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The Real Threat

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by ethics, Nov 23, 2002.

  1. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Even for experienced military pilots flying military aircraft, the first hint that an attack is underway often comes only from the explosion of a missile slamming into an engine, air- conditioning unit or other infrared-radiation-producing device on the aircraft. Even navigation lights emit radiation in the wavelength attractive to these missiles. When equipped with a proximity fuse, the missiles can bring down an aircraft without even making a direct hit.

    If <a href="http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/11/22/missiles/index_np.html">this article in Salon</a> doesn't give you the willies, few things will.

    Despite all the focus that has been given to the threat of terrorists hijacking planes, the real terrorist threat to aviation may be far more dangerous and far more difficult to prevent.

    Shoulder-launched infrared homing missiles can easily take down a commercial airliner withing 40 or 50 miles of takeoff or landing. A single hit to a commerical airliner has about a 70% chance of destroying it. If the attacker can get two shots off, the odds of survival are nearly nil, as was proved in a number of attacks launched on airliners in the 1990s.

    What's more, the Al-Qaeda camps were full of them, along with training videos showing how to mount an attack with one. The CIA seems to believe that a number of them have been recently smuggled inside US borders; that said, the CIA itself passed plenty of <a href="http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-92.html">Stingers</a> on to the mujahedin during the 1980scertainly hundreds, possibly thousandssome of which were <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/09/26/whawk326.xml">still in the Taliban's possession</a> last year despite repeated US attempts to buy them back.

    With this and the recent warnings about a 'spectacular' attack in mind, it's a bit unnerving to read that the Homeland Security and Transportation Safety honchos reportedly convened a special meeting with airline CEOs to warn them of imminent attack.

    Am I over-reacting? I don't think so but perhaps I am. I honestly do not know how easy it would be to lie in the grass by the JFK International Airport and try to bring down Air-Lingus, or British Airways plane.
  2. mikeky

    mikeky Member

    At 40 or 50 miles, there's not even much need to be close to the airport. Or any other target, such as refineries, DOE weapons sites, etc. Talk about unnerving possibilities.
  3. ditch

    ditch Downunder Member

    No not over reacting at all. It would be so easy if the inclination was there to make this sort of attack. The concern is larger than this though isn't it. There are innumeral soft targets in our societies that are available to the terrorist. Dance clubs such as Bali for example. Our societal infrastructure has not evolved with defences against the threat of terrorist attacks being built in and are therefore vulnerable.

    The unconventional nature of the war the terrorist fights makes the conventional defence systems ineffective.
  4. Advocat

    Advocat Viral Memes a Speciality Staff Member

    A news program I saw this week summed it up nicely.

    "It's time to stop trying to prevent the <b>last</b> terrorist incident and start preparing to stop the next one"

    Shoulder launched rockets, morters and other indirect ( but extremely long range and accurate ) fire weapons are very common. relatively inexpensive, easy to carry and hard to track without microwave radar.

    A deadly combination.
  5. -Ken

    -Ken Guest

    Plane? Forget the plane! Imagine
    what one of those could do to an
    LNG tanker.

    Some of them dock in our larger
    cities. The explosion would be
    horriffic as would the death toll.
  6. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Brilliant statement. I think I will use it for my sig.
  7. jamming

    jamming Banned

    Why do you think that the shoulder launched missiles haven't been used against the US in Afghanistan? Or all ready been used against airliners? There is a reason. Maybe Mr. Moore knows?
  8. ditch

    ditch Downunder Member

    The amount of damage they could have caused with basic, easy to obtain weapons such as these is a daunting prospect. The fact that they haven't done it is puzzling.

    The prevention of the next attack is the challenge allright. Unconventional forms of attack require unconventional forms of prevention. What they might be I don't know. Another one for Mr Moore.
  9. midranger4

    midranger4 Banned

    I understand most seasoned hijackers belong to a Teamsters Union and are fighting the implenentation of this weapon with great determination.

    A spokesman for the Hijacker's Union was quoted as saying :

    "Shooting commercial airliners out of the sky with *smart* anti-aircraft missiles can be compared to the invention of microwave popcorn. Sure the end result is the same but by the same token all the rewards of cooking it the old fashioned way are lost forever to these new techologies. "

    A precedent setting case was due to be heard by a tribunal in Afghanistan last month but was postponed indefinitely when 1,265 bomb threats were received during opening arguements.
  10. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Remember that ariliner that went down by JFK shortly after 9.11.01? I honestly thought that was done via this methodology.
  11. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Well look, on military aircraft, there are all sorts of threat detection systems which will alert the pilots to inbound chunks of ordo, be it infrared or radar.

    Civilian aircraft don't have the same systems, of course (except for El Al, which has aircraft survivability suites that would make me jealous), which is what makes them vulnerable to such attacks. Now, MANPADS (that's Man Portable Air Defense Systems for you civilians) such as the Stinger can deliver a pretty powerful punch...but they're generally only good against helicopters or single-engine aircraft. During the Gulf War, several jets were hit with SA-7s and SA-14s, both of which are shoulder-fired SAMs, and the only aircraft that were brought down this way were the Harriers.

    I'd be surprised if an airliner could be brough down by one of these in a high-energy condition. From where I sit, you'd have to hit them during takeoff, which is when their energy condition is the lowest. Best right at V2 when the gear and flaps are still extended.

  12. ShinyTop

    ShinyTop I know what is right or wrong!

    Steve, I also have to point out that commercial airlines generally fly at altitudes above 30,000 feet. The range of the sholder fired missiles maxes out at about 13,000 feet. I don't think the airlines are below that altiutde for fifty miles before landing or after take off. Unless I am mistaken you would still need to be fairly close to the airport.
  13. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    This is true, Shiny. The ATAS (Air-To-Air Stinger) system we used on our helicopters were designed to intercept attack jets moving low and slow, or other helicopters. Their peak velocity is about Mach 2.2, achieved about five to ten seconds after launch, and their "effective" range was about two miles--a little over 10,500 feet.

    Commercial airliners in cruise fly at cardinal altitudes, between 29,000 to 45,000 feet. You would definitely have to be within close proximity to an airfield to bag one, and in my mind, there's only one type of passenger jet that would be susceptible to such an attack, excluding commuter and regional transports: the DC-9/MD-80.

    These jets have two turbofans at the rear of the aircraft. If you destroy one, pass-through shrapnel will doubtless impair the second engine. Also, mechanical control linkages to the vertical and horizontal stabilizers would doubtless be effected; when a turbofan suddenly stops running, the fans pretty much explode from the nacelle, passing through the passenger cabin and those unlucky folks sitting in cattle class (see? Another reason I always fly first or biz class).

    Other jets, like the 737/757/767/777 series (as well as the super-snazzy BBJ I hope to own one day), have engines on the wings. To be sure, taking out one with an explosive device would be bad juju, resulting in damage to the wing's control surfaces. But chances are damned good the other engine would still be fully operational. All of these jets are designed for engine-out performance, as stipulated by the FAA. To be sure, the FAA's standards are not designed around MANPADS or SAM attacks, but the resulting damage would not be much different than a catastrophic engine failure anyway. At that point, it all depends on how good the pilots are, and what configuration the aircraft is in (we can assume it's down and dirty, gear, flaps, and leading-edge slats extended).

    The one aircraft I would feel most comfortable in is the 747-400 series. Those babies are built like tanks, and on my trip home from the Far East last August, I actually sat next to a 747-400 captain from Atlas who told me just about everything I ever wanted to know about the jet (which was a lot, since even as a kid watching Airport 1975, I was in love with that jet; I had memorized the cockpit layouts for the 747-100 Classic). Four engines, each capable of generating upwards of 50,000 pounds of static thrust, state-of-the-art avionics, and a robust series of failover systems. You just can't beat it. I can't believe Boeing is phasing them out now, but it does not surprise me that its replacement (the 777) is more efficient.

