Despite their proliferation, U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Pietrucha, who served as an irregular warfare operations officer, argued in a piece for War on the Rocks that MANPADS are “difficult to employ and relatively easy to defeat,” adding that “In the tens of thousands of sorties flown in the last two decades by U.S. and NATO aircraft in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, only four fixed-wing combat aircraft have been hit (and two downed) by MANPADS.” At the same time, MANPADS performance in the early stages of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine was more effective and deadly.
As the FAA’s filing suggests, though, these systems still pose at least some degree of threat to commercial air traffic. Given that FedEx is applying for special conditions to fit a DIRCM system aboard an aircraft they aren’t yet flying, it could be that the freight company is eyeing the system for use only in specific cases or routes. This would be a beneficial capability serving high-risk areas. With such little to go on other than the filing, however, it’s impossible to know the extent to which FedEx intends to use the system.
For now, the FAA filing is another reminder of the dangers posed by air defense systems falling into the wrong hands. It will be interesting to see what comes of the FAA’s request and if other commercial airlines or freight companies follow FedEx’s lead.
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