Shoulder-Fired Missiles an Ever-Present Threat to U.S. Planes

In the near-miss with the C-130 in Afghanistan, one crew member reported seeing a “bright flash” and a corkscrew-shaped smoke trail nearby, before the C-130’s own flares fired and sent the missile off course. That kind of anti-missile fireworks display would not make U.S. commercial passengers feel comfortable. The DHS/TSA bureaucracy knows this, and yet they continue to spend tens of millions not only producing threat reports, but testing how to outfit the entire U.S. commercial fleet with anti-shoulder-fired missile systems sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, sting operations continue to happen, with federal enforcement interrupting plots planned to go down on U.S. soil. In August 2004, the FBI arrested two leaders of an Albany, New York, mosque in a plot to sell SFMs. Yassin Aref, the imam, and Mohammed Hoosain, one of the mosque's founders, were charged with “providing material support to terrorism by participating in a conspiracy to help an individual they believed was a terrorist purchase a shoulder-fired missile.” In March 2005, FBI agents in New York indicted 18 men in yet another plot to smuggle SFMs into the country. The Christian Science Monitor has reported on SFM sting operations in Texas, California, and New Jersey. Al-Qaeda websites publish tutorials on how to smuggle SFMs into the United States, how to overcome perimeter security at airports, and how to fire SFMs at commercial airplanes. As recently as November 2009, the Department of Justice filed a criminal complaint against a Philadelphia-based Lebanese man, Dani Nemr Tarraf, and charged him with conspiring to acquire anti-aircraft missiles powerful enough to take out a fighter jet.

Two years after 9/11, Colin Powell stated that “no threat is more serious to aviation” than shoulder-fired missiles. Not much has changed.

(Defense industry journals like Jane’s and Avionics Intelligence regularly report on the growing menace of SFMs, as does Aviation Week.)