USNORTHCOM-NORAD seminar focuses on shoulder-launched missile threat to aircraft

By NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | August 19, 2006

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – The United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command sponsored a scenario-driven seminar Aug. 15 to further remedy the potential threat posed to aircraft by terrorists with shoulder-launched missiles.

More than 100 air security experts from 20 government and private entities discussed the current state of readiness for and actions that would be taken in case of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems being used against civilian airliners and/or military aircraft in North American skies.

The seminar's scripted scenario began by focusing on the current state of U.S. and Canadian readiness for an increased terrorist/MANPADS threat. The exercise scenario then evolved into a situation in which several airliners near major airports in North America were struck by terrorist MANPADS and sustained varying degrees of damage. Seminar participants candidly discussed and further refined federal, state, local and private industry responses to such events. One of the main topics of the seminar was how the U.S. military might support other organizations in a coordinated response.

“MANPADS are generally only effective against aircraft flying at relatively low altitudes," said Mr. David Wilkins, the seminar facilitator. "But we know that terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda have access to MANPADS, and that there have been attempts to smuggle MANPADS into North America.” This is a problem that requires the coordinated action of both private and government entities at many levels, Wilkins said.

“This is a complex and multi-faceted mission” said Mr. Gene Pino, the NORAD-USNORTHCOM director of Training and Exercises. “It’s hard work. We need to be smart and stay ahead of terrorists’ tactics, which are constantly evolving. These guys may have evil intentions, but they’re not stupid.”

Conference participants generally agreed that it’s unlikely government and civilian agencies will be able to completely negate the MANPADS threat. However, they also agreed that counter-MANPADS plans and procedures are getting better as private and government institutions improve the synchronization, synergy and validation of their plans and procedures.

Seminar participants included the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, private airline industry representatives, airport security managers and local law enforcement personnel from Colorado Springs.