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Friday, 29 November, 2002, 13:37 GMT
The threat from portable missiles
The missiles that narrowly missed an Israeli passenger airliner leaving Mombasa for Tel Aviv appear to have been fired from a shoulder-held surface-to-air missile (Sam) launcher.

Experts identified the launcher as a Strela-2 from pictures taken by Kenyan television.

Kenyan police discovered a missile launcher and two missile casings in the Changamwe area of Mombasa, about two kilometres (1.25 miles) from the airport.

Technical specification:
The Sam 7 Strela-2 portable missile launcher is a one-man shoulder-fired low altitude system.

It can launch a high explosive warhead and has a seeker system that targets the plume of an aircraft engine's exhaust.

It is a tail-chasing missile - one that can only be fired only from behind its target.

Sam 7 Stela-2 launcher
Strela-2 (SA 7a) Strela-2M (SA 7b)
Max range3,200 metres4,200 metres
Min range800 metres800 metres
Max altitude2,000 metres2,000 metres
Min altitude50 metres30-50 metres
Max speed of target792 km/h936 km/h
Max speed of missile 1386 km/h2088 km/h
Operator1 person1 person
Source: Global Security

The Strela-2 can be made less accurate by solar heat and, when used in hilly terrain, by heat from the ground.

It is also susceptible to decoy countermeasures such as exhaust shrouds, flares and infrared devices.

The launcher was originally developed in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s as an anti-aircraft system for targeting both helicopters and jets in ground and low altitudes.

Various versions of the Strela-2 were developed, increasing its range, accuracy and speed. A common improved version is the Strela-2M (SA 7b).

The Strela-2 was widely copied and manufactured in Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Hungary, North Korea and Pakistan among other countries.

Protecting against Sams:
Security experts suggest that protecting against Sams is very difficult.

Shoulder-launched Sams in general can be launched from up to six kilometres.

Planes from most airports around the world leave the airport's perimeter fences at an altitude that makes them vulnerable.

Kenyan TV pictures of the missile launcher
Experts identified the launcher as a Sam 7 Strela-2
More developed Sams than the Strela-2 have more sophisticated seeker systems and can be fired at aircraft from all angles, not just chasing.

Security experts have suggested that the missiles fired in Kenya may have missed their target because the attackers fired when the plane was at too low an altitude.

It is believed that the Israeli airline El Al uses an infrared system - once used by the British military in Northern Ireland - that tampers with the Sam's seeker system, making it less accurate.

It is not known whether such a system was used on the Arkia flight on Thursday.

Six months ago, the FBI warned that civilian aircraft could be targeted by al-Qaeda members using Sams.

Reports suggest that even a basic anti-missile defence system on a civilian airliner could cost in the region of $2m.

The BBC's David Shukman
"These missiles are small and very easy to use"

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