Malaysian flight MH17 “shot down” over Ukraine?

Updated 17th July at 2320

Since writing this, I’ve been watching the superior BBC journalism on Newsnight where they had the sense to interview someone from Jane’s. Apparently the separatists do have Buk missile launchers in the area, which is surprising. Did the Russian government really provide such a dangerous weapon? And apparently (I didn’t know this) a single launcher can operate in autonomous mode using on-truck forward-facing radar. Basically a goon with no overall tactical view – watching a blip on the radar can decide to shoot down the blip. There are rumours that the US tracked such a missile. This is scary, and derails the following conjecture. I’ve kept it for historical interest.

I’ve just been listening to the BBC reporting that “someone” in the Ukraine has shot down a Malaysian airliner flying overhead at 35,000′. Okay, it’s possible, and the fact it’s crashed is certainly a tragedy, but are any of these hacks aware that this is a long way up?

There are basically three kinds of Surface to Air Missiles. Before blaming the separatists, you have to realise that the hand-portable types (MANPADS) you’d associate with rebels aren’t really any good at shooting down much apart from attack helicopters or slow things close to the ground. Basically, don’t bother if it’s more than 10,000′ up. It’s possible that they have Igla Russian systems, but they couldn’t have used them.

There are portable systems that can hit targets that high – such as the Russian Buk. These are big beasts, built in to a truck. The separatists may have got tanks from somewhere, possibly with a nod and a wink from the Russian military – but are they going to really going to let a bunch of rebels have a Buk (SA-24)? It’s not something you’re going to miss like an old tank.

Could the Ukrainian government have done it? I don’t know whether the Ukrainian military has such a system; it probably does. But again, it’s not the kind of thing you’d fire off by mistake. Shooting at high-altitude jets isn’t going to be an accident, and why would they do it in purpose? Did they think it was a Russian military aircraft? I think not, but if they did, there are some complete idiots with dangerous weapons out there.

That leaves the Russian government – did they order it shot down? The same applies – why would they do that deliberately, and if it was an accident, it beggars belief.

The BBC is talking about missiles, but it could have been shot down “old school” with a fighter. Are the Ukrainians or Russians really going to shoot down a Malaysian airliner filling the windscreen of their MiG? That’d be crazy.

So I’m taking all this “shot down” news with a pinch of salt. Perhaps it suffered a failure and crashed; perhaps it was an on-board terrorist or bomb.

I think the BBC thinks the separatists (whom they don’t like) dunnit with a Stinger.

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