue to increase our pressure on Iran, this policy might change.

These articles serve another role, beyond shilling for the military-defense complex.  Why have our armed forces done so poorly fighting insurgents?  We have highly trained soldiers backed by 21st century weapons.  They have little or no training, and almost no modern equipment.  It’s because the demon Iran helps them!  The scanty support for this theory, that Iran provides substantial aid, does nothing to restrain its frequent and enthusiastic repetition.

For more information

These are a few of the countless reports of MANPAD proliferation.  Many breathlessly warning of attacks real soon by state-of-the-art weapons.  But apparently not yet.  Of special interest:

An archive of articles about the MANPAD threat.  Ever-prolifferating, always a threat tomorrow (but seldom today).

  1. MANPADS: Scale & Nature of the Threat,” Loren Thompson, Lexington Institute, 12 November 2003
  2. Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) Proliferation“, January 2004 — “Easy to use and readily available on the black market, MANPADS do indeed pose an imminent and acute threat to military aircraft and civilian airliners.”  Great links to other sources.
  3. Update: Shoulder-fired Missile Proliferation“, Matt Schroeder, FAS Strategic Security Blog, 14 November 2006
  4. Iran gives Taliban hi-tech weapons to fight British“, The Times, 5 August 2007
  5. Press briefing with Rear Adm. Mark Fox and Brig. Gen. Mark Gurganus, 30 September 2007 — Includes two brief references to multiple Iranian-produced Misagh MANPADS found in Iraq.
  6. Upping the Ante with SAMs“, Stratfor, 1 October 2007 — “Signs indicate that Iran is planning to supply its militant proxies in Iraq with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles”
  7. Advanced missiles from Iran have already been fired at U.S. helicopters in Iraq“, World Tribune, 22 October 2007
  8. Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq ,” Missile Watch, Federation of American Scientists (FAS), 8 December 2008
  9. Missile threat to British troops“, The Times, 1 March 2009 — “Iran is supplying the Taliban in Afghanistan with surface-to-air missiles capable of destroying a helicopter, according to American intelligence sources.”
  10. Country Reports:  Afghanistan, Missile Watch,  Federation of American Scientists (FAS), February 2010 — “No MANPADS were found in seized insurgent arms caches in late 2009, according to the US military.”
  11. Where Have All the MANPADS Gone?“, Danger Room (Wired), 22 February 2010
  12. Anti-Aircraft Missiles Intercepted From North Korea Alarm Scientists“, Voice of America, 24 February 2010
  13. Man-Portable Air Defense Systems: A Persistent and Potent Threat“, Stratfor, 1 February 2010


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