“All flights were being escorted by Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker jets over Eastern Ukraine” Aviation Journalist Claims

According to an aviation journalist, two Su-27 Flankers escorted the Malaysian Boeing 777 minutes before it was hit by one or more missiles.

Editor’s note: all the investigations in the incident have proved no Ukrainian Air Force jet was flying anywhere near MH-17 (this was also the Ukrainian Government official stance). Therefore, the account by Babak Taghvaee that you can read in this article is at least inaccurate, if not totally fake, as his description of the “picture” around MH-17 has been completely debunked. With that in mind, if you want, you can still read what he claimed. This story serves as a reminder that even trusted sources can be dangerously inaccurate, fueling speculations and sparking fake news.

There are still too many unanswered questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 over eastern Ukraine on Jul. 17, 2014. Among them, one of the most important deals with the possible error made by the operator inside the SA-11 “Gadfly” (“Buk”) TELAR (transporter erector launcher and radar) who did fire one or more missiles against a civilian plane.

Indeed, the operators inside the Buk could “read” the Boeing 777’s altitude and transponder and could easily identify the civilian plane enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flying at FL300 inside the eastern Ukraine’s airspace.

Why did they mistake a large civilian plane for a smaller Ukrainian Air Force surveillance plane?

Just a matter of poor training?

Iranian defense expert, author and AFM contributor Babak Taghvaee believes the mistake was caused by the fact the Malaysian Boeing 777 was escorted over eastern Ukraine. Taghvaee is always very well informed and an extremely reliable source. Therefore, after he provided some details about this activity of the Ukrainian Air Force on ACIG forum thread about the war in Ukraine, we contacted him for some more insight.

Here’s what he wrote to us.

“When the Crimea crisis began, the Ukrainian Air Force air command center quickly forward deployed six Su-27s to the Kulbakino AB. Since beginning of the crisis and the Russia intervention, the 831st TAB has the important task to provide air defense as well as security of whole country. Six fully armed Flankers have always been in the sky especially when the other Ukrainian Air Force airplanes such as transporters and attackers like Fulcrums and Rooks were in the East of Ukraine,” explains Taghvaee.

“But when the Su-25M1 was shot down by the Russia Air Force 6969th AB’s MiG-29 on Jul. 16, the situation and condition became more critical than previous days and more Su-27 sorties were conducted to confront Russian MiG-29s. I believe those two Su-27s were not in sky just for standard practice in that day [Jul. 17], I believe they were involved in HAVCAP (High  Asset Value Combat Air Patrol) mission sortie in that day.”

In other words: since the Russian interceptors had downed a Su-25 on the previous days, the Ukrainian escorted all military and civil flights over eastern Ukraine on Jul. 17. Including MH17.

“During the UEFA 2012, the 831st TAB and its Flankers had same role, during those competitions they had duty to escort the airliners in FL330 and other routes in case emergency. They played same role during the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia. They were airborne and they even escorted a hijacked airplane. They were also ready to provide security of all passenger airplanes over Ukraine. They are now following same procedure and they could protect all of the airplanes over Ukraine in-front of Russians since Jul 16.”

Provided the Su-27s were really escorting or (more likely) watching from their CAP station many, if not all, civil flights over Eastern Ukraine for the first time ever on Jul. 17, in the wake of the downing of the Su-25, the operators inside the Buk may have mistaken the Boeing 777 shadowed by/near two Flankers for a high-value plane of the Ukrainian Air Force. On their radar screens, the sight of a large plane with two accompanying (or circling in CAP not too far away) fighter jets was completely new and may only mean the Ukrainians were escorting an important plane. And that would be the reason why they downed it without spending too much time analysing its transponder code and altitude.

 Image credit: Ukraine MoD

H/T Babak Taghvaee and ACIG.info

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a 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 five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Excuses, excuses… First it was the Ukrainian government, then it was because MH 17 was
    flying in the exclusion zone, now it’s because they had an escort or were flying close too close to the CAP. OK so here is how this works… MH 17 was probably NOT being escorted. While I have no doubt that the Ukrainian AF had a CAP up, there is no reason to escort a civil aircraft unless it is being threatened or it is in distress (e.g. hijacked). Neither was the case…

    So did they fly too close to the CAP? Probably not, the CAP would stay out of the air route unless there was a threat or an aircraft was in distress. Aircraft in a CAP need to maneuver, operating in a known air route is restrictive, ergo they don’t do it.

