MANPADS collection program netted hundreds of missiles in Iraq, documents reveal

Documents: Man-Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) collection program weekly summaries

Source: U.S. Department of Defense

Publication Dates: 5 December 2003 through 2 April 2004

The following tables and analysis are derived from documents* on a MANPADS collection program established by the US military following the looting of Iraqi military facilities in 2003. The documents, which consist of weekly progress reports, provide detailed data on the types and quantities of MANPADS and key components (missiles and launchers) recovered through the program, the value of payments for these items, and the quantity of MANPADS and components captured by coalition forces during the time period studied.

The data reveals that, despite repeated claims to the contrary, MANPADS collection programs can be effective in certain circumstances. In less than a year, Iraqi citizens turned in 934 MANPADS missiles and 277 launchers in exchange for a combined total of just $424,000. While most of the items collected were first generation SA-7-pattern systems and components, several dozen missiles and launchers for second-generation SA-14 and SA-16 MANPADS were also turned in, along with a smaller number of unspecified ‘other’ MANPADS. This data is summarized in Table 1.


Also noteworthy is data on MANPADS captured by coalition forces during patrols, raids on weapons caches, and other military operations conducted at the same time. The data indicates that significantly fewer MANPADS were seized by coalition forces than were voluntarily surrendered through the collection program (see Table 2).


Whether and to what extent these results are replicable in other countries and in other circumstances is unclear. The situation in Iraq in 2003 and early 2004 was unusual for several reasons. Coalition forces had thousands of boots on the ground, the ability to travel throughout the country, and working relationships with local authorities. These resources allowed for the establishment of a network of local weapons collection points at which Iraqis could (and did) turn in missiles, sometimes in large quantities.

The circumstances surrounding the looting of Iraq’s depots also played a role in the program’s success. While some of the looters were former members of the regime and future insurgents, many were civilians with no apparent anti-coalition agenda or military interest in the missiles. Had the looting been better controlled by armed groups or elements of the former regime, or had it occurred when the insurgency was in full bloom and militant demand for MANPADS was at its peak, the program may not have been nearly as successful.

For more information on illicit weapons in Iraq, including MANPADS, see Surveying the Battlefield: Illicit Arms in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.  For more information on MANPADS collection programs, see Countering the MANPADS Threat: Strategies for Success and Global Efforts to Control MANPADS.

* The documents were obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act by the Small Arms Survey. Due to the sensitivity of some of the data, the documents themselves are not posted.

MANPADS collection program netted hundreds of missiles in Iraq, documents reveal

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