Sukhoi v. Boeing
… by Michael Shrimpton
I am not talking about the Sukhoi company suing the Boeing Company! I refer of course to the controversy prompted by Captain Heisenko’s revelation of cannon holes, both entry and exit, in the cockpit section of MH17.
Not all the comment in response to last week’s column was terribly constructive (shame on you Keith Fray, if that is your real name!) Some of the comment however was fair, e.g. from Walter Baeyens, and deserves a considered response. The MSM of course has ignored Captain Heisenko’s work, which doesn’t fit with the ‘let’s blame the Russians’ agenda.
Here on VT we don’t have an agenda, other than to tell the truth and provide as penetrating an analysis for our readers as we can. That’s because almost every columnist comes from the Clandestine Community, or has worked with it.
The duty of an intelligence officer is to speak truth to power. The duty of the intelligence writer is to speak truth to the public. There are two misconceptions about the MH370 shootdown I should clear up straight away. I thought I had done, but apparently not, to judge from last week’s comments!
First Misconception – MH17 “was hit by a missile”
We had this with AF447, where people ruled out a long-range SAM attack because there was no evidence that the plane was hit by a missile. The Airbus depressurized slowly and as I argue in Spyhunter that is consistent with the airliner’s hull having been shredded with missile fragments.
Warhead detonation outside the hull is what we would expect with a proximity fuze. It is perfectly clear that MH17 was not hit by the missile which brought it down. All known variants of the Buk, including the Chinese HQ-16 use proximity fuzing.
With proximity fuzes we would expect warhead detonation some distance from the target. There are different types of proximity fuze and different settings, but detonation could have taken place up to several hundred feet away.
That analysis is supported by the debris field. It’s fairly compact and consistent with the cockpit section only breaking away at a fairly low altitude. Think back to Lockerbie – the wreckage was spread over many square miles. It’s one reason why we can fairly safely rule out an IED.
The concept of proximity fuzing is not new. It was first developed, with magnetic fuzing, for mines and torpedoes. As the late David Brown RCNC argued in Nelson to Vanguard (Naval Institute Press, 2000, UK edition Pen & Sword 2012) magnetic proximity fuzing posed a real hazard for warships. The idea was to detonate the warhead – mine or torpedo – below the hull, thus bypassing the torpedo protection system. HMS Belfast had a good protection system, but she was crippled in 1939 by the blast from a magnetic mine beneath her hull, with massive shock damage.
The ship whipped through nearly five feet. She didn’t rejoin the Fleet until November 1942. A valuable unit, she was much missed. My late friend David Cox’s father was involved in the pioneering work at Pye in Cambridge from 1939 on proximity fuzes for AA shells. That technology went across to you guys after Pearl Harbor and was put to good use by the US Navy in the Pacific, saving many ships and lives.
You don’t need to hit an aircraft to bring it down. You just need to damage its engines or systems. MH17 was never hit by a SAM. She was brought down by a SAM – there is a big difference.
Second Misconception – the fighter(s) were ordered to shoot the 777 down
It is perfectly clear that if, as I accept, MH17 was hit by cannon fire, the cannon fire was intended to kill the pilots and/or disable the controls, to prevent the target turning away from the target area. It had to be shot down over or near rebel-held territory, to suit the planned narrative. Once the intercepting aircraft had acquired the target it would have been easy to shoot it down, but the damage from cannon rounds is confined to the cockpit area.
Why? If the fighter/attack aircraft was intent on bringing the plane down it would have gone for the engines, the unprotected fuel tanks in the wings (airliners do not have protected or self-sealing tanks, so are vulnerable to cannon fire into the wings) or continued to walk fire further back down the fuselage, in the hope of knocking out further systems, including hydraulic, or hitting a lower fuselage center section tank.
Since the rebels do not have fighters an air to air shootdown would not fit with the Ukrainian/German narrative. It had to look like the rebels or the Russians did it.
Walter Baeyens is fairly scathing about the Su-25, but there some points he has overlooked, with respect. Firstly, as someone pointed out in the comments section, the SU-25 has been upgraded and Ukraine has acquired a small number of the upgraded version.
There are two particularly relevant upgrades to your basic, mud-moving Su-25, which turn it into a potential interceptor. The first is the PRsK-25SM nav attack system and associated digital fire control computer.
The second is the Kopyo airborne interception radar, available as an under-fuselage pack. These two systems combined suggest that an upgrade Su-25SM could intercept a fast-moving target at an angle, e.g. by coming in its port quarter, aiming to take out the pilot. One mustn’t forget one advantage you get using cannon as opposed to a missile.
With a cannon you can load tracer rounds and walk fire into the target. Just because only a few rounds hit it does not mean only a few rounds were fired. My guess is that the Ukrainian pilot offset ahead of the 777 and walked fire into the cockpit.
With an attack from the port quarter (I don’t think more than one aircraft opened fire – I suspect the starboard holes are exit holes, made by depleted uranium armor-piercing rounds) the attacking aircraft need not match the target’s speed. The 25’s maximum speed of around Mach .80 therefore doesn’t come into play as a limiting factor.
