Modern Shoulder-Fired SAMs Missing in Libya

Here’s some disconcerting news from Libya that confirms something we’ve all been worrying about for a while now — hundreds of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles have been looted from Gadhafi’s old military stockpiles.

These aren’t just obsolete 1970-vintage Soviet missiles that barely work anymore. According to CNN,  dozens of SA-24 “Grinch” shoulder-fired SAMs have been looted from one base alone. The SA-24 is the latest variant of the Soviet-designed Igla SAM that’s been in production since the early 1980s. (the picture above shows a pro-Gadhafi fighter manning a multiple-launch SA-24 battery.)

There have already been cases of terrorists firing SA-7 Strelas but those missiles aren’t much of a threat against modern infrared countermeasures. Furthermore, many Strelas are quickly nearing the end of their service lives.  However, the Grinch, which entered Russian military service in 2004, is designed to defeat modern infrared countermeasures and can shoot down planes flying up to 11,000 feet.

There are roughly 20,000 shoulder-fired SAMs in Libya, according to this CNN piece. Most of them are unaccounted for since they are among the first things to be looted from former regime facilities in Libya. This situation could be a bonanza for terrorists and arms dealers.

The next few paragraphs from CNN reporters who discovered the empty missile crates arent very comforting:

Fighters aligned with the National Transitional Council and others swiped armaments from the storage facility, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The warehouse is located near a base of the Khamis Brigade, a special forces unit in Gadhafi’s military, in the southeastern part of the capital.

The warehouse contains mortars and artillery rounds, but there are empty crates for those items as well. There are also empty boxes for another surface-to-air missile, the SA-7.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch emergencies director, told CNN he has seen the same pattern in armories looted elsewhere in Libya, noting that “in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles.”

He said such missiles can fetch many thousands of dollars on the black market.

“We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya, and I’ve seen cars packed with them.” he said. “They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone.”

Here are some earlier posts on this topic:


  • Surprised? Not at all. I was expecting this since the first day. The special interest by weapon traffickers and terrorist groups in Libya’s weapons caches isn’t anything new.

    • Five

      To much to hope the NATO troops who aren’t (officially) on the ground got to some of the caches first & managed to take the more modern/dangerous equipment first.

  • Andrew

    What the TNC needs to do is offer to buy any looted weapons at local value-e what the person could get for them on the black market-no questions asked, no repercussions. This would have 2 primary effects: 1. It would keep these weapons out of the hands of AQ or whoever else would want to buy them; and 2. Put money into the Libyan economy that would not be gained through looking for and seizing/confiscating these weapons if found. If I worked for the government I would even consider helping to fund this initiative. It would count as foreign aid, and would be much cheaper than dealing with a spate of SAM attacks or trying to find/destroy all of them.

  • blight

    List of Igla users:

    Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria (former producer), Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, Ecuador, Eritrea, Finland, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, the Republic of Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, North Korea, Peru, Poland, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

    Recognize any “bad guys”? Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea…

    As for the newer SA-24, I imagine Venezuela, Iran, Syria already have them.

    • You forgot to mention Pakistan another bad guy.

      • blight

        Working on confirming Igla in Pakistan…

      • blight

        Pakistan is predominantly equipped along /Western/ lines. Pakistan used Blowpipes a long time ago, and the wikipedia list is:

        “Anza [local missile, Mk1, 2, 3)
        SA-7 Grail
        General Dynamics FIM-92 Stinger
        General Dynamics FIM-43 Redeye
        Bofors RBS-70 short-range SAM system
        Mistral Man-portable air defense systems”

  • This has me more worried about this weekend, the 9-11 ten year anniversary. We know of some nondescript threats dealing with aircraft. How many reports have we had of Al-queda dealing and fighting with the rebels?

    Makes you think, doesn’t it?

  • thekidfromtexas

    OK ya’ll hold your horses. One of the things I like about this site is that’s it’s not really political. Please keep it that way. USA Today, Fox News, and a hundred of other sites are ‘great’ places to do that.

    Unless you have credible evidence of a politician deeply involved in any Defense, weapons, technology, or military/foreign projects then leave ’em alone. We all have our opinions (and I have strong one’s with this Administration and this Congress) but posting them here won’t change anybody’s mind and does not change a single thing.

    So in short, stick to the subject at hand and don’t just rant about a single person. It gets old. Actually it’s already old. Ranting about a what a person has done is stupid. You can point out failures and suggest alternatives but make it pleasant for the rest of us.


    The Kid From Texas

    P.s. That includes people who start calling other people stupid for their political beliefs – I know it’s annoying but we don’t want to see any more references to that subject. We have a thumbs down option for a reason.

    • kim


  • PullR

    So we’re probably lookin’ at 10-14,000 rockets gone missing at minimum?

    Reason #429 we should be all-in or all-out.

  • Cunninglinguine

    Article discusses shoulder-fired SAMs.

    Picture shows non-shoulder-capable launcher mounted on truck.

    DT. Paragon of defense reporting.

    • saberhagen

      same weapon, just different platforms, foool

  • dude

    Not much to convert those to shoulder fired man. Not much at all.

  • marvel

    Time to up the ante on airport perimeter security in North Africa. I think a good question to ask is whether “warlords” and rebel leaders like those in Mali will outbid terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. If that is the case, then we need not worry as much about civilian airliners falling victim to a Grinch. If I were a rebel, I would save them for government aircraft. Just a thought.

  • Curt

    This is not a new issue. The Russians, who should know, reported months ago that the SA-24s sold to the Libyans included only the vehicle mounted launchers but not the launchers for shoulder firing. Now, while I am sure someone could get shoulder mounted firing units, its probably just as easy to get the missiles when you get the launcher and and other stuff (like batteries) needed to fire the missile. A variety of MANPADS have been widely available for years but have rarely been used by any terrorist organizations. A concern yes, but no reason to panic.

  • Chimp

    Going to be interesting when / if the Afghan airforce starts flying around in turboprop COIN planes.
    SAS had fun with Stingers against Argie turboprops once upon a time.

    • Among the Taliban and Tribal warlords having a stinger type missile is a status symbol. They tend not to use them because of that.

      • blight

        Don’t Stingers require argon bottles and special batteries?

  • yeen

    It’s just some human rights group saying they’re missing. The CIA could already have picked them up without broadcasting the fact to the world.

  • IronV

    One would think that visitors to this website would have some basic understanding of the geometric complexity and difficulty of war fighting and the decision making that attends it. One would be wrong.

    • LaTrine

      “geometric complexity”…….????????? huh?

  • Lance

    That’s what you get for letting AL Qaeda take over Libya now they sell a whole arsenal to terrorist against the US and Israel not surprised.

    • orly?

      Why are you blaming the US for the sale of Russian weaponry?

      • Jay

        because we supported the Al Qaeda linked faction instead of the crazy dictator faction and our interference allowed the former to defeat the latter.

        to be fair in the early days the AlQ guys among the Libyan rebels kept a very low profile and we didn’t know who we were supporting.

  • Chuck

    MANPADS went missing in Iraq but I don’t remember seeing similar vitriol against Bush on sites like this. The double-standard is alive and well.

  • LaTrine

    I seen a lot of dudes wif dem big bushy beards.

  • Surprised? Not at all. I was expecting this since the first day. The special interest by weapon traffickers and terrorist groups in Libya’s weapons caches isn’t anything new.