Now almost no one doubts that the Malaysian Boeing MH17 was hit from the Buk anti-aircraft missile system. At the same time numerous evidence points to the Ukrainian military jet (presumably Su-25) in the area of the Boeing crash. But then what was it doing there? Analysis of reliably known data gives every reason to believe that the Boeing MH17 was accidentally shot down during training combat shooting of Ukrainian anti-aircraft units (i.e., in fact, just as in 2001 they shot down the Russian TU-154 passenger plane over the Black Sea), and the Su-25 military jet was supposed to launch R-60 air-to-air missiles, converted to targets for the Buk anti-aircraft missile systems. However, the 9M38 surface-to-air missile that was launched by the Buk-M1 system hit the Boeing MH17 instead of the target (as the Su-25 pilot captain Voloshin said after his return from the mission: «A plane happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time»).
(Этот материал на русском языке см. «Как был сбит «Боинг» MH17»)
It is need to start from afar. As known from the open sources, after a five-year break caused by the downed Tu-154 plane incident, since 2006 the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces almost every year (except 2009 and 2013) in early autumn conducted final tactical exercises with live missile launches at the Chauda training range in Crimea. In all those exercises, only the Tu-143 Reis and Tu-141 Strizh unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), left over from the Soviet Army, were used as targets for the Buk missile systems. They never had any other aerial targets except for the parachute lighting projectiles, which served as targets for the short-range missiles (e.g., the Osa air defense missile system and Igla MANPADS).
The Ukrainian army got two regiments and three separate squadrons of the Tu-143 and Tu-141 UAVs after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, over time, stocks of these UAVs decreased significantly for a number of reasons: sales to other countries, using as targets in the air defense exercises, restrictions on reuse (no more than 5 flights), etc. In the end, this inevitably led to a shortage of the aerial targets. So, if the interruption in the exercises in 2009 is due to a number of incidents in the Chauda-2008 exercises, when one of the missiles exploded immediately after the start, and two flew in the wrong direction, then in 2013 the exercises were not held, most likely, due to problems with aerial targets. Besides, after the beginning of hostilities in Donbass, the still remaining Reis and Strizh UAVs began to be used for their primary purpose (i.e. for aerial reconnaissance), and the possibility of shooting at them as targets was practically excluded. Therefore, taking into account the loss of its only specialized training range on Chauda in Crimea, by the summer of 2014 the Ukrainian air defense had to urgently solve two problems: where now to carry out training combat shooting (which had not been carried out for two years), and what aerial targets to use instead of the Tu-143 Reis and Tu-141 Strizh UAVs?
As is known, obsolete or decommissioned missiles (most often, surface-to-air), converted in the required way by their designers and manufacturers, are usually used as training targets for anti-aircraft missile systems in the Russian Armed Forces. Without a doubt, this is an easiest and least expensive way to create aerial targets which also solves the problem of recycling old missiles. And since it is, of course, incomparably easier to convert your own developments than someone else's, the question arises: which of the missiles created at Ukrainian enterprises could have been converted to aerial targets for the Buk anti-aircraft missile systems?
By that time, Luch KB (Kiev, Ukraine) had already designed several experimental missiles of different classes, but using them as training targets was out of the question then. In addition, Artem Company (Kiev, Ukraine) serially produced the R-27 and R-40 air-to-air missiles, designed by Vympel KB (Moscow, Russia), but those missiles were not suitable for the role of targets for the Buk systems because of their too high speed. And finally, Arsenal State Enterprise (Kiev, Ukraine) designed and produced the heat seeker heads for the R-60 and R-73 air-to-air missiles (now the seeker heads for the R-60 missiles are produced by Progress RPC in Nizhyn, Ukraine). As far as is known, more anything suitable was never designed and produced at the Ukrainian enterprises. Thus, only the R-60 and R-73 missiles could claim the role of training targets for the Buk systems. But if the R-73 still continued to be the main short-range air-to-air missile, then the long-outdated R-60 was just right for shooting at it, especially since targets on its base, under certain conditions, may well imitate aircraft and cruise missiles, against which the Buk-M1 system is intended.
1. heat seeker head (seeker head section); 2. warhead; 3. safety-executive mechanism; 4. steering mechanism; 5. autopilot; 6. fuse antenna; 7. radar navigation computer; 8.turbogenerator; 9. gas-generator; 10. rocket motor; 11. rolleron.
Device R-60 missile ((Марковский В., Перов К., Ракета находит цель.// Крылья Родины. No. 9 / 1995)
Under transforming the R-60 missile into the training target, they could limit themselves to changes only of the seeker head section, i.e. only what has been designed and produced by the Ukrainian enterprises. First of all, it is necessary to install a new firmware there in order to programmatically set some specific missile flight trajectory, i.e. during the flight this "pseudo-seeker" should give signals to the autopilot control device as if it had captured and followed a target flying in some specified way. In addition, a radar reflector (e.g., the Luneberg lens or the corner reflector) can be placed there to increase the radar cross-section (RCS).
