The Nation

opinion

Smaller
Larger

Holes in story that rebels shot down MH17

Traditional wisdom goes that Malaysian Boeing MH17 was shot down by pro-Russian rebels, most likely by mistake. Rebels captured Buk missile launchers from the retreating Ukrainian army back in June but every side of the conflict insists those are not operational.

Russians could have supplied Buks too, and Ukrainians have pictures to show one missile launcher being driven to a possible launch location, but on close examination it turns out that none of this, ostensibly social network evidence, comes from any known social network users. All those photos and videos have been seeded to Twitter and Youtube either by Ukrainian security services or anonymously, and in some cases by someone impersonating a rebel leader.

The photo of a missile trail shows clear blue sky when all the other pictures taken on that day show clouds, and all weather satellites show a solid cloud cover at that time, too.

Even if these pictures are real, sending one missile launcher makes no military sense. It's supposed to be a part of a system which needs a separate radar and a separate command vehicle, and a separate reloader truck, too. Even if all these parts were present, one launcher does not make any difference because it can cover only a limited sector of a sky and engage only one target at a time. A typical battery has a dozen of launchers, for example, and, according to Russian intelligence, Ukrainians moved 27 of those to the region.

A single Buk launcher can still shoot on its own but Russians don't train even their own army in this mode of operation. Using it this way would be an act of desperation, when everything else fails. It also costs as much as ten tanks and with four missiles it can't be much of use even if everything else falls in place. Rebels have shot down more than a dozen Ukrainian aircraft without it already, why would they even bother?

Another argument is the location of the crash site and location of possible rebel missile launch calculated from the aforementioned missile trail photo - it falls just within firing range of Buk (about 30km) whereas a Boeing flying at 900kmh would have been hit many many kilometres earlier. Just for scale - one Boeing captain says that if engines ran out of fuel the plane still could be flown for about 70km farther. We don't see any possible missile damage to the engines so they could have worked for quite sometime after the missile hit, meaning that it's very likely the plane was shot way outside rebels' Buk range.

It is still possible that it was rebels who did it, but this possibility requires a lot of unlikely conditions to be met.

Volk Tambovski


Comments conditions

Users are solely responsible for their comments.We reserve the right to remove any comment and revoke posting rights for any reason withou prior notice.