Threat to passenger jets: RAF training foreign states to counter looted Libyan missiles

© Oswaldo Rivas
Gunners from the Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment and Scotland Yard police are training foreign governments in how to prevent aviation being shot down by missiles looted from Libyan armories after the 2011 war.

As many as 10,000 handheld surface-to-air missiles are feared to have been taken from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s armories as the regime collapsed, leading to fears they could be used by militants to bring down civilian airliners.

Now members of the RAF Regiment – British soldiers who specialize in defending airfields – have been deployed to Middle Eastern and North African countries to advise on missile defense.

The personnel are part of a team run by the Department for Transport (DfT) to counter man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). It also includes police officer and civilian advisers from British Airways (BA).

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Air Power conference on Wednesday, Clive Wright, head of international strategy in DfT's aviation security division, said “We need to offer assurance to ministers that overseas we are mitigating risks successfully so that UK carriers can continue to fly into those airports and foreign carriers from those airports can continue to fly into the UK.

© A. Solomonov

Concerns over the proliferation of lightweight, highly portable MANPADS are not new.

The US and UK supplied Stinger missiles and training to Islamist anti-Soviet militias in Afghanistan during Russia’s war there from 1979 to 1989.

Between 1986 and 1988, Stingers were supplied to Mujahideen forces by the US’ Reagan administration.

The weapons were used to bring down the feared Russian Hind helicopters during the conflict. The weapons are thought to have been highly effective, with some estimates suggesting a 79 percent kill ratio against Russian aircraft.

Following the Mujahideen victory, the Taliban rose to power. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is thought to have spent years trying to recover up to 600 Stingers.

The UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6 reportedly used Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers to train militants on the Stinger missile during the Soviet-Afghan war.