Passenger Plane Shot Down over Russian-Ukrainian Border

Probably the top story of the day, unfortunately, is Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a Boeing 777 aircraft, is down in the border area of Russia and Ukraine with 295 souls aboard. There are unlikely to be any survivors. According to sources quoted by AP, the aircraft was allegedly shot down. Both the Ukrainian government and a spokesperson for the Russian-backed separatists have denied responsibility. The Independent (UK) reports 6 Britons, 23 US citizens and as many as 80 children were aboard. The plane was enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

According to Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, the aircraft was flying at 33,000 feet when hit by a Buk missile. The Buk (NATO reporting name SA-11 Gadfly and later versions the SA-17 Grizzly) missile system entered former Soviet service in 1979 and is a successor to the SA-6 Gainful family. A medium ranged, high altitude system, the missiles have a maximum range of 20 miles and can strike targets as high as 72,000 feet. A Buk missile battery consists of three vehicles, two with fire control radars and one launcher only, and carries 12 missiles between them. Additionally, the battery (3 per battalion) is supported at battalion level by an area surveillance/target acquisition radar vehicle which detects the targets and hands them off to the missile control radars at the battery level; and maybe additionally supported by one or more battalion level missile reload vehicles carrying 8 missiles each. The system can respond in 22 seconds from target track to missile launch. The system is currently in front line Russian and Ukrainian service, plus 10 other countries, and is on order but not yet delivered to Vietnam and Venezuela.

Ok, so nobody actually knows much yet, or rather the ones who do aren’t yet talking. No doubt fuller details will be forthcoming. They always seem to, somehow. I don’t care to speculate, and I don’t know whom to blame. One question leaping to mind, however, is if the Russia-backed separatists did it, where did they get the equipment? This was not, as I said above, a shoulder fired heat-seeking MANPADS. Most of those only range up to about 3 or 4 miles anyway. This was a sophisticated self-propelled radar-guided system, normally deployed in battalion sized units as part of an integrated air defense system.

While I do not care to speculate, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to observe this was no spur-of-the-moment hothead in action. It would have taken an already emplaced system to do it. Further, this will undoubtedly make the Ukrainian mess still messier. Similarly, it’s hard not to see it probably wouldn’t have happened if the border troubles in Ukraine had been headed off at the pass. It also seems impossible to ignore there’s a price for leading from behind.


themaskedblogger is a native born Texan, a registered voter and possessed of some minimal ability to read, write and think.

Posted in Europe, Foreign Policy, National Defense & Security
2 comments on “Passenger Plane Shot Down over Russian-Ukrainian Border
  1. […] As I blogged yesterday, the SA-11 system is a technically sophisticated medium range, high altitude radar guided missile system. It is not man-portable. Normally the system is deployed in battalions of 15-25 vehicles; consisting of a headquarters, area-surveillance and tracking radars, plus three firing batteries of three vehicles, each with 4 missiles, two with missile guidance radar on-board (different from the surveillance and tracking radars, these are to guide the missiles) and one without as a launch platform only, plus ancillary attachments like reload vehicles or those related to the manning force such as cooks and supply trucks and so forth. This was not, repeat not, done by a lone trigger-happy gunman with a SAM over his shoulder; no missile system capable of being carried around by a human has the range or altitude to have hit the MH17 flight. The system can operate as a stand alone system, as air defense for a brigade-sized unit, or two or three battalions might guard a division. It is also capable of operating as an integrated part of a theater air defense system. More than a small amount of technical training is required to operate such a thing, raising the question of where the operators, whoever they may be, got such training. […]

  2. […] I never understood why they’re called black boxes as they are pained International Distress Orange, but let that go. Washington Post today publishes a story indicating the separatist forces had turned over the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder, to give them their proper names, to Malaysian authorities. For some reason, the story is careful to say “the rebels handed over what they said were the plane’s black boxes” rather than saying it was the CVR and FDR. Perhaps that’s an excess of caution in the direction of accuracy, or maybe tomorrow we’ll read they actually got a fire extinguisher and a toilet paper dispenser, who knows? The story doesn’t come right out and say this, but I got the impression the separatists are now trying to allege they were not trying to hinder the international crash investigation, they only wouldn’t let the Ukrainians out on the site. I think that’s kind of iffy, myself, but it’s also possible it’s bias on my part as I do not have a high moral or ethical opinion of the separatists. Plainly, the crash happened in a war zone, and this would hinder access to investigators with all the will in the world. I also suspect the Russians– the Russian Russians, a/k/a Putin’s heroes, as opposed to the Ukrainian Russians– are just a tad leery of the international investigation as it seems unlikely the separatists could have brought down the plane without Russian help; see my blog posts here and here. […]

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