'Despite an unprecedented global campaign to curtail the illicit proliferation of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), armed groups continue to acquire and use these weapons at an alarming rate. The Small Arms Survey has identified reports of illicit MANPADS in 32 countries and territories on five continents since 2011. These reports include imagery of dozens of advanced (third and fourth generation) systems acquired by non-state actors ranging from pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine to ethnic armed groups in Myanmar.
The increasingly sophisticated arsenals of guided light weapons held by non-state actors pose an international security threat. These include man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs)—systems operable by a single user or a small crew, where the weapons’ missiles are either manually targeted or self-guided after launch. Such systems have been used by armed groups to attack commercial airlines, military aircraft, and governmental targets, as well as to degrade military and peacekeeping operations.
Man-portable air defence systems--MANPADS--are lightweight, usually shoulder-launched, surface-to-air missiles. These weapons systems have proliferated in conflict zones, and their widespread acquisition by non-state armed groups has attracted attention and caused disquiet amongst the security sector. In this podcast the Small Arms Survey's Matt Schroeder discusses the use of MANPADS and the challenges they present to the research community and to security providers.
The looting of Libya’s massive stocks of weapons and ammunition was one of the most significant arms proliferation events of the 21st century. Anti-government forces seized tens of thousands of small arms, light weapons and other munitions, and thousands more were left unguarded in abandoned storage facilities. These weapons have fuelled crime and conflict in Libya and throughout North Africa.
Concerns about the diversion and misuse of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) have led to calls for the development of devices to minimize the risk of their unauthorized use by non-state actors.
Since the start of Syria’s civil war, the country has become a hotbed of arms trafficking and proliferation of conventional weapons. Images and accounts reveal that armed groups have acquired a variety of small arms and light weapons, some of which are recent-generation systems rarely encountered outside of government control elsewhere. Among the most sensitive of these are numerous man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) looted from Syrian government depots and acquired elsewhere, many of which are newer and more technologically sophisticated than illicit MANPADS in other countries.
Although many armed groups possess guided weapons, such as man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs), few of them possess sophisticated vehicle-mounted systems—like the SA-11—capable of targeting airliners at cruising altitudes.
Since 1998 at least 59 non-state armed groups from 37 countries are known to have possessed guided light weapons systems, posing a significant international security threat (2013).
Man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) are short-range surface-to-air missile systems intended for attacking and defending against low-flying aircraft. Most are easily handled by a single individual and are shoulder-launched. This Research Note (updated June 2017) provides a brief overview of the weapons’ history and development, and lists incidents where MANPADS have been used in attacks on civilian aircraft.