Britain purchasing SAMs to study
By Thomas Harding
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH
December 14, 2005
LONDON -- Britain has secretly bought dozens of sophisticated
Russian surface-to-air missiles, some of which are believed to have fallen into
terrorist hands, to develop countermeasures against them.
There are significant fears that the weapon, which can
be packed into a golf bag and assembled and fired very rapidly by one person
with minimal training, will be used to shoot at civil and military aircraft.
Defense experts have spent the past year experimenting
with the shoulder-launched missile in order to protect British aircraft and
The Daily Telegraph has withheld information on the make
of the missile on the advice of the committee on press self-censorship in the
interest of national security.
The weapon reportedly has been purchased by Libya in a
multimillion-dollar deal. Both Syria and Iran are in negotiations to buy
hundreds, and Vietnam, Brazil, India and Ukraine already have it in their
But there are worries that in Iraq the missile has
fallen into the hands of insurgents who could use it against British or American
transport planes carrying hundreds of troops.
Britain used arms dealers experienced in the Russian
market to approach a state-owned arms manufacturer to purchase the system. The
missiles and launchers were imported into Britain in an estimated $4.9 million
Defense Ministry scientists and gunners from the Royal
Artillery have test-fired them at British bases. Britain is thought to be trying
to buy more missiles for testing, with the results to be shared with the United
The SAM flies higher, farther and faster and homes in on
images as well as heat, making it capable of taking out cruise missiles in
flight. It is very rugged, able to survive being submerged in water for 30
minutes or dropped onto a concrete surface from 6 feet.
It is the ideal weapon for terrorists, who "no
doubt" have some in their armory, according to defense sources.
In January a London businessman, Hemant Lakhani, was
imprisoned for 47 years in the United States after he attempted to buy 50
missiles in a sting operation that involved the CIA and Russian security
There have been reports in the Russian press that the
SAM has been passed to French terrorists intent on attacking a civilian aircraft
in France or elsewhere in the European Union. There has also been an
intelligence report that up to 150 missiles were stolen from a military depot in
Earlier versions of the SAM were responsible for
destroying at least eight American and British aircraft in the 1991 Persian Gulf
War, an American F-16 in Kosovo in 1999 and a Russian Mi-26 helicopter, killing
121 troops it was carrying in Chechnya in 2002.
The U.S. government already has begun tests on a laser
device that can be bolted to an airliner to disrupt heat-seeking missiles.