    Basically, I believe the rebels thought they had a Ukrainian AF aircraft in their sights. They were looking for another kill, so decision to engage was a foregone conclusion unless some other information interrupted the decision chain. In the AF, we used to call that having their “fangs out.” Basically, they are focused on the kill so the sight picture will always default to a viable target. It’s a human factors issue that makes the operator see what he wants to see, discounting other non-confirmatory information (e.g. altitude, IFF, etc.). The F-15s engagement and shoot down of the Blackhawks over Turkey in 1994 was very much like this.

    In the real world of professional armed forces this kind of poor decision making is mitigated by professional training and qualification. If the operators were trained to simply start the system, track with the radar and fire a missile, then they would not be cognizant of the variables that would render a target hostile, friendly or neutral. They may have simply fired the system up, detected a potential target, wanted another kill and let one loose.

    So, the blame for this tragedy lies with the rebels (if they fired it) and those who trained and equipped them; not Malaysian Airlines, not the Ukrainian government and not ICAO. Whoever fired or facilitated the firing of that missile, whether intentionally or accidently targeting MH 17 bears the responsibility.

    • Thanks for the insightful reply. The only comment I have is that allowing civil planes to fly through such a dangerous zone was a big mistake; the plane should never have been there. So I wouldn’t say the Ukrainian government is entirely blameless in the matter.

      However, I do agree that the ultimate responsibility lies with the ones who called the shot.

      • Yeh id second that. Why declare an airspace *safe* and then escort it with 2 su27s? Hardly sounds safe to me. In fact here in lies the problem. It cant be the Ukrainians fault because they dont control that territory. As time and time stated its an area controlled by some rebel faction (which one is not clear) and so really it should have been the rebels that gave the GO / NO GO to overfly the area.

        • In case you didn’t know. On july 8 , Ukrainian Air Force closed the airzone in Eastern Ukraine because of the ¨anti-terrorist¨” killing operation.

          So the Control Towers must take responsibility for this . Instead of blaming Russia since the Airplane went down.

          Dont believe me? well here , even the Kyvivpost reported that day.


          • Yes, they can activate and de-activate restricted or prohibited area for military operations at will. The restriction only lasts as long as military operations are on-going. I suspect they closed the area so they could operate from a higher altitude to stay out of the range of shoulder fired SAMs. Then once they were finished with their operations they re-opened the airspace. Happens all the time… Thats why we have NOTAMs

      • True enough Ed, but the Ukrainian government working with ICAO and other international bodies assessed the risk as low above 31K since they had no intel that the rebels had a BUK 2 missile in the possession or were capable of using it. Malaysia was not the only aircaft to fly this route. Lufthansa, Singapore, et al. did as well. Flying around Ukraine is expensive and time consuming so if the government and ICAO say its safe, then they can proceed.

        Civil aircraft fly over contested terrain every day. Singapore airlines reported flying over Eastern Ukraine at 31K, they climb to 35K over Afghanistan. Afghanistan has no BUK 2 missiles or any other High Altude Air Defence assets. But they do have mountains that reach nearly 21K. At that altitude, a shoulder fires missile could reach a target at 31K. So Singapore Airline’s risk analysis requires it to fly up to 35K. BTW, no one is flying over Eastern Ukraine now.

        In retrospect flying there was a bad idea, but hindsight is 20/20 so they cannot be blamed for taking the international community’s word on that.

        • lol.you think a BUK systems is easy to fire? It’s normally accompanied with 2 supporting vehicles with Radars.
          The Separatists do not have the training nor possess these units!

          • Don’t be a dunce. While the TEL units typically do operate with other units to expand their capability, the TEL itself is capable of acquiring and engaging targets all by itself.

    • I do not agree with you. Malaysia Airlines had no business flying over a war zone, period. It is like Japan with its nuclear plants…they had no business there either, yet they built them and now we have a mess…Whenever you go into a conflict zone you know you can be a target….friendly-fire, collateral damage, etc…Any commercial airliners flying over a war zone is just stupid especially when weeks before you had planes being targeted. If you bring people to a dangerous place you bear responsibility. Someone get killed by a bear…who are you going to blame here? The bears? or the person who brought you there in the first place?

