TSA - Transportation Security Administration

11/29/2023 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/29/2023 07:05

Did you know? TSA on front lines to combat MANPADS

Did you know? TSA on front lines to combat MANPADS

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Surface-to-air missiles pose a serious threat to worldwide aviation, and what you may not know is TSA is on the front lines around the world battling the threat.

Over 500,000 Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) currently exist, some of which terrorists have used in areas of the globe with civil unrest. Rick Williams leads TSA's efforts to counter the threat. Williams is the Counter-MANPADS (C-MANPADS) program section chief in the agency's Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service.

"MANPADS are portable surface-to-air missiles with a guidance system and were originally designed to provide military units with a dedicated defense against aircraft and helicopter attacks," described Williams. "Normally 4 to 6 feet long and weighing approximately 40 pounds, they are designed to be carried by an individual."

"In the past, terrorists have used MANPADS overseas to attack commercial aircraft," Williams noted.

MANPADS parts (Graphic provided by Rick Williams)

He said over 40 aircraft attacks have been reported since 1975, more than half of which resulted in a crash before landing or shortly after takeoff.

Williams said TSA is responsible for protecting civil aviation from all threats. He said MANPADS present a threat during take-off and landing, while other stand-off weapons (such as mortars, rocket-propelled grenades or long guns) can target aircraft and facilities inside an airport's perimeter. TSA is the lead agency for helping to counter MANPADS threats at home and abroad, and Williams' team has taken numerous steps to address the threat.

"These steps include comprehensive C-MANPADS vulnerability assessments at all major U.S. airports," he said, "partnering with local airport and law enforcement officials to mitigate the threat MANPADS present by assessing the risk; developing comprehensive, airport-specific tactical response plans; and working with federal partners to prevent the illegal proliferation of MANPADS into the U.S."

"Internationally, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and our international partners, TSA's C-MANPADS program provides training and assessments to airports worldwide," Williams added. "Globally, TSA's C-MANPADS program is one of only three such programs fully engaged in driving mission success by working with international law enforcement and security agencies to conduct visits, training, and outreach at international airports, many of which support direct flights to the U.S."

Working in partnership with TSA's International Operations, the C-MANPADS program is a key C-MANPADS player on the global aviation front, establishing a close partnership with the Polish Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to mitigate threats. The two countries recently exchanged information on their C-MANPADS programs. During two days of meetings, TSA MANPADS experts discussed the agency's approach to vulnerability assessments and best practices.

TSA team members (International Operations Drew Haas, Counter-MANPADS Section Chief Rick Williams and team members Christian Champine and Kelly Funk) along with C-MANPADS partners in Poland. (Photo courtesy of Rick Williams)

"TSA is proud to partner with the Polish CAA, border guards and national police to develop a plan to positively impact aviation security in Poland and across the region," said Williams.

TSA C-MANPADS representatives Christian Champine and Brandon Reamer meet with tribal leaders in Senegal. (Photo courtesy of Christian Champine)

In addition to Poland, the TSA C-MANPADS Section deployed a Counter-MANPADS assessment team to the Egyptian cities of Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh in late 2021 to help train and develop a C-MANPADS program for Egypt. Since those visits, Egypt's government has assigned a high-level engineer to build a C-MANPADS national strategy for the country.

"The TSA Counter-MANPADS Section looks forward to additional collaboration with the government of Egypt," Williams said.

Since 2007, TSA also sent C-MANPADS teams to Nairobi, Kenya, seven times to assist the Kenyan government in developing a national MANPADS strategy. In 2022, Kenya aviation leaders invited TSA to evaluate their program and demonstrate the final product of their national strategy for their C-MANPADS program.

Williams said training is available to all law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world who request it at no cost to those agencies.

As with all of TSA's security procedures, he emphasized the agency employs a multi-layered approach to MANPADS threats, saying, "The exact procedures are not released but are dependent on the specific threat and situation."

And he said the public plays a key role in mitigating this and other threats.

"TSA asks citizens to remain vigilant and continue to report suspicious activity at or near airports to local authorities."

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs