It was just a matter of time before a civil plane was shot down in Ukraine’s SAM-infested airspace

In spite of the amount of aircraft shot down by the rebels, civil airliners flew through the SAM-infested airspace of Eastern Ukraine with the risk of being mistakenly hit. As happened to the Malaysian Boeing 777.

It’s not a secret separatists own several anti-aircraft systems that they manage to use quite effectively. This week alone, they have shot down two military aircraft (an An-26 cargo plane near Luhansk on Jul. 14 and a Su-25 attack jet near Amvrosievka on Jul. 16) and, most probably, a civilian plane: MH17, earlier today.

USA Today infographic

Indeed, the Boeing 777 with 295 people on board, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was mistakenly shot down by the pro-Russia militia, who aimed at the Malaysia Airlines flight believing it was an AN-26 or another Ukrainian aircraft, as confirmed by some posts, then deleted on social media.

An-26 by accident

Even though there are reports that Russians personnel is supporting Ukrainian separatists on the field, it is quite likely the militia have become more proficient with such weapons by simply using them rather frequently against Ukrainian Air Force aircraft.

Obviously, every weapon system requires training. Unless you don’t have time for training: in this case you may use launchers and make mistakes, as downing a civilian plane instead of a surveillance one.

Confident no missile could be aimed at civil flights at cruising level, Ukrainian authorities had closed the airspace between the ground and 32,000 feet prior to the Malaysia Airlines incident. Therefore, airliners were routed through Kiev’s dangerous airspace in spite of the threat posed by uncontrolled SAM launchers.

When a missile hit MH17 1,000 above the ceiling of the restricted airspace, proving no aircraft is immune to deadly surface-to-air-missiles, Ukrainian airspace was partially closed.

Too late.

With so many anti-aircraft systems on the loose, it was just a matter of time a civil plane was threatened or, much worse, downed.

As happened to MH17.

Planefinder

Image credit: Planefinder.net;  USA Today, Reuters

 

About David Cenciotti 4426 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

3 Comments

  1. Hi, the only thing I can be sure of is that neither side is going to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. No surprise that they all accuse their opponents of media manipulation. So, I’m also trying to put pieces together, and two technical questions emerged:

    1. What is the precision of a BUK radar for measuring altitude? Could the operators mistakingly read that the plane was below 32000ft, and therefore deduce it was not civilian?

    2. Is it possible to mask a transponder response by planes supposedly flying in the vicinity?

    Thank you.

  2. Strelkov said it wasn’t him who posted it. He had been giving updates with one or two days delay, not live. Certainly never boasted like that. The Audio “evidence” of a Russian officer and militant talking was fake, spliced from several conversations, and created the day before the crash. So Strelkov’s denials ring true.

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