The Continuing Missile Threat in Iraq (06/13/2005 entry)

Here’s a great Strategy Page post on the potential for attack by insurgents with man portable air defense missiles and the effect that the threat has on our operations, especially that of the AC-130 gunships:

The U.S. Air Force, which controls the use the AC-130 gunships, refuses to allow them to be used during daylight. The main reason for this prohibition, which decreases enemy losses, and gets Americans killed, is the possible presence of MANPADS.

The U.S. Air Force has only 21 gunships (eight AC-130H “Spectre”, and 13 AC-130U “Spooky”). Four more AC-130Us are in production. The last time an AC-130 was lost was at Khafji, Saudi Arabia, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The aircraft was leaving the combat zone at sunrise, and was visible to Iraqi gunners in the area.

However, AC-130s normally operate at 12,000 feet, or higher. The main reason for operating this high is to hide the loud sound of the AC-130s four turboprop engines (which lets the bad guys know where the aircraft is), and to keep it out of range of ground fire (small arms and MANPADS). The AC-130 can still hit targets from as far as 20,000 feet up. But the air force is worried about some of Saddam’s old anti-aircraft guns that might be in the wrong hands.

As I’ve asked previously, I continue to wonder if any of the Stingers we provided the Afghan freedom fighters with in the 1980s have ever been used against our planes.


  1. Useful bit about the batteries. I didn’t even think about that. I was going to say that IIRC, the only aircraft (a civilian cargo hauler) hit by a MANPAD missile that I remember was hit by an SA-7. I know there was a CH-47 brought down by ground fire, but I don’t know if they ever said what actually hit it.