I was intrigued to read about an Iranian air-to-air "missile" that appears to be more like a drone shaped like a missile.
The Iranian government has shown a curious "loitering" surface-to-air missile known only as the "358" to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu who is currently visiting the country.
The 358 is understood to be launched from the ground using a solid-fuel rocket booster, which falls away after it burns out. The missile then transitions to an air-breathing propulsion system, possibly a small turbojet, much like a traditional land-attack or anti-ship cruise missile ... past reports have said that the 358 further deviates from typical surface-to-air missiles in that is apparently designed to fly at low speed to a specified location and then loiter there until its fuel runs out. "The weapon flies in a figure-eight pattern and looks for targets," The New York Times reported in a story citing unnamed U.S. military officials back in 2020.
. . .
If the weapon works as described, they could be launched into forward areas where drones or helicopters are known or expected to travel through, and hunt and kill them without any need for additional advanced offboard sensors. This could be particularly useful for engaging incoming drones, which can be very hard to spot and engage with traditional air defense systems.
Beyond all this, groups of 358s flying figure-eight orbits would just present additional hazards an opponent would have to contend with or attempt to plan around, which could be problematic seeing that they can fly out to remote locations. If the 358 is low cost, then it could be even easier to deploy large numbers of them at once to increase the probability of success and otherwise try to disrupt enemy air operations.
It does not appear to require much in the way of logistical footprint to employ the 358 missiles, either. When Iraqi authorities seized the 358 near in 2021, they also found a simple launcher consisting of a crude rail attached to a base weighed down with cinder blocks.
At the IRGC expo that Russian Defense Minister Shoigu recently attended, a pair of 358 missiles were seen on more robust launch rails fitted in the back of a truck. That launch system also looks as if it might be designed to look outwardly like any other commercial truck when in transit, helping to reduce vulnerability, as well as add flexibility.
There's more at the link.
It occurs to me that this weapon might as well be purpose-designed to shut down civilian air transport networks. A terrorist could launch it miles away from an airport, choosing a site that offers easy escape routes and minimal risk to the launch team. It could be programmed to fly to the nearest airport and loiter there, selecting any slow-moving aircraft in the process of landing or taking off, and destroying it. If two or three were launched simultaneously to attack a major airport in cities like Los Angeles, or Dallas, or New York, not only would they cause massive damage and casualties (not only aboard the destroyed aircraft, but in the suburbs where they fell), they'd also shut down all air traffic into and out of that city until the threat had been neutralized.
A terrorist group might have several of these missiles on hand, meaning they could threaten an area indefinitely unless and until they were taken out. If multiple groups of terrorists were to threaten several major airports across America, they would shut down a huge slice of our economy overnight, and there's no guarantee when (or even if) it would come up again. Getting the missiles into this country should not present any major problem. According to the article, Iran has been smuggling them to its allies for some years, piece by piece. Our southern border is so porous they could be carried across on the backs of cartel operatives, and with only a small proportion of container shipments through our ports being examined for contraband, the odds of getting missiles through US security must be excellent.
Not a comfortable thought at all . . .