Small Wars Journal

Air Defense Systems in Hybrid Warfare: Rotary Wing Impacts

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 10:48am

Air Defense Systems in Hybrid Warfare: Rotary Wing Impacts

Jeffrey W. Reaves Jr.

Since the refinement of rotary wing operations, helicopters have become an integral part of unified land operations in conventional forces.  Helicopters are now faster and more lethal due to progressive research and development competition between the U.S. and Russia.  One byproduct of these upgrades, however, is that Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) and other air defense weapons have increased in target acquisition ability and lethality.  Newer generations of MANPADS can defeat automated countermeasures and move at higher speeds with more explosive power.  Electronic systems and training programs can counter the technological imbalance between aircraft and anti-aircraft weapons.  Training must also take into consideration the planning process and the effects on operations by the presence of MANPADS in an area of operations.

Throughout the history of military operations, there is a noticeable relationship between the development of weapons and the reactionary change to tactics and strategy.  As new weapon systems are developed, so are new training programs on how to use them and how to defeat them.  Until recent decades, these tier one weapon systems, like the 3rd/4th generation MANPADS, were tightly guarded secrets by countries like the U.S. and Russia.  Nations, such as these, are supplying the enemies of their enemies with weapons to indirectly combat a hostile nation or disrupt a coalition operation.  Additionally, the strength of human rights groups and organizations like the United Nations has significantly impacted the way first world nations participate in conflicts.  It is no longer acceptable, politically or socially, to invade a country or seize terrain through overt military means.  The development of hybrid warfare has made great progression in the 21st century due to these factors.

Hybrid warfare is evident in proxy wars that allow a third party country to impact a conflict without becoming directly involved.  Examples of these proxy wars can be observed all around the world but is more prevalent in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.  Nations like Iran and Russia have adjusted their defense strategies to mimic an evolved form of the stance held by the United States during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.  The United States supplied Russia’s primary enemy in that conflict with air defense weapons that allowed the Mujahideen to counter Soviet aviation advantages.  Proxy wars validate hybrid warfare tactics and strategies currently being employed for geopolitical gains.  Evidence shows that supplying MANPADS to a non-state actor can drastically degrade the military capabilities of an invasion force.  Involving nongovernment organizations allows a host nation to maintain plausible deniability while still being able to achieve strategic and operational objectives.  The distribution of MANPADS to organizations and nations that do not possess the capability to maintain accountability of them is a growing problem.  This issue affects aviation operations and tactics on a global level.  Rotary wing aircraft operate at an altitude that makes them susceptible to MANPADS and it is imperative that considerations are voiced in the training and planning process of operations.             


The primary developers in the MANPADS market are Russia, China and the United States.  China is newer to the arms trade of air defense weapons systems, but Russia and the U.S. have been treading these waters since the 1980s and possibly earlier.  Systems like the SA-18 (GEN 3) and Stinger are well known around the world when it comes to air defense and aviation operations.  The SA-7 (GEN 1) is commonly referred to as the AK-47 of MANPADS.  Proliferation of these systems has distributed them to approximately 102 nations, and an unknown number of non-state actors.1

Second world nations are beginning to break away from the dependency on Russian, U.S., and China for MANPADS and training of the systems.  Pakistan is currently producing a MANPADS called the ANZA MK III, comparable to the SA-16 or the QW-2.  Egypt reverse engineered a SA-7b in order to create the Sakr Eye, the Egyptian MANPADS.  Iran, North Korea, and South Korea also produce their own versions of MANPADS that rival the SA-16 and SA-18.  There are a number of nations around the world that have paid for licensing agreements that allow them to produce Russian versions of MANPADS.2 This makes the verification and accountability of securing of these weapons problematic.  The lucrative business of arms trade will only exacerbate the distribution of air defense systems around the world.  The leading nations in this industry are working to control the handling of these systems, but regulation thus far has proved to be futile. 

