According to recent reporting from IHS Janes and the Long War Journal, images released via Twitter by the Islamic State show a militant firing the advanced FN-6 MANPADS (man-portable air defense system) at an Iraqi helicopter conducting operations in the vicinity of the embattled Baiji Refinery in early October. The refinery, one of Iraq’s largest and most productive prior to its closure due to ongoing violence around June, was reportedly producing roughly 170,000 barrels per day.

The FN-6, a third-generation system developed by the Chinese and the most advanced of their arsenal on the international market, was allegedly supplied by Qatar to various Syrian insurgent groups as early as last year.  IHS Janes reports that the weapons were supplied to select factions by the Qataris, “despite warnings that they could proliferate to more extreme groups like [ISIS].”

In addition to the “pilfering of weapons systems by other than the intended receiver,” the loss of multiple airbases, caches, and military facilities in Syria also provides ISIS fighters with additional options of weapon systems which can be readily transported to neighboring Iraq for ongoing attacks across the country. The Washington Post reports that, “the takeover of [various] airbases [in Syria] mark a ‘significant proliferation’ of the weapons across the region, and also act as a source for countless MANPADS and similar weapons.”  Examples of this are frequent in Iraq.

According to the Long War Journal, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense had confirmed that one of its Mi-35s had been shot down, “near Bayji in Salah-al-Din province on [3 October].” It was also reported by Iraqi officials that another Iraqi helicopter had been shot down by a shoulder-fired system in the same area approximately five days later. This frequent reporting highlights not only the deadly threat MANPADS pose to all low-flying rotary-wing aircraft, but also ISIS’ extensive knowledge of how to effectively operate these weapon systems.

Unfortunately, these two reported shoot-downs were not the first in Iraq, but follow two shoot-downs during “an aborted attempt to retake Tikrit in late June, [as well as] two additional shoot-downs just outside Tikrit in mid-August.” This adept use of MANPADS by ISIS militants is demonstratively clear in a recently released how-to guide published by ISIS, specifically outlining instructions for downing Apache helicopters, which the U.S. has recently admitted to employing over Iraq last week.

“The guide comes with instructions on the use of MANPADS. For instance, in one paragraph it says: “Determination of [the] launching area: Preferably somewhere high. The roof of a building or a hill that is on a solid surface [ground] in order to prevent the appearance of dust following launching.” In addition, the instructions include a diagram of an Apache.”

While MANPADS shoot-downs by ISIS militants in Iraq have been documented since mid-August, this is the first documented case of the FN-6 MANPADS variant making its way into ISIS’ hands. The use of this advanced weapon system by ISIS, in addition to their expressed desire to attack Apache aircraft, does not bode well for ongoing air operations in-country, and poses a significant threat to all aircraft supporting any kind of mission that requires low-level flight. There is no doubt that the proliferation of such systems will also continue to hold both short and long-term impacts for the region even well after this conflict begins to subside.

MANPADS headed to Syria

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(Featured Image Courtesy: IHS Janes. Images courtesy of the Long War Journal.)