Educational detachable model of the R-60 missile in the Lipetsk center for training of aviation personnel and military trials of the defense Ministry of Russia named after V. P. Chkalov, 27.01.2012. (photo - Vitaly Kuzmin, http://vitalykuzmin.net)
In the R-60 missile, the seeker head section is joined by a flange connection, and to replace it, enough to unscrew the four bolts and disconnect the contacts. So they could easily replace a seeker head section to a new one (made, for instance, at the said Progress RPC in Nezhin) even in a weapons warehouse in a military unit where the missiles are stored.
Seeker head OGS-60TI Komar in the educational detachable model of the R-60 missile. Museum of Air Defense Forces, Moscow region, 2011 (http://viewside.livejournal.com)
Of course, the air-to-air missiles, for obvious reasons, are never used as training targets for the anti-aircraft missile systems. However, they simply had no other choice then, since any other solution would require incomparably large time-consuming, whereas such «pseudo-seekers» for the R-60 could be made in just a few months or even weeks.
As for where to carry out combat shooting in the absence of a specialized training range (their current Yagorlyk training range in the Kherson region began to function only a few years later), at that time the most suitable, if not the only possible, place for military exercises with live missile launches was the region directly adjacent to the combat area in Donbass. This ensured that the exercises were conducted close to the most likely theater of operations in the event of a possible war with Russia and in conditions as close as possible to combat; and most importantly, if during the launches even something would explodes or falls from above, then it is hard to surprise anyone there. Objective monitoring data (such as satellite imagery or statistical information about the number of functioning radars 9S18 Kupol of the Buk-M1 system), submitted by the Russian Ministry of Defense on the special briefing 21.07.2014, says in the period from at least 15 to 17 July 2014, the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces conducted tactical exercises with the participation of several artillery battalions of the Buk-M1 missile systems near Donetsk (including the area of Zaroshchenske village, from where, as shown by the ground experiments of the Almaz-Antey Concern with the detonation of the missile warhead near the plane cabin, the 9M38 missile, which shot down the Boeing MH17, was launched).
At the press conference on May 24, 2018, the Joint Investigation Group (JIT) presented the fragments of the engine of the 9M38 anti-aircraft missile with the number 8869032, preserved on its surface (as it turned out later, they purchased those fragments from local residents who found them in the area of the Boeing crash). At the same time, JIT claimed that the fragments found belonged to the missile that hit the Boeing. However, the JIT lost all interest in them immediately after the Russian Defense Ministry, based on archival documents, proved that the said engine was installed on a missile with the serial number 886847379, which in 1986 entered service with the current 223rd anti-aircraft Missile Regiment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Also it's known that from 2014 the divisions of that regiment on a permanent basis were involved in the Donbass area. But if, in fact, there are not sufficient grounds to assert with complete certainty that the Boeing was hit by this particular missile] (e.g., it could have been shot down by one of the divisions of the 156th anti-aircraft Regiment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which went from Mariupol somewhere, as they said, " to the training ground" just before the MH17 crash, as stated in the film-investigation of the former Security Service of Ukraine officer Vasily Prozorov, and mentions of which began to appear in the media immediately after the Boeing crash), then the question remains: how did the fragments of the anti-aircraft missile 9M38, owned by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, end up there? The probability of their appearance as a result of the combat use of the Buk-M1 systems by the Ukrainian air defense against enemy aircraft is completely excluded, since the Donetsk militia did not have not only aviation, but also drones, and if, for example, any Russian aircraft (drone) were seen there, then an incredible noise would immediately rise. So, the said fragments could appear there only after training launches, – otherwise nowhere. Thus, the members of the JIT, apparently unwittingly, actually proved that even if on July 17, 2014, the Boeing MH17 was shot down not by this, but by some other missile, then this area was still used earlier (later – hardly) by the Ukrainian air defense as a temporary site for training combat launches from the Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems. But since 2001, everyone knows well how their exercises can end.
In the area of the MH17 crash, the Russian system of air control detected the Ukrainian Air Force aircraft, supposed Su-25. Numerous eyewitness accounts also speak about the Ukrainian military jet in that area. Some of them even noticed how the jet launched a missile. Also I can add from myself that almost immediately after the crash, a short (about forty seconds) video was posted on YouTube, which showed two fragments of the Boeing that are slowly parachuting in the sky (the fragments had a relatively low speed of falling because of their large windage). Unfortunately, then I didn't think to save that video. Despite the far from the best image quality (vertical frame, low resolution of the camera, etc.), the video, without a doubt, was able to generate a lot of interest and could collect a huge number of views, especially since it was almost the only one filmed directly during the fall of the Boeing. However, it was no longer available on YouTube after only a few hours. As it is easy to guess, the reason for this lay in the fact that at least two voices were heard off-screen, and among other things they were talking about a military aircraft flying there (however, I do not exclude that the plane itself could get into the frame). Here is remarkable not so much another evidence of a Ukrainian military jet in the area of the Boeing crash – after all, it could have been there by accident – as the fact that someone needed to hide this hastily. In this regard, you can still remember how just three hours after the MH17 crash, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense official hastened to say that their aircrafts did not fly at all that day. Therefore, there is no doubt not only the fact that an aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force was there, but the fact that it was in one way or another involved in the crash of the Boeing MH17.
