- The Islamic State is apparently trying to make a SAM system using an R-13 air-to-air missile
- If the militant group can overcome the technical challenges, the resulting system would still not be a significant threat to coalition aircraft or civilian airliners
Sky News stoked new fears about aviation security on 5 January, when it broadcast footage showing Islamic State militants apparently attempting to turn an air-to-air missile into a surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.
Sky said it obtained the footage from Syrian rebels who found it on an Islamic State trainer they captured as he attempted to reach Turkey. It claimed the footage showed how Islamic State weapons experts working at the "jihadi university" in the Syrian city of Al-Raqqah had worked out how to "recommission thousands of missiles assumed by Western governments to have been redundant through old age" by manufacturing new thermal batteries.
While a complete missile did not feature in the footage, the guidance section of what appeared to be an AIM-9 Sidewinder was seen. Cyrillic writing on one of its control surfaces suggested it was an R-13 (AA-2 'Atoll'): the Soviet copy of the short-range infrared-guided Sidewinder. It was most likely an R-13M variant captured at one of the Syrian air force bases overrun by rebel forces in recent years.
The Sidewinder missile's thermal battery would be extremely difficult to change as it is an integral part of the target detection device (proximity sensor system). The R-13 is probably similar.
Some of the footage showed the missile's guidance section fitted to the hardpoint adaptor used to launch it from an aircraft. This provides the missile with electrical power and compressed gas to cool its seeker before it is launched. It also provides an interface between the missile and the aircraft's fire control system, allowing the pilot to activate the weapon and informing him when its infrared seeker has locked on to a target, facilitating a launch.