The most common fourth generation MANPADS is the SA-24 (Igla-S) produced by a Russian company.  Fielded officially in 2004, it has been around long enough to be circulated to at least a half dozen nations.  The Igla-S was designed to engage helicopters, cruise missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) under direct visibility conditions both day and night.  The system can take a target from both the head-on and tail chase in background clutter and thermal countermeasures environments.

The most recent MANPADS replacement from Russia is the Verba, which is poised to be supplied to motorized, and tank brigades as well as airborne units and the marines.  The main difference between the Verba and Igla is the heat-seeking multispectral optical heating-seeking head (GOS), through which the missile can distinguish a captured target from passive heat traps.3 These new systems drastically change the battlefield when it comes to rotary wing operations.  The presence of one system can limit air mobility corridors and restrict access to a key terrain feature or location.  A small team or group with the proper training can apply denial operations and effectively limit aviation assets operating at an airfield or passing through a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP).  Additionally, the loss of an aircraft and/or personnel can have an even greater impact on operations than the system itself.

The maintenance required to keep MANPADS operational is simplistic but without the proper tests and controlled conditions, the life expectancy deteriorates rapidly.  MANPADS are generally operational for up to 10 years depending on the storage and maintenance standards.4 A properly stored system can last up to several decades and still be fully functional.  This is not the case in many scenarios, especially when the MANPADS are stored in caves and or caches underground and not in the proper containers.  Additionally, one must consider the chemical breakdown involved within the battery packs for these systems.  MANPADS are one-time use and will deteriorate over time if not properly cared for.  It is likely that untrained personnel will not properly care for this equipment, which results in converting the once lethal weaponry into nothing more than a prestigious ornament.  This can still be an effective tool in an information operation but it does not directly impact aviation assets.  The indirect effects merely complicate the planning process.  Ultimately, after years of prolonged exposure to false reporting and inoperable MANPADS, aviation operations as a whole have become complacent.


A scenario that creates more complications in the aviation realm is the transfer and loss of control over advanced air defense systems like the SA-11 or SA-13.  The level of training and intellect required for operation, as well as the funds required to purchase such expensive hardware hinders the dissemination of these systems.  The expense of motorized air defense systems is generally too high for organizations that operate using guerrilla and terrorist tactics.  A small fighting team can do an equal amount of damage to aircraft with a third generation MANPADS for less than half the cost. 

The average cost of older surface-to-air systems is between $85,000 and $300,000 USD.5 These numbers still do not include the cost of regular maintenance, fuel, and ammunition.  In comparison, SA-7 systems have been purchased by unknown entities for anywhere between $3,000 and $5,000 USD.6 These prices may vary on the black market, based on the seller and location.  In theory, a non-state organization can utilize the complex, motorized air defense systems with the appropriate funding, manpower, and training timeline.  The complexity of the requirements to operate these systems makes it an undesirable option or strategy.  Additionally, these advanced systems have minimum-altitude range limitations and are hard to conceal which leave them vulnerable to advanced attack helicopters. 

Thorough and Vital Training

During Operation Enduring Freedom, the few occurrences of SA-7s used against rotary-wing aircraft had a low success rate.  This is likely due to the attrition that comes with a stagnant, or nonexistent, training program and a misunderstanding of how the system works.  Ignorance of this system can lead to its inability to operate, particularly in reference to the coolant packs that directly affect the functionality of the weapon.  The training for this system and knowledge of the system components takes a few hours.  Second and third generation MANPADS are designed with user-friendly components that can be fielded down to the lowest level possible.  Recently, Russian senior leadership ordered that squad size elements would be equipped with MANPADS and disseminated as widely as possible.  This accomplishes a number of effective tactical and operational objectives, and for aviation, it exponentially expands an air defense network.  Enemy forces are then able to mold the operational battlefield by limiting the flight paths.  In an enemy-favorable situation, this will allow superior (whether in number or technology) forces to overwhelm and defeat the friendly forces.  However, in order to accomplish a course of action similar to this, thorough training and fielding is required. 

