“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. The question is, why did these so-called separatists have such a toy in the first place? It is pretty certain that Russia supplied the weapon. All knew civil aviation was still overflying the Ukraine. Why was that airspace not denied to civil aviation? There were altitude restrictions in place, because everyone on both sides believed that MANPADS were the most capable air defense weapon in the hands of the separatists. Apparently, so did NATO to allow civil aviation to overfly a war zone.
    NATO should strike the province, and support the Ukraine and kill as many of these Russian surrogates as possible. Dare the Russian Bear to come out of its den. Otherwise, the Typhoons, Grippins, F16s, F15s, F22s, Mirages, Rafals, all are just show pieces. 298 people dead, because of what comes down to EGOs. What was the threat from 33,000 ft by a 777?
    The separatists need to be taught a lesson, the occupied areas need to be starved out with no fly zones at least 100 miles in diameter.
    The Ukraine needs to receive the latest NATO anti-armor and NATO air support.
    What the heck has the U.S. been supporting all these years with our troops, aircraft and armor–all of which has contributed to fat socialist economies, which failed to build up their own military for self defense. Uncle can’t do it all, folks.
    Get off your dead asses and show the Russians Europe is not a paper tiger, or succumb to Putin’s threats.
    Besides, doesn’t the Luftwaffe and the Bundeswehr have scores to settle . . . : )

    • The Luftwaffe certainly is not interested in helping a fascist, oligarch US installed junta bombing its own population with air planes, particularly not after the killings on Maidan and in Odessa.

    • Ha! As an Australian Merkel is no friend of ours… These aren’t her people, she doesn’t care except ongoing trade to the East… The US and UK are the same

  2. Kiev still has not provided audio files between flight control and the air plane. This is usually the first thing made public.

    • Wonder why…But they had VIDEO of truck (made in krasnoarmeisk, in Ukraine territory) and audio recordings which ,it seems,convinced anyone!

  3. Just because the rebels think there is a “no fly zone” (exclusion area) doesn’t make it one. A no fly zone is declared by the state that it is in, or by legal parties to a conflict. The People’s Republic of Donetsk cannot simply declare a no fly zone. They don’t have the authority. Moreover, no fly zone’s are coordinated with the aviation community so they can be declared in a Notice To Airman (NOTAM). The NOTAM for the Eastern Ukraine exclusion zone was up to 31K.

    Bottom line, a criminal act is a criminal act even if the perpetrator thinks his actions are legal. Still no excuse.

  4. Hi Latinik / Nastek2 –

    This graphic from IHS Janes might help you. Original source here: http://press.ihs.com/press-release/aerospace-defense-terrorism/ihs-media-statements-ukrainemalaysian-aircraft-incident

    Note that the maximum altitude of the MANPADS SA-16 Gimlet is 11 500 feet. The An-26 was flying at 21 300 feet when it was hit – almost twice the height of the SA – 16 ceiling and hence was not “well within reach of MANPADS”. And MH17 was at 33 000 feet.

    Furthermore it is entirely likely that a poorly trained operative staring at a radar screen might mistake another AN-26 for a B777, especially if it was cloudy at the time and hence no visual confirmation could be made.

    Also to say that no one knows but that evidence leans towards ‘x’ is not a contradiction, it’s expressing a degree of likelihood. I don’t hate Russia either, I just think it is more likely, based on the evidence, that the pro-Russia rebels shot down MH17 than the Ukraine forces.

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