Vigilance is the key
By SrA Peter Dean, 107 AW
/ Published May 15, 2009
Niagara Falls, NY -- On May 13, the New York Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing hosted a Transportation Security Administration sponsored seminar that educated more than 120 fellow TSA members, law enforcement officials, and emergency responders on Man-Portable Air Defense Systems.
The daylong event highlighted an array of speakers that specialized in a variety of specialty subject matters such as potential launch sites, countermeasures, and arrival and departure routes. With much information to disseminate, a short welcome briefing by Capt. Craig Smith, 107th AW Anti-Terrorism Officer, was followed by an overview of the day's events by Mr. James Scott and Mr. James Sasscer, Department of Homeland Security.
There are an estimated 500,000 MANPADS throughout the world, with half thought to be on the open black market. In the hands of a trained terrorist, MANPADS are a viable threat to all that fly the friendly skies. The relatively easy to acquire MANPADS have been around since the fifties and in the wrong hands can bring an airliner down before it even knows what hit them. MANPADS were originally developed to provide military ground forces protection from enemy aircraft. At five to six feet long and 35 pounds MANPADS are a light weight easy to conceal missile launching systems. MANPADS have a range of three to five miles and have the capability to reach a maximum altitude of two and half miles, locking onto their target with the use of infrared or other guidance systems.
TSA Agent Sonia Moran explains that upon decent, the slow moving, predictable commercial aircraft make for easy prey.
"Upon takeoff or landing, a commercial plane could potentially be in target range for up to 60 seconds," said Mrs. Moran.
Many remote areas around civilian airports offer ideal entry and egress points enabling a concealed evil doer to strike and slither away. After such an attack, evidence left behind may include scorched or disturbed ground covering, an ejector motor and possibly the launching tube.
"At those speeds, pilots don't have the ability to react," said Lt. Col. Dave Durkee, 107th AW, C-130 pilot. He was referring to the speed of descent commercial liners slow to while on approach.
"Our aircrafts are equip with counter measures," said Lt. Col. Durkee, "we also receive extensive evasive action training that commercial pilots do not receive," he added.
According to Mr. Scott, MANPADS are not the only threats to incoming and outgoing commercial aircraft. Rocket Propelled Grenades and 50 cal guns are able to be economically constructed or easily acquired. In the hands of the wrong person these also could have fatal consequences.
"Vigilance is the key, be aware of your surroundings," said Mr. Scott. "Keep an eye out for potential launch sites," he added.