In contrast, to operate a SA-11 system with any level of effectiveness, a minimum of six months of training is required.  The training would have to cover target acquisition, radar, and armament.  These are necessities to utilize the target acquisition systems and launch a BUK missile at a moving aircraft.7  Any base level soldier/fighter can be trained to utilize even the more sophisticated MANPADS in a few hours.  Any structured organization is able to conduct a training event to facilitate the distribution of these systems to the lowest level.  A two or three man team, that is appropriately trained, can effectively limit access to air mobility corridors from a tactical fighting position.  This tactic shows how vital it is to understand how irregular forces impact conventional aviation operations. 

Additionally, hostile organizations will claim to possess anti-aircraft systems, or openly display these systems, only to not be able to utilize them due to a lack of training.  Training is vital for proper use and functionality with newer models of MANPADS.  The training required is not time consuming however, it is necessary to avoid squandering money on the systems and cooling packs.  Small-scale organizations typically do not have extensive funds, and the idea of spending money on MANPADS as opposed to explosives or RPGs can be a hard decision.  However, this idea brings the understanding that instead of buying the systems, the NGOs can participate in the “proxy wars” of first world nations (i.e. Russia and China).  The involvement in proxy wars provides these nongovernment organizations with the equipment and the proper training on how to maximize use of the system against the undetermined force that is deemed their enemy. 

When it comes to the complex surface-to-air systems, a far greater amount of training is required.  Combined with the cost of the equipment and the extensive training, it is unlikely that first world nations will frequently utilize this tactic in hybrid warfare.  However, there can be anomalies and given a properly trained team, a system like the SA-17 or 22 can cause significant effects to an opposing force and possibly alter the balance of a conflict. 

The Iranian Regime

The idea that Iran is a centralized facilitation force in the Middle East is grounded in certain facts and truths.  The Iranian regime has sold weapons to Syria17 and Iraq18 through official trade deals.  The trades have encompassed everything from armor to machine guns and ballistic missiles to MANPADS.  These arms deals primarily fuel the national militaries against rebels and irregular threats that seek to overthrow the current governments of Syria or Iraq.  The proliferation of weapons and training from Iran has aided the two allies in the fight against the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Inadvertently, Iran has also assisted the enemies through the loss of weapons like MANPADS.  FSA and ISIS have shown success in seizing key terrain and operational bases while working to mitigate the lack of air superiority.  These bases held significant stockpiles of military vehicles and weapons.  There are several instances where these organizations have utilized MANPADS to destroy Syrian and Iraqi aircraft.  If Second and Third world nations cannot maintain security and control of these weapons systems then what good does the arms deal pose to the buyer or the seller?

In addition to direct support to Iraq/Syria, Iran indirectly supports conflicts throughout the Middle East in order to create instability, an approach similar to Russian strategy.  This instability allows Iran to remain an uncontested, regional hegemon.  It also gives the Iranian regime support from a large social class, the Shiites, and the ability to influence the Muslim population in neighboring countries.  A great example of this proxy war strategy can be seen in Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine.  There has been conflict between these nations/states for decades.  Iran, in this situation, publicly supports Hamas and Hezbollah with rhetoric, while covertly supporting these organizations with weapons and training.  The Iranian Regime successfully creates instability and undermines the power of Israel by supplying the Hezbollah with sophisticated weapons like MANPADS, updated rockets, and mortar systems.  When a non-state actor like Hezbollah can inflict casualties and damages on a powerful nation like Israel, it degrades the Israeli power and credibility. 

A less commonly publicized proxy war of Iran is in Afghanistan.  The Iranian facilitation nodes along the border with Afghanistan have been supplying weapons and training to the Taliban for over a decade.  The primary goal or intent of this assistance is to force foreign nations out of Afghanistan.  In the beginning stages of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), there was an influx of MANPADS into Afghanistan.  In addition to this increase in weapons, there were videos posted online of training exercises that focused on the use of MANPADS by insurgents.  This strategy proved to have little success, likely due to the outdated MANPADS and automated countermeasures that are standard on modern military aircraft.  After the first stages of OEF, the Taliban realized the glamour of MANPADS did not overcome the expense and training required to utilize them successfully.  The fact of the matter is that RPGs are significantly cheaper and require little to no maintenance or training for use.  The effects of the proxy war remain today.  The Iran-Afghanistan border is loosely controlled and allows the transit of drugs, weapons, and fighters.  As Coalition forces continue to shift focus towards the Pakistan border, Iranian-Taliban trade will focus more on drugs and money than weapons and fighters. 

