It’s been more than hinted that MANPADS could enter Syria in light of Russian air aggression and several cease-fires collapsing; they’ll move into rebel hands. Many are skeptical of the scenario, calling it a ‘nightmare‘. But they’ll be limited – it’s called geofencing. This means MANPADS will not function outside of certain GPS parameters. It won’t work where it’s not meant to, and as long as there are strong enough fail-safes, it could work. However, it could still proliferate within the battlespace and could turn into a long-term headache. There are fears that MANPADS could be used to shoot down a civilian aircraft. It could lead to the mystery, suspicion, fear, and devastation that was the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.
MANPADS are Man-portable air-defense systems. The plan was hinted and unveiled earlier this year – as Plan “B”. No, not that Plan B, but kind of.
Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal wrote, “The Central Intelligence Agency and its regional partners have drawn up plans to supply more powerful weapons to moderate rebels in Syria fighting the Russia-backed regime in the event the country’s six-week-old truce collapses, according to U.S. and other officials. The preparations for a so-called Plan B center on providing vetted rebel units with weapons systems that would help them in directing attacks against Syrian regime aircraft and artillery positions, the officials said. The Wall Street Journal first reported in February that President Barack Obama’s top military and intelligence advisers were pressing the White House to come up with a Plan B to counter Russia in Syria. Since then, fresh details have emerged on the nature of the new weaponry that could be deployed under the covert program.”
According to Foreign Policy magazine the systems will include “technical controls that would limit where they can be used to ensure they don’t one day fall into terrorist hands.” Elias Groll of Foreign Policy went to question where the U.S. might be in the creation of such MANPADS. “Geo-fencing (geofencing) is a feature in a software program that uses the global positioning system (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define geographical boundaries. A geofence is a virtual barrier.” It isn’t that different when you use software that limits the websites your children can browse.
Elias Groll of Foreign Policy went to question where the U.S. might be in the creation of such MANPADS. “But the design of such weapons controls remain highly elusive. U.S. engineers aren’t known to have sorted out how to build a GPS chip into the weapon that would ensure it could be fired only on the front lines of northwest Syria. They also haven’t sorted out a way of rendering the weapons inert after a certain amount of time so they don’t show up on distant battlefields way in the future. Weapons can be hacked, and arms control experts fear MANPADS supplied by the United States might end up with militants from groups like the Islamic State, reconfigured, and then used to shoot down a civilian airliner.
It’s possible that CIA engineers have secretly built and tested MANPADS and are waiting for the right moment to deploy them. If so, the agency has remained mum. The CIA declined to comment for this article. Raytheon, which makes the primary MANPADS in the American arsenal, the Stinger, declined to comment. The Pentagon referred comment to the State Department, which declined to comment on reports of MANPADS being delivered to Syria.”
Plan B could also be information operations, a way to pressure Russia into scaling back their attacks. It might be a plan on the table. Upping the ante could work if it has to – whatever it takes to remove Assad. The goal is a transitional government towards peace and if that means some MANPADs tossed in there, I’ve no doubt we’re willing to do it. After all, this is beyond reminiscent of the Anti-Aircraft systems we gave to the then freedom fighter moderate Afghans to combat the air superiority of the Russians. Is Syria destined to become Afghanistan? Is ISIL just another Taliban made more extreme after years of war?
I don’t think MANPADs in moderate rebel hands is the best answer. But, tactically it might be the only answer remaining in this impossible problem set. Already, there are rumors that aid a Russian argument of Al-Nusra linked militants using MANPADS. At this point it’s only rumors. But it doesn’t serve our global image well and will not help a transition. Maybe we need to re-evaluate our willingness to put “boots on the ground” to pacify the situation, increase special operators to be alongside trusted partners, or continue fueling the war economy from the outside and play a long term game. But will the world tolerate the carnage in Syria as it resolves itself?
Featured image courtesy of syrianfreepress.wordpress.com.