ISIS Shoots Down Iraqi Helicopter, Sparks New Fears For US War Planes
Shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles raise concerns about limitation of American airpower
The Islamic State has released images of the recent of an Iraqi helicopter that was shot down using a shoulder-fired missile, heightening fears in regard to the limitations of American airpower.
The Washington Post reported that IS used a Chinese-made heat-seeking MANPADS system at a helicopter, which shot a missile into an Mi-35M gunship.
The aircraft caught on fire and then crashed over the city of Baiji in northern Iraq.
Advanced systems like MANPADS, or man-portable air defense systems, present a particularly challenging threat for Iraqi forces. The U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria has been focused on conventional elements of the Islamic State’s military equipment, including tanks and artillery. MANPADS are highly portable and difficult to target.
“You’re not going to see a MANPADS until they fire,” said David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. “It’s a very complex operation to suppress enemy air defenses, and I don’t know if the Iraqi army has the capability yet to conduct an integrated and combined fight of the likes it takes to defeat these kinds of capabilities.”
MANPADS are ideal weapons systems for “asymmetric” warfare, Maxwell said. Fighters can blend into populated areas and employ the systems only when they see targets of opportunity — like low-flying Iraqi helicopters.
The weapon IS used can hit targets flying at 11,000 feet, but more powerful MANPADS exist–A Russian-made SA-24 can hit targets flying at up to 20,000 feet. A September video from the Iraqi Defense Ministry shows Iraqi security forces receiving what appears to be a shipment of the powerful weapons.
Should IS obtain any of these powerful weapons, countermeasures against heat-seeking missiles may not be sufficient to protect aircraft.