Iran is not just exporting Anti-Aircraft weapon systems.  The Iranian Regime has worked tirelessly to secure relationships with Russia and China in order to acquire production licenses for MANPADS and other sophisticated systems.  Over the last two decades, Iran has attempted to supplement its deteriorating armor and air defense branches with foreign imports.  There has been little success due to sanctions and failed trade agreements; however, the transfer of technology has aided the process of updating Iran’s military equipment.  Iran possesses production rights to multiple versions of MANPADS, to include the SA-18 (Russian) and QW-1 (Chinese). 

Iran has also developed its own MANPADS, the Misagh-2, which resembles the SA-16 and is based on Chinese technology.  It is likely the intent is to become less dependent on foreign nations for upgraded defense systems.  Most notably was the development of the upgraded radar technology and missiles for the Ya-Zahra-3 (Short Range Air Defense) that integrates with the current sky guard composite.  The new technology is set to focus on rotary wing aircraft conducting low flying operations to eliminate medium and long-range air defense systems.  This new version of the Ya Zahra uses breaking edge technology to improve tracking and inflict more damage for a lower cost.21

Recent trade agreements between Russia and Iran would secure S-300 and SA-22 systems that will greatly increase the range of the integrated air defense system.20  These two systems encompass the latest in target acquisition capability and missiles that are designed for medium to long range engagement.  Russia and China are also responsible for assisting Iran in the upgrades of surface-to-surface missiles, combat aircraft, and sophisticated radar systems.19

The Caucasus Region

In the Caucasus region, it is vital to maintain geopolitical alliances with the spheres of influence that are in play.  There is a delicate situation, driven by the hydrocarbon industry, for the nations in between Russia, Iran, and a U.S. supported Turkey to the west.  The oil and natural gas supply that comes from the Caspian Sea supplies the European Union (EU) and Turkey.  The pipeline removes both Russia and Iran from the financial benefits of the majority of the European hydrocarbon industry.  The complexity of international relations and the economic opportunities make this region a focus for the global community.  Iran and Russia are currently appealing to the population through religious alignment and economic aid.11 12 Following the Russo-Georgian War; there have not been any violent outbreaks other than the ongoing, border disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia.  The contested area between Azerbaijan and Armenia is the Nagorno-Karabakh province, which has been the source of disputes since the Soviet Union dissolved. 

Currently Russia’s stake in the Caucasus region is controlled by the instability between two key nations: Armenia and Azerbajian.9  Both nations have spent the last decade, building up military forces in this region and along the international borders.  Russia supplied large sums of these military forces, such as the T-90 main battle tanks recently procured by Azerbaijan.10 In addition to supplying weapons and equipment, Russia has a military base in Gyumri, Armenia.  Open Source reporting indicates, Russian diplomats stated that if Azerbaijan launched an invasion into Armenia, it would be met with Russian forces.  In addition to the military base, the Armenian president signed an agreement to join the Russian lead Customs Union, a mirror to the European Union involving former soviet states.16

Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have flared with the aircraft shoot down that occurred on 12 November 2014.  Azerbaijan military forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh province shot down an Armenian Mi-24.8  Reporting suggests that it was a MANPADS used to attack the aircraft but it cannot be confirmed at this time.  Incidents such as this could reignite the conflict between the two nations.  It is possible that Russia would gain a great deal from a war in the Caucasus region, both economically and politically.  The directed attention westward would allow Russia the opportunity to seize off shore oil positions or even position itself to initiate events that would disassemble Azerbaijan.  It is possible that Russia supplied MANPADS to unknown fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh province in order to instigate a conflict.