I respectfully agree with Walter Baeyens that it is easier to attack from the stern, but a flank attack is possible if you have the right kit and training. The killer pilot will have been training for this mission for weeks. I have already made the point that the plane may have been lightened for the mission by removal of its heavy titanium armor, and had its drag profile reduced by removal of pylons and refueling probe.
Final point on performance: you have to be careful with quoted performance figures for military aircraft. Do they relate to combat power, or sustainable power? Most military engines can be boosted for short periods.
Again the concept goes back to WWII, when high performance military engines could be boosted temporarily. The ‘Jerries’ preferred nitrous oxide, as on the Bf 109G, whereas we and you guys went for water-methanol injection.
Water can also be injected into turbine engines (the Su-25 uses small turbojets in the 10,000 lb thrust class), giving you a temporary increase in performance. You can also get enhanced performance with a temporary throttle setting, for say 10 minutes, after which you risk losing the engine.
The Su-25 in this case might have been capable of Mach .90 for a short period. FL330 is not a problem, for a limited period only, at combat power.
Lack of a plume
This point is being made by a number of critics of the SAM theory. There is no missile exhaust plume visible in photos taken near the crash. The Buk certainly leaves a missile plume but it dissipates fairly quickly, depending on wind of course.
When were the photographs taken? It would have taken some minutes for the photographer to reach the scene, which is fairly remote, albeit there are settlements nearby.
It’s unlikely they were taken within ten minutes of the shootdown. More to the point, since the missile was launched from Ukrainian controlled territory, we wouldn’t expect to see a plume over rebel-held territory, where the photographs were taken. Since the aircraft continued to fly for some distance beyond the interception point – remember 500 knots equates to about 9 miles a minute – the launch point could have been anything up to 30 or even 40 miles away from the crash site.
The warhead probably would have detonated below or close to the 777’s nosecone radar, onto which it would have locked, the Buk being a semi-active system. It would not necessarily have taken out the engines. We will probably find turbine blade damage consistent with the Rolls-Royce Trents having spooled down to flight idle power by the time of the crash, as command inputs were terminated, sadly along with the pilots.
Power might have been available however for 2-3 minutes after warhead detonation, during which the target might have moved 25 miles downrange, decelerating slowly.
Any reason to change my opinion? At this stage no, indeed I am not getting any negative feedback from within INTELCOM.
I still call this a shootdown by a specially-trained Chinese crew on a HQ-16 SA-17 system, using a single missile fired in semi-active homing mode, the target having been positively identified on IFF-equipped passive phased array radar, backed up by flight-tracking software and Kiev ATC data, as MH17.
The Ukrainian government was in the loop high up the payroll, the attack was planned over many weeks and the motive was to discredit Russia and that nice chap President Putin in particular. The missile attack was preceded by an airborne interception by a single, specially-modified upgraded Su-25SM attack aircraft using a 30-mil cannon, firing uranium-depleted rounds into the cockpit.
MH17 was directed into the kill zone by Kiev ATC, with armed Ukrainian intelligence officers in the tower, and escorted to the kill zone by two Ukrainian Su-27 fighters, which did not engage, as their systems lacked the ‘low lethality’ of the Su-25SM.
Classic Movie of the Week – Dr No (1963), dir. Terence Young
This brilliantly directed and innovative spy movie has arguably the most famous and erotic scene in all the Bond movies – Honey Rider, played by Ursula Andress, slowly emerging from the sea. Sean Connery of course plays Bond.
He is usually rated the best of the Bond actors, although not by me. I reserve that accolade, controversially perhaps (especially for someone as controversy-averse as myself!), for Australian George Lazenby, the only Bond actor to have had a special forces background.
It is the first of the movies, based on Ian Fleming’s superb spy novel of the same name, published in 1958. The movies are out of sequence with the books, partly because Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli never acquired the movie rights to the first Bond book, Casino Royale. In my humble opinion (and all y’all know by now how humble I am!) Jack Lord is the best Felix Leiter there has ever been.
None of the movies comes up to the books, but you can see why the movie was such a sensation back in ‘63. The music is wonderful, the opening credits still look good, and some of the acting is superb. Joseph Wiseman makes a splendid baddie, whilst the Superintendent could have come straight from central casting.
The Jamaican setting is wonderfully evocative. It’s still worth watching. They’ll still be showing it in fifty years, long after its critics have moved on to pastures new. The fictional SPECTRE was of course modeled on the DVD, about which Ian Fleming was well-informed.
Never forget that writing books was just his day job. Poignantly, Dr No was the only Bond movie released before Ian Fleming, the greatest intelligence thriller writer of all time, was assassinated by the German DVD, using poison.
Michael Shrimpton is a barrister, called to the Bar in London 1983. He is a specialist in National Security and Constitutional Law, Strategic Intelligence and Counterterrorism.
Michael was formerly an Adjunct Professor of Intelligence Studies in what was then the Department of National Security, Intelligence and Space Studies at the American Military University.
Michael’s ground-breaking, 700 page intelligence text “Spyhunter: The Secret History of German Intelligence” was published in England by June Press on April 14th 2014.