General Studies IIISecurity

MANPADS: Man Portable Air Defence Systems


The United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are shipping weapons into Ukraine, including highly sensitive items such as shoulder-fired missiles called Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS) that can take down aircraft.


  • Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems are short-range, lightweight and portable surface-to-air missiles that can be fired by individuals or small groups to destroy aircraft or helicopters.
  • The first MANPADS were introduced by the United States and Soviet Union in the 1960s.
  • As of 2019, 20 countries had developed the wherewithal to manufacture MANPADS and together made 1 million such systems for defence and export purposes.
  • Russia is by far the biggest exporter of MANPADs.
  • They help shield troops from aerial attacks and are most effective in targeting low-flying aircrafts.
  • MANPADS can be shoulder-fired, launched from atop a ground-vehicle, fired from a tripod or stand, and from a helicopter or boat.
  • Weighing anywhere between 10 to 20 kilograms and not being longer than 1.8 metres, they are fairly lightweight, which makes them easy to operate by individual soldiers.
  • Operating MANPADS requires substantially less training.
  • MANPADS have a maximum range of 8 kilometres and can engage targets at altitudes of 4.5 km.
  • Most MANPADS have passive or ‘fire and forget’ guidance systems, meaning the operator is not required to guide the missile to its target, enabling them to run and relocate immediately after firing.

Common variants of MANPADs

  • The most common make of MANPADs is the U.S.-made Stinger missiles.
  • Stinger’s Russian or Soviet-made counterparts are the Igla MANPADS, which also employ Infrared technology.
  • Starstreak, the British army’s equivalent of the Stinger missiles.
  • Sweden makes the RBS-70 MANPADS series, which also uses laser beam technology, while China’s version, FN-6, is akin to ther Stinger.

Uses of MANPADS in the Past

  • The first MANPADS were introduced by the United States and Soviet Union in the 1960s.
  • Russian and U.S. MANPADS were also used during the Vietnam war.
  • The U.S. supplied MANPADS to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, which the latter used against the Soviet forces.
  • Countries such as India, Pakistan, Germany, U.K Turkey and Israel have also used MANPADS in their defense efforts.
  • Over time, non-state actors such as rebel and terrorist groups have also illicitly acquired MANPADS, using them during civil wars and other high-intensity conflicts.
  • MANPADs have been used in the Syrian war and in Libya.
  • Non-state groups in African countries like Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Somalia and Congo have also acquired and used MANPADs.
  • Russia is by far the biggest exporter of MANPADs, having sold over 10,000 such systems between 2010 and 2018 to various countries including Iraq, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and Libya.

Concerns around MANPADS

Risk of Smuggling

  • After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, weapons supplied by other countries to aid Ukraine ended up in the wrong hands in multiple cases.
  • Reports indicate that weapons in the state arsenal were illicitly acquired and smuggled by criminal and non-state rebel groups.

May Give a Boost to Criminal Activities

  • Cities in Ukraine such as Odesa, Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Kyiv are significant logistical centers for criminal networks.

Illegal Weapon Trade

  • The Small Arms Survey of 2017 pointed out that Ukraine has 1.2 million legal firearms and around 4 million illegal weapons, a lot of them fully-automatic military weapons.
  • Thus, observers fear that sending lightweight ground-based MANPADS to Ukraine may contribute to intensifying the network of illegal weapon trade.

Possession of the Weapon by Non-State Armed Groups

  • In other conflict-hit states as well, there is widespread evidence of MANPADS ending up with non-state and terrorist groups; the most prominent cases being Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.

Attack on Civilians

  • Another concern around MANPADS is civilian attacks.
  • According to the 2019 study mentioned above, more than 60 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS since the 1970s, claiming the lives of more than 1,000 civilians.
  • MANPADS threats to civilian aircraft are extreme and are taken very seriously by pilots, airlines and civil aviation authorities.


  • Ukraine already has its squadron of aircrafts and sending MANPADs would be more effective in shielding from air strikes by the “formidable” Russian army.
  • The best way to deal with the MANPADS concerns is to work through legislation and diplomatic channels.
  • MANPADS technology is complex, and regulating the trade in components, as well as in the missile systems themselves offers a chance to reduce the threat worldwide.

Source: The Hindu

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