Russo-Georgian War

In 2002, there was an increase of MANPADS movement and activity in the areas surrounding Chechnya and the Caucasus region.  It was found that the Georgian Army was missing an estimated 150 Igla MANPADS, likely the SA-16 Russian-made MANPADS.4 There was no information divulged about the lack of security measures or the people/organizations responsible for the theft.  Chechnyan fighters work with terrorist and insurgent factions around the world.  It is likely that they fought alongside the separatists in the Georgian conflict, however there was little directive given to them.  The lack of guidance greatly affects the course of action that asymmetric forces may take.  The path of least resistance with a higher reward is targeting ground forces and seizing land rather than attempting to shoot down aircraft.  It is a simpler task for separatists to attack ground forces rather than utilize expensive weaponry against a more difficult target. 

In 2008, the Russian military initiated an invasion into Georgia by land from the north and the sea from the west.  The conflict was short lived with few tangible Russian victories.  An important learning point in the conflict was the failure to neutralize Georgian air defense systems, which resulted in diminished Russian air superiority.  In the two weeks of conflict, Georgian forces destroyed seven aircraft with a combination of MANPADS and self-propelled air defense systems (SA-11/8).  The lack of air superiority led to heavy Russian casualties and supply losses from Georgian attack aircraft.  It is likely that Russian military leaders learned the importance of air superiority in any conflict from these losses.  This does not mean that the invading force is required to gain the air superiority; it must simply remove or degrade the target nation’s air support capability. 

The basic elements of strategy, during the Russo-Georgian War, were a combination of separatists fighting against the Georgian military and support from Russian aviation assets.  The violence was the greatest in areas surrounding Abkhazia and South Ossetia where there is a high population of Russian citizens.  Russian ground forces launched a counteroffensive in order to support the separatists after the Georgian military launched an operation to secure the two Georgian cities. 

During this conflict, the portrayal of the progression of events to the media differed from the two sides.  Russian forces reported that citizens of Ossetia and Abkhazia desired to secede and become a part of Russia.  Russia also supplied them with Passports and documentation that provided proof of Russian citizenship.  When conflict ignited, Russia claimed it was operating in a peacekeeping capacity to protect its citizens. This war displayed a coordination of cyber-attacks to key infrastructure and information operations combined with asymmetric forces culminating in a hybrid warfare strategy.

Ukraine Crisis Involving the Pro Russian Separatists

In late 2013, Russia began preparing the groundwork for a conflict with Ukraine.  It began with information and cyber warfare tactics targeting government infrastructure primarily in Kiev and Crimea.13 Ukrainian government and industries found spying malware throughout their digital infrastructure.  This malware was, and still is, capable of controlling and disrupting everything from electrical grids to financial systems.14 This has become a common practice for Russian strategic operations as seen in Georgia during the conflict in 2008.  In March 2014, the conflict digressed to physical acts of aggression involving Pro-Russian separatists that were “very well led, very well financed, and very well organized” (General Breedlove, EUCOM CDR).14  These separatists seized government buildings, attacked the airport in Crimea, and initiated armed conflict with the Ukrainian military.  

Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, has developed a sophisticated system of hybrid warfare that adapts to any target nation.  This new methodology is less doctrinally based and more of a case-by-case adaptive strategy.  This flexibility provides a significant advantage when conducting offensive operations that include the manipulation and invasion of adjacent nations.  Creating disruption within the borders of Ukraine allowed Russia to coordinate the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. 

The situation escalated when the pro-Russian separatists began targeting Ukraine’s military aircraft with third generation MANPADS.  During the conflict, the separatists destroyed at least a dozen aircraft.  The Ukrainian military is not equipped, financially nor technologically, to defend aircraft against the threat of newer MANPADS.  It is likely that Russian entities provided these surface-to-air systems in a clandestine nature; however, it is feasible that separatists purchased them on the black market.  The distribution of MANPADS to separatists is a tactic to disrupt air support for ground forces.  Restricting air mobility corridors throughout the eastern portion of the country gives the advantage to a possible invasion force.

