How An Su-25 Can Shoot Down A Faster, Higher-Flying Aircraft


Early in Len Deighton's Funeral in Berlin, his nameless British agent (he was Harry Palmer in the movies) confronts his long-time adversary, Colonel Stok. The KGB man goes all sentimental and explains that his plan is to use the defection of a top scientist to fund his own escape and retirement. 

"What would you do in my position, Mr Dorf? What would you do?"

I let the sound of the lorry rumble away down Keibelstrasse. 

I said, "I'd stop telling lies to old liars for a start, Stok. Do you really think I came here without dusting off your file?  I know everything about you from the cubic capacity of your Westinghouse refrigerator to the size your mistress takes in diaphragms."

Which is just about my reaction to the Sovi... er, Russian explanations, official and otherwise, for the shootdown of MH17. Let's take two that have floated around the Internet. 

The first is that the Ukrainian air force shot the Boeing 777 down itself, using a Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot carrying an R-60 Aphid air-to-air missile (the only AAM normally carried by the Su-25). This would require some remarkable timing and a pilot immune to nose-bleeds, because the Su-25 can manage Mach 0.82 flat out, on a good day, and a 777 can do 0.89, and furthermore the Su-25 is unpressurized and has a normal service ceiling of 23,000 feet. No doubt coincidentally, on the day this claim was published, a Wikipedia editor with a Russian address was found trying to insert a 33,000-foot ceiling on the Su-25 page. As for the R-60, the 3 kg warhead's ability to assure a kill on a large aircraft with highly redundant systems is dubious at best. 

A second theory is that two Ukrainian Su-27 fighters trailed the Boeing and somehow drew the missile on to it. Aside from the fact that the Buk-M1 is about as discriminating as a Rottweiler with ADHD, and that it could be activated at such a short range that the Su-27s would be inside its no-escape zone, the weakness of this story is its extreme similarity to the KGB-disseminated excuse for the shootdown of KAL 007, 31 years ago. The story then was that an RC-135 was deliberately shadowing the civilian 747, possibly using it to "ring the fire alarm" and gather data on Soviet air defenses. 

Bears don't have spots, but if they did, they'd have a hard time changing them.

Discuss this Blog Entry 23

on Jul 25, 2014

Stories that Su-25 planes fly under the cover of civil planes and come only only out for bombing their targets are widespread in the region.

Here is a month old video where someone already expected that the Ukrainian army would shoot down a civil plane:

on Jul 25, 2014

I'm amazed at how many people naively swallowed the Russian drivel, otherwise called propaganda for a reason.

on Jul 25, 2014

I try to figure out the performance capability of an SU-25. If i take the medical aspect of 23000 ft with unpressurized cockpits than there is a limit of 7 minutes at this high, but where is the limit with out pressurized cockpit but with oxygen mask and where is the limit with out pressurized suid? And i think to intercept an Air Plane with fixed or known fligth route is not so difficult.

on Jul 25, 2014

God bless me to know some languages...I am sorry,,if I missed something,but if I got the right press release, MD of Russia asked :Did Ukrainians escorted the Boeing using two Su-27? and Did they have in some period of time some Su-25 flying there?...I did not rephrase the questions,that is only my interpretation...I dont like to make a spam or to look like troll, I try only to understand for me only the situation...

on Jul 26, 2014

We