The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on 17th July 2014 was a shocking event. 298 crew and passengers died. No one was able any longer to deny the high-altitude missile threat to airliners, about which I and others had been warning since 2009. Since the airliner was shot down in broad daylight, on course, on a designated airway (L980), and her transponder was operational, mistaken identity could be ruled out.

The media response to the release last week of the preliminary report of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been predictable. I haven’t seen a single piece of serious analysis in any British newspaper. This is probably a function of anti-Russian bias and aviation illiteracy.

The JIT report effectively accused the Russian Government of mass-murder, stating that a Russian SA-11 Buk Surface to Air Missile (SAM) launcher had been moved to a rebel-controlled area in eastern Ukraine before the shooting, and moved back afterwards. Since an SA-11 could only be operated by trained military personnel, who would not mistake a Boeing 777 airliner for a military jet, the imputation was clear.

The widely-touted theory that MH17 was brought down by mistake by pro-Russian rebels has been discredited and rightly so. Although they captured, or were allowed to capture, an SA-11 launcher, it lacked a radar, and could not therefore have brought down an airliner flying at 31,000 ft. Moreover, as both myself and colleagues at pointed out in 2014, to fire an SA-11 you need the launch codes. The rebels never had the codes.

To recap, MH17 was a Boeing 777-200 ER aircraft, registration 9M-MRD, which took off from Runway 36C at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 10:31GMT on Thursday 17th July for a non-stop flight to Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It carried four pilots, two of them a relief crew, needed on the long flight. All communication with the aircraft, both radio and satellite, ceased at 1320GMT, whilst the aircraft was over eastern Ukraine. It broke up in mid-air, with the debris hitting the ground at 13:30. From 31,000 ft it would have taken the larger pieces of wreckage no more than 60 seconds to fall from the sky.

Russian radar reported two contacts in close proximity to the aircraft. Ukrainian Air Traffic Control (ATC) primary surveillance radar was switched off, allegedly for maintenance. Although on a recognised airway the airliner should have been routed to the south, not least as the Ukrainian Government was alleging (falsely, as it turned out) that an An-26 military freighter had been shot down at around 20,000 ft by rebels using a high-altitude SAM. MANPADS (portable air defence systems) typically have a ceiling of around 15,000 ft.

The JIT is not independent. Not only were the participating states invited by Kiev, but they agreed to give Kiev a veto on any material embarrassing to the Ukraine. The JIT is also heavily dependent upon intelligence drip-fed to it by the Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU. The intercepts quoted last week are not only susceptible of other interpretations, but have not been verified and may not even be genuine, or, more likely, may have been edited.

The JIT also relies for much of its technical data on the Dutch Safety Board (OVV), headed by the controversial Dutch civil servant Tjibbe Joustra, who lacks aviation experience. The OVV report on MH17, released last year, is seriously flawed, with respect.

It concluded that MH17 had been brought down by a GN314M fragmentation warhead, fitted to several versions of the SA-11, which has distinctive ‘bow-tie’ shaped fragments, which were found in the wreckage and body of the co-pilot. According to the OVV this warhead detonated above and to the left of the cockpit, within a few feet. Since the SA-11 has a proximity fuse we would expect detonation outside the aircraft.

What the OVV does not try to explain however is why the warhead did not detonate earlier, as soon it had detected the aircraft. Since it was fired from below and the 777 was in level flight, we would expect an SA-11 to detonate below the aircraft. Furthermore, there is blast damage on the lower fuselage.

What’s more the pilot’s body did not have the distinctive ‘bow-tie’ shrapnel associated with the GN314M. The shrapnel damage to the port side of the aircraft is also not as extensive as we would expect with a 154 lb GN314M warheaddetonating within a few feet of the target. The GN314M is designed to destroy a bomber from 50 or more feet away. That close in, an airliner would have been shredded.

There are even bigger problems with OVV report. It discounts the initial Russian radar evidence, which consisted of video-footage of ATC screens, because the raw data was not available, but in an astute move the Russians released the data last week. It shows the missile, but rules out a launch from a rebel-held area. The OVV’s calculated 320 sq km launch area is also rejected by the missile manufacturer. The OVV also fail to account for the second target seen approaching MH17.

Their time-line also doesn’t work – there’s about 7.5 minutes missing.Two missile strikes however explains the impact damage, timeline, autopsy findings and the radar plots. Since the Ukrainians turned off their radar they have little to contribute on that score.

The first missile was probably a Vympel R-73 (NATO reporting name AA-11 Archer), a short-range, optical (via helmet-sight) and infra-red guided air to air missile, fired from the Ukrainian Su-25 observed on Russian radar. There is eyewitness evidence supporting a Ukrainian Su-25 returning to base minus a missile. The Su-25 can carry an AA-11 and the Ukrainians have an upgraded version, the Su-25M, well able to reach 31,000 ft with armour plating removed.

The evidence points away from Russia and towards the Ukraine. The British Government should back away, fast, from the JIT and OVV. Post-Brexit Russia could be a valuable friend and a key trade partner.


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