Training and supplying hostile non-state actors with MANPADS in Ukraine has set the stage for future operations to mirror this course of action.  The success in this conflict proves that utilizing third party organizations can significantly reduce international repercussions while still achieving strategic objectives.  A host nation can deploy/employ these irregular forces to disassemble and degrade the target nation’s government and infrastructure while avoiding unwanted attention from the global community.  This example of hybrid warfare has been successful and the proliferation of MANPADS has facilitated this success to a certain degree.  It is likely that other nations will follow this evolution of warfare promulgating the presence of MANPADS throughout hostile regions of the world. 

Global Proliferation and Geopolitics

MANPADS are being traded, sold and even given to nations around the world.  Most of the consumers are government-based entities; some are not.  Some of these nongovernment organizations may harbor hostilities toward US forces.  The proliferation of these systems drastically alters the rotary wing aviation community.  Impacts span across the mission sets of humanitarian efforts, disaster relief, and a combat support role.  Flight patterns and countermeasures on civilian and military aircraft must routinely receive updates in order to compete with the evolving threats around the world.  There must be advances in training in order to engage the pilots in discussions of MANPADS and asymmetric situations.  Aviation tactics must evolve to counter the proliferated MANPADS just as techniques shifted when RPGs became the primary weapon against helicopters in Afghanistan.  The regulation of these systems between nations and organizations will not stop their movement; therefore, doctrine and training programs must change and adapt.

First world governments have used the proliferation of MANPADS to tip the balance of conflicts around the world, most notably in Afghanistan.  When the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, the US supplied MANPADS to the Mujahedeen in order to give them an advantage against the Soviet air campaign.22

This type of operation is low cost and can be conducted in a clandestine nature while still effectively influencing the political and military dynamics in a particular region.4  This strategy has not proven to have few long term benefits to either side.  Insurgents are using the same tactics previously used on the Soviets, against the coalition forces in Afghanistan.  Even though it is not a proliferation of MANPADS, the abundance of RPGs and PKMs coupled with training from unnamed entities have greatly affected aviation operations.  While it has not resulted in a negative impact on the operations, it influenced the roles and responsibilities of army aviation assets during OEF.  The lessons learned from this conflict have already and will continue to change the tactics, techniques and procedures that rotary wing operations utilize during combat and noncombat missions in asymmetric environments.

During multiple global conflicts, rotary wing operations were the determining factor in the success or failure of the conflict.  The ability to fly beneath the range of conventional medium and long-range air defense assets gives an advantage to an invading host.  Taken into consideration, a third party nation can drastically affect an invasion or conflict without ever getting involved in an official capacity.  For centuries, nations have used the strategy of arming the enemies of the enemy.  Even supplying cheaper, outdated MANPADS to a group of fighters can be catastrophic to an invasion force that does not know the enemy possesses that capability.  This style of arms trade is a common strategy for nations like the U.S. and Russia, however, the problem arises in the aftermath.  There is little any government can do to secure weapons given away in a clandestine nature.  After the trade takes place, there is no knowledge of security or maintenance of the remaining UNUSED MANPADS.  A key point is that MANPADS given to Pro-Russian Separatists for use against Ukrainian helicopters could be sold to Chechens who may engage Russian aircraft operating in Chechnya.

Complacency and Change

The rapidly increasing number of uncontrolled MANPADS is influencing the progression of aviation tactics and operations.  Hostile organizations with advanced air defense capability degrade aviation support.  Regulating this proliferation will be unsuccessful, therefore, the aviation community must adapt.  Competing with technological advances in MANPADS is a process governed by money and research facilities, but the training and awareness that factors into planning is not time consuming or costly.  Tier one militaries practice a multitude of training programs and exercises to aid in the ever-changing battlefield.  The important training issue, however, is accountability.  Too often training programs are not command supported or ignored which can lead to ignorance of enemy weapons and tactics.  Complacency, refusing to improve, and stagnant learning are the greater enemy when it comes to combat in an aviation role.


