Fire and Forget: The Proliferation of Man-portable Air Defence Systems in Syria (Issue Brief 9)

Matt Schroeder
Issue Brief

Since the start of Syria’s civil war, the country has become a hotbed of arms trafficking and proliferation of conventional weapons. Images and accounts reveal that armed groups have acquired a variety of small arms and light weapons, some of which are recent-generation systems rarely encountered outside of government control elsewhere. Among the most sensitive of these are numerous man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) looted from Syrian government depots and acquired elsewhere, many of which are newer and more technologically sophisticated than illicit MANPADS in other countries.

A new Small Arms Survey Issue Brief—Fire and Forget: The Proliferation of Man-portable Air Defence Systems in Syria—assesses the acquisition and use of MANPADS by armed groups in Syria. The analysis is based on video footage and photographs posted online by journalists, researchers, and armed groups; media reports; and statements by government officials. It provides an overview of the models, capabilities, age, and condition of MANPADS circulating in the country. It assesses the sources of these systems, as well as of allegations of trafficking from Sudan. To conclude, it evaluates the implications of MANPADS proliferation in Syria, including in the context of global counter-MANPADS efforts.

Key findings include:

  • Armed groups in Syria have acquired at least eight models of MANPADS, including at least three models not previously seen outside of government control elsewhere. These MANPADS include recent-generation systems.
  • The vast majority of MANPADS acquired by these armed groups appear to be Chinese-, Russian-, and Soviet-designed systems or foreign variants.
  • No publicly available evidence supports claims by the Russian government that armed groups in Syria have acquired US FIM-92 Stinger-series MANPADS or foreign Stinger-pattern systems.
  • International transfers of MANPADS to armed groups in Syria appear to violate resolutions, guidelines, and agreements adopted by several multilateral organizations.
  • Video footage of armed groups and their arsenals is useful for identifying the types of MANPADS in the country but provides little insight into their origins or suppliers.

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Keywords: MANPADS Illicit trafficking