    When TWA Flight 800 burned in over LI Sound, I remember Pierre Spengler running around telling everyone that it was shot down with a Stinger (he later amended that to the US Navy hosing it with a ship-based SAM). Folks, there's no way. The 747-200 has GE JT9D engines, which included a nine-foot long diffuser cone at the aft end of the engine (one of those anti-pollution thingies that was big in the 1970s). The Stinger would doubtless home in on that, since it would be the hottest piece of metal on the aircraft. That's nine feet of nothing but metal; even in the missile's rocket booster passed through it, the most that could happen would be an engine out condition at several thousand feet, gear, flaps, and slats retracted, and cruise speed increasing.

    The best way to bring down an airliner is with a radar-guided munition that would hit the fuselage, not the engines. A great big hole in the side of an aircraft poses a greater threat than a failed engine. There are no recovery procedures I am aware of designed to assist pilots in maintaining aircraft control after an SA-4 has blown a ten-foot-wide section of the passenger cabin away. When I flew to Singapore, I overflew the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Iran, and I was fully awake on that part of the leg, face pressed against the window, looking for a launch flare. Thankfully, it never happened.

    I still haven't finished the SALON article yet, but a lot of it is overly melodramatic. Sure, there's a threat to civil and commercial aviation; there always has been. But there's a bit too much yellow to this piece of journalism. I like at it this way--if I'm not scared, knowing what I do about MANPADS and SAMs, then the actual threat level has got to be either severely understated or nothing to really worry about.

    By the way, if anyone's interested, Northwest will now match platinum series frequent flyer miles if you can prove you're in another airline's program. And if you don't mind stopping over in Detroit or St. Paul, Northwest is the best airline out there, especially if you fly to Asia (unless you can afford Singapore Airlines, the best of the best).

    Gosh, should I start my own series of travel tips? :)

  14. Allene

    Allene Registered User

    I haven't read the article and, after reading the rest of the thread, probably won't. Sometimes I think the worst danger to our health is the stress generated by all these terrorist alerts and gloom-and-doom stories.

    When that plane went down in NYC, my first thought was "terrorism." Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to put a few myths to rest.

  15. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member


    I'm only reporting the facts as best as I can recall them. I'm not an air defense artillery guy, and most of my time in SOF/LIC ops was spent flying around such installations and threats. :)

    I was fired upon by SA-7s on occasion, however. The great thing about that weapon is that it's detection range is greater than the missile's actual flying range...so a lot of those things ran out of propellant and hit the deck before reaching me. :)

  16. Allene

    Allene Registered User

    Well, that's another piece of good news!

    On another aspect of the discussion, do you or anyone else here know what security precautions are taken for those large tankers that Ken mentioned? His comments bring to mind the Halifax Explosion of 1917 (Belgian tanker and French ammunitions ship collided in the harbor and caused an explosion so terrible that the Manhattan Project people studied it later).

  17. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    Actually, if I were a terrorist, I would absolutely target a tanker. I remember in the 1970s or early 1980s, a 60 Minutes segment on what such an explosion would do in NYC.

    Of course, I have no idea how to blow up an oil tanker except with missiles or torpedoes. :) How does one ignite a load of crude oil?

  18. Allene

    Allene Registered User

    Try bashing it with an ammunitions ship. The Halifax Explosion blew out windows as far as 60 miles away, and one of the ships' anchors was found about 6 miles on the other side of the city.

    Allene (who now has something new to worry about, thanks to Ken)
  19. Sierra Mike

    Sierra Mike The Dude Abides Staff Member

    True, but I doubt very much that terrorists, no matter how resourceful, are going to find a ship loaded up with munitions of the military variety. And it takes specialized stuff to ignite crude, though now I'm wondering...do they transport natural gas by ship???

  20. Advocat

    Advocat Viral Memes a Speciality Staff Member

    Absolutely... and here is some information on saftey precautions being used by the coast guard at one LNG port.

    It includes a 1000ft (rad) security zone around each tanker!

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