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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Igla missile's potent force
This giant Mi-26 troop transport came down near Grozny in August 2002
An Igla may have downed this Russian helicopter in Chechnya
The Igla missile reportedly smuggled into the United States by a British arms dealer is capable of downing the US president's plane, Air Force One, defence analysts have told the BBC.

The Igla 18 is a state-of-the-art weapon belonging to a group of surface-to-air missiles which are also known as SAM Sevens.

Chris Yates, security analyst at Jane's Aviation, said it could destroy anything flying up to 10,000 feet.

He told BBC News 24: "What we are talking about here is a missile which can be launched in a five-kilometre (three-mile) radius of an airfield.

"With some degree of success, it can bring down any size of airliner."

He said the take-off and landing phases are the vulnerable periods.

"We have the potential for a missile strike reportedly on Air Force One or another aircraft carrying US or UK citizens. It is a worrying development."

Mr Yates said corruption among Russian military manufacturers was rife.

It is possible that the aircraft could be destroyed, but most likely it would be damaged
Paul Beaver
Defence analyst

BBC reporter Tom Mangold, who revealed the story, is in no doubt about the weapon's capability.

He said: "If you can get the missile into the US, you have a reasonable chance of hitting Air Force One in its vulnerable take-off or landing mode."

He said an Igla missile was blamed by some experts for the shooting down of a Russian troop-carrying helicopter in Chechnya in August 2002 - 118 soldiers died in that incident.

Defence analyst Paul Beaver said although a large plane like Air Force One could perhaps survive a hit from an Igla, it would be very vulnerable when taking off and landing.

He told BBC News 24: ""I don't think it would definitely be capable of bringing the aircraft down (Air Force One).

"There's a lot evidence to show that even small aircraft can cope with an Igla hit.

"Aircraft like Air Force One, it's a Boeing 747, it's a big aeroplane, the missile could only home onto one of the engines."

He said the aircraft could be destroyed, but most likely it would be damaged.

Mr Beaver said Iglas were used in the Bosnian conflict, when a British Sea Harrier was shot down by an Igla 1B.

'Coherent threat'

"They are difficult to counter-measure unless you have the right equipment because they are very good at locking on to the heat signature of an aeroplane.

"Even if you have the standard defence systems, the counter-measure of flares, they can select what is an aeroplane engine heat signature rather than a flare.

"It's a very advanced piece of equipment which is not that widely available.

"It's probably been seen in a few theatres of war around the world, having been sold by the Russians in the late 1980s going through to the late 1990s.

" We don't know what counter-measures Air Force One might have on it because obviously they're secret, but this is a really coherent threat."

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