In June 2015, Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation published the witness testimony of a former Ukrainian military contractor Yevgeny Agapov (and even earlier, in December 2014, the Editorial Board of the KP newspaper provided a transcript and a video of a conversation with him). From his testimony it follows that a few days before the MH17 crash the long-decommissioned R-60 air-to-air missiles on urgent command were taken from the warehouse and installed on two Su-25 jets, although before that all the aircrafts flew without the air-to-air missiles. On the day of the Boeing crash, captain Voloshin flew on one of these Su-25 jets, but he returned from the mission already without the R-60 missiles. Therefore, there were suggestions that the Su-25 could have shot down the Boeing MH17. But it is hard to believe that they really wanted to use a hopelessly outdated missile, even with an expired service life, for its intended purpose. The witness, of course, might not have known that these R-60 missiles most likely had the seeker head section replaced with a «pseudo-seeker», or they have been transformed into targets in some other way.
The scheme of the air situation in the Donetsk area was presented at the special briefing of the Russian Defence Ministry on 21.07.2014 (control of the air situation was carried out at an altitude of more than 5000 m).
Here, for the Su-25 aircraft (No. 3505), obviously, due to someone's inattention, the detection height H = 10000 m was indicated incorrectly, although from the context it's clear that there should be H = 5000 m. On the scheme you can see only a small fragment of a trajectory of flight of the Su-25 jet, indicating that before the MH17 crash it was at an altitude of more than 5000 m for quite a short time, during which it abruptly changed the direction of movement by almost 180°. As can be assumed, immediately before this, it launched the R-60 target missile and therefore had to immediately perform a combat turn to fly in the opposite direction from the launched target. Probably, it was only then that the Su-25 pilot noticed the Boeing flying directly into the zone of attack of the Buk-M1 system and therefore, as follows from the data of the Russian Ministry of Defence, returned back a few minutes later to monitor the situation.
Of course, during the training combat shooting, the Dnipropetrovsk (Dnipro since 2016, Ukraine) air traffic control center tried to take some measures to ensure the safety of planes flying along the international route. Most likely, it's this, and not the alleged need to bypass the thunderstorm front, that explains the deviation of the Boeing from the left border of the established air corridor for 14 km in the North direction, i.e. in the opposite direction from Zaroshchenske village, from where shooting was to be conducted (apparently they thought that this would be enough). But, probably, because of inconsistency of actions of the military and the air traffic controllers the plane ahead of time began to return to limits of the air corridor which at that time was within range of the missiles launched by the Buk-M1 anti-aircraft system from the Zaroshchenske area. Therefore, apparently, it was not for nothing that the Ukrainian special services hid the dispatcher who led MH17 the very next day after the crash - if, for example, it had been shot down by the Donetsk militia, then the dispatcher of this flight would hardly be of any interest to anyone.
The primary locator of the Utes-T radar complex in Ust-Donetsky (Rostov region, Russia) did not detect any air objects near the Boing MH17 before the crash. This suggests that the 9M38 missile that hit it could not fly from the east, i.e. from the direction of the cities of Snizhne or Shakhtarsk, as JIT claims. The missile could fly only from the south (i.e. from the Zaroshchenske area) or from the north (that is excluded). Someone may have a question as to why the Su-25 jet and the R-60 target missile it launched were not detected by that locator. For the R-60 missile, this is obviously due to the fact that throughout the entire (or almost the entire) flight it was at an altitude of less than 5000 m, i.e. below the radar visibility zone. As for the Su-25, the data on it, relating to the period of time that preceded the destruction of the Boeing MH17 were presented at the special briefing of the Russian Ministry of Defense on 21.07.2014, apparently, on the basis of other sources than the Ust-Donetsky route locator. A fragment of the flight trajectory of the Su-25 jet, shown on the scheme (i.e. when it was at an altitude of more than 5000 m), makes it possible to conclude that before the U-turn, the angle between its velocity vector and the direction to Ust-Donetsky was at least 70°, and since its speed was equal to 400 km/h (or 111 m/s), its radial component was less than the radial detection speed for this type of locators, which ranges from 40 to 60 m/s. Of course, during making the U-turn, this angle was changing by 180°. But given that the review period of the locator is equal to 9.6 s, and the radial component of the Su-25 velocity, as can be roughly calculate, exceeded the threshold detection speed during a shorter time interval, then with a certain degree of probability, the aircraft might not have left a single locator mark at all.
Author of the publication Yuri Storchakov,
mathematician, Developer Systems automatic control
(Этот материал на русском языке см. «Как был сбит «Боинг» MH17»)