  1. Bonn International Center for Conversion, “Brief 47: MANPADS – A Terrorist Threat to Aviation?” February 2013.
  2. Jane's Land-Based Air Defence.  Jane's, 19 Feb.  2014.  Web.  06 Oct.  2014.
  3. Defence & Security News - Russia.  "New Russian Verba MANPADS Will Replace Igla-S." Army Recognition, 15 Sept.  2014.  Web.  8 Oct.  2014.
  4. Unknown Author, Процессы распространения ПЗРК и технологий их создания (Processes of Proliferation of MANPADS and Technology of Their Creation), Translated by Google, Published: Russian, UNK
  5. Zuljan, Ralph.  "Missile Deployment."  N.p., n.d.  Web.  27 Oct.  2014.
  6. Schroeder, Matt, and Matt Buongiorno.  "Black Market Prices for Man-portable Air Defense Systems." Black Market Prices for Man-portable Air Defense Systems (2010): 1-6.  Federation of American Scientists.  Web.  27 Oct.  2014.
  7. Willman, David.  "Whoever Brought down MH17 Had Extensive Training, Experts Says." The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2014.  Web.  28 Oct.  2014. 
  8. Kucera, Joshua, and Nicholas De Larrinaga.  "Armenian Mi-24 Helicopter Shot down by Azerbaijan." IHS Jane's 360.  Jane's, 12 Nov.  2014.  Web.  5 Dec.  2014.
  9. Shaffer, Brenda.  "Nagorno-Karabakh After Crimea." Global.  The Council on Foreign Relations, 3 May 2014.  Web.  06 Dec.  2014.
  10. UNK.  "Russian Arms Broker Offers More Deals to Azerbaijan."  Asbarez News, 12 Sept.  2014.  Web.  06 Dec.  2014.
  11. Rajabova, Sara.  "Development of Cultural Relations with Azerbaijan Priority for Iran." AzerNews.  AzerNews, 5 Dec.  2014.  Web.  05 Dec.  2014.
  12. RUCHEY, BOCHAROV.  "Russia-Azerbaijan Relations 'On the Rise' - Putin / Sputnik International." SPUTNIK International, 9 Aug.  2014.  Web.  05 Dec.  2014.
  13. Pomerantsev, Peter.  "How Russia Is Revolutionizing Information Warfare." Defense One.  The Atlantic, 9 Sept.  2014.  Web.  04 Dec.  2014.
  14. Paganini, Pierluigi.  "Russia and Ukraine: Information Warfare." InfoSec Institute.  General Security, 17 June 2014.  Web.  04 Dec.  2014. Nedeli, Zerkalo. 
  15. О комплексе мер по вовлечению Украины в евразийский интеграционный процесс.  Publication.  Зеркало Недели, 13 Aug.  2013.  Web.  4 Dec.  2014. Translated by Google
  16. UNK.  "Armenia Firm in Intention to Access Russia-led Customs Union.", 10 Nov.  2014.  Web.  06 Dec.  2014.
  17. Kerr, Paul K., Mary Beth D.  Nikitin, and Steven A.  Hildreth.  "Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation." Arms Control Today 26.2 (1996): 29-30.  Congressional Research Service, 16 Apr.  2014.  Web.  20 Dec.  2014.
  18. UNK.  "Iraq Signs Arms Deal with Iran." Al Jazeera, 25 Feb.  2014.  Web.  20 Dec.  2014.
  19. Gill Bates and Evan S. Medeiros, "Foreign and Domestic Influences on China's Arms Control and Nonproliferation Policies," The China Quarterly, Mar. 2000, pp. 74-9; Kenneth Katzman, "Iran: Arms and Technology Acquisitions," Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C., Jan. 26, 2001; "Iran Missile Milestones,", Jan. 2010, accessed Feb. 7, 2010
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  21. UNK. "YA Zahra3: From Weapons to Concepts." The Iran Project, 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 04 Jan. 2015.
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About the Author(s)

Sergeant Jeffrey W. Reaves Jr., U.S. Army, is currently serving as the S2 NCOIC for Task Force No Mercy 1-101 Aviation Regiment.  He holds a B.S. from University of Central Florida.  During his career, SGT Reaves served with 101st Combat Aviation Brigade and 1-101 Aviation Regiment.  He has served on two deployments to Afghanistan as a senior intelligence analyst.