  2. 1st of all they KNEW they shut down a cargo plane – there were talks about this all over the net until they realized it was civil flight, so how could it be Su-27.

    2nd even if Ukraine operated Su-27 as CAP which is perfectly reasonable it looks like a lame excuse for rebels “we shut Su-27” but we hit the MH17

    3rd Iran had already blamed Israel in the conspiracy… and you refer to Iranian sources?

    I think this time it was really bad post with bad sources

    • It seems convenient that this story is now being released and quoting an “Iranian” security official right after the Russian government has pointed out they have radar images of the planes in the sky. The first thing to pay attention to is the fact that the Kiev authorities have already stated on the record that they had no planes in the sky that day. This is now proven to be a lie. They knowingly gave false information. Why?

      The next question to ask is why did they say they do not have BUK air defense systems in the warfront? This is also proven to be a lie at this point. John McCain went on record saying they didn’t have them yet the Associated Press ran an article related to them being used by the Ukrainian army on July 4th. The logical question is why did the Kiev forces have them if the rebels had no planes to shoot down? Seems a logical question doesn’t it?

      The third question to ask is why normal crash investigation protocol is not being followed. In all major crashes the first thing normally released is the air traffic controller data logs, radar images and recordings between the tower and the pilot. That has not taken place this time and there are rumors that the Ukrainian FSB has confiscated the data and jailed a Spanish air traffic controller who was working that day. According to Fox news he had tweeted that Ukrainian planes were in the sky behind the plane….and now his tweet seems to have come true but he is nowhere to be found and his Twitter and Blogpost accounts have been deleted. Screen caps of these tweets can be found at the IOUCO Facebook page.

      My theory is that those Ukie BUKs and those jets thought they were tracking Putins plane. They were wanting to kill two birds with one stone. Take out Putin and blame it on the rebels. They were following the orders of the US as Putin and the BRICS agreement has really got the powers that be literally “up in arms”. Like most Ukrainian endeavors they were incredibly sloppy with their false flag. (They are incredibly notorious for those by the way, Odessa, the Sniper Shootings, Mariupol) and even the Lughansk bombing). It backfired and now the US is trying to spin it as best they can. Hence the reason they are now changing the story about planes in the sky. They are trying to rewrite the narrative to match the facts as they come to light. Now they want to say they escorted planes through the zone daily to make themselves look like boy scouts. So sweet of them!

      If the US has nothing to hide it will release all the satellite data and show the birds in the sky behind the plane as well as the launch site for the BUk (provided there is one). After all it may have been one of those jets firing the missile. There are way too many unanswered questions and the US media juggernaut jumped into blame mode way too fast and have obviously avoided following normal investigative procedures. It is time to find out what really happened and quit relying on obviously bias organizations.

      One more thing to point out….after all the media hype about how the Novorossiya federalists were treating the bodies of the victims, the Dutch investigator showed up on Monday morning and said they had done a superb job of gathering the bodies and being respectful. he had nothing but praise for them. You won’t see it in the western press however as once again it doesn’t fit their decided narrative. This highlights their disingenuousness. The victims families deserve the truth….not political wrangling.

  3. I ca’t reply to some comments so I will “reply” here. Rebels couldn’t mistaken 777 for an-26 that Ukraine military uses and that was shot before. AN-26 has max ceiling of 7,5km and it usually flies bellow 5km well within the reach of MANPADS. and 777 was flying at 10km so there is no room for mistake, they could also detect by speed. That theory is a complete nonsense.

    “the mysterious disappearance of the Buk system only a day or so after the incident” so was it a day or so? That is another lie they never had any working BUKs and ANOTHER lie is that they prevented access, why you keep spreading these lies? OSCE denied that they were shot and prevented to reach site https://twitter.com/OSCE_SMM/status/490187980305616896 Dutch PM also said that they can access site https://twitter.com/mpoppel/status/490901471311835138 yet you keep spreading these lies. Its is also a lie that they were boasting about it on twitter, its a fake “fan page”

    • Here’s NTV http://www.ntv.ru/novosti/1085256/ Донецкие ополченцы сегодня обзавелись серьезным оружием для противодействия авианалетам (“Donetsk self-defense today received serious anti-air weapon”) speaking about “Buks” they received. This was reported on 29 June, three weeks before the MH17 shoot down.

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