Missing Missiles: The Proliferation of Man-portable Air Defence Systems in North Africa (SANA Issue Brief 2)

Matt Schroeder
Issue Brief

The looting of Libya’s massive stocks of weapons and ammunition was one of the most significant arms proliferation events of the 21st century. Anti-government forces seized tens of thousands of small arms, light weapons and other munitions, and thousands more were left unguarded in abandoned storage facilities. These weapons have fuelled crime and conflict in Libya and throughout North Africa.

Of particular concern to the international community were the government’s large stockpiles of man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS). Many analysts and officials feared that these weapons would be smuggled out of Libya and used against military and civilian aircraft. The anticipated increase in MANPADS attacks has not materialized, raising important questions about the fate of Libya’s missing missiles and their impact on aviation security.

A new Small Arms Survey Issue BriefMissing Missiles: The Proliferation of Man-portable Air Defence Systems in North Africa—seeks to answer these and other questions about the MANPADS threat in this region.

The Issue brief analyses the models, provenance and condition of MANPADS in North Africa. It provides an in-depth analysis of the proliferation of MANPADS in North Africa since 2011 and examines the implications for aviation security in North Africa. Missing Missiles concludes with important observations on MANPADS trafficking and aviation security in the region.

Key findings include:

  • Newly released data confirms that nearly all MANPADS documented in Libya were first-generation Strela 2-pattern systems. The only other MANPADS documented to date are four Pakistani Anza II missiles––without launchers. 
  • The proliferation of missiles looted from Libyan government depots has had little discernible effect on the illicit use of MANPADS in the region.
  • Recent generation MANPADS in nearby conflict zones may soon pose a more significant threat to aviation security in North Africa than Libya’s ageing, first-generation missiles. 
  • The Islamic State’s access to MANPADS poses a potentially acute threat to civilian aviation in North Africa and elsewhere.

Also available in ARABIC.

Have your say about Small Arms Survey publications and products: take 5 minutes to fill out our questionnaire.


Keywords: SANA MANPADS Illicit trafficking