Wed, 02/24/2016 - 4:17pm

The author wrote:

‘The United States supplied Russia’s primary enemy in that conflict with air defense weapons that allowed the Mujahedeen to counter Soviet aviation advantages.’

I’m sorry this is simply not true. Soviet aircraft loss rates and the downed aircraft type remained unchanged after the introduction of the FIM-92. In fact the loss-rate actually declined if anything.

And again from the author,

‘First world governments have used the proliferation of MANPADS to tip the balance of conflicts around the world, most notably in Afghanistan. When the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, the US supplied MANPADS to the Mujahedeen in order to give them an advantage against the Soviet air campaign.’

Once again there is no evidence to support this statement. In fact there is plenty of evidence that actually contradicts this assumption.

By the time the Stinger was introduced to the war against the Soviet Union in AF the introduction of FLIRN equipped helicopters meant the Soviets could conduct their COIN at night. This development in the winter/spring of 1985-86 rendered the Stinger redundant against the heightened threat spearheaded by NV equipped Spetsnaz raiding parties.

The author helpfully provides evidence experienced by ISAF that contradicts his MANPAD assumptions when he wrote:

‘During Operation Enduring Freedom, the few occurrences of SA-7s used against rotary-wing aircraft had a low success rate. ‘

And again he wrote,

‘In the beginning stages of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), there was an influx of MANPADS into Afghanistan. In addition to this increase in weapons, there were videos posted online of training exercises that focused on the use of MANPADS by insurgents. This strategy proved to have little success, likely due to the outdated MANPADS and automated countermeasures that are standard on modern military aircraft. After the first stages of OEF, the Taliban realized the glamour of MANPADS did not overcome the expense and training required to utilize them successfully.’

I can assure the author that, after the anti- Soviet Muj suffered horrendous losses from night flying Spetsnaz raiders seeking to capture the FIM-92 , they came to exactly the same conclusion as the present-day Taliban.

Obviously 30 years is a long time - especially so when it comes to micro-processing technology (mind you the more recent offering alluded to by the author from the Mad Mullahs contradicts any progress thereof somewhat) and problems regards robustness, reliability, target acquisition, lock-on, launch and lethality may have have changed immeasurably. However what hasn’t changed is the mind-boggling tempo of fighting against heli-borne troops if you are a dismount.

The speed, target cross-overs, tunnel-visioned optics, constantly changing angles, launch signatures, ground clutter, phantom lock-ons (and that’s in daylight) suggests to me the author needs a much more solid foundation for his broad assumptions regards the effectiveness of MANPADS against a determined heli-borne force.

Nearly 6000 helicopters were lost in Vietnam to machine gun-fire. With that amount of evidence why would an enemy bother to use anything else?

In AF I would guess 95 % of helicopters shot down were due to exactly the same weapons used by the Viet Cong.


If you want to read a detailed review of MANPADS effectiveness in AF I suggest here:

We all have one,


John Smith

Tue, 02/23/2016 - 2:32pm

This is your favorite contractor. :)
I read your paper and it is timely and relevant. I am still working at the office where we met, and recent reporting mirrors your paper in this area. We could use your expertise more now than ever.
Wish you were here.


Wed, 11/04/2015 - 11:20am

Bravo, SGT Reaves. Unfortunately, air defense analysts are held in almost the same disrepute as logisticians, particularly when it comes to low-altitude AD. There's a persistent belief that a little maneuverability, a little armor, and a little guts will defeat the literally thousands of MANPADS and light and medium-caliber antiaircraft weapons deployed with most conventional adversary forces, not to mention an increasing array o fheavy machine guns, RPGs, adapted rocket launchers, pumpkin-chuckers, and everything else that makes the airspace from the ground to 8,000 feet an uncomfortable place to fly in combat. Also ignored is the fact that an aircraft hit is an aircraft out of the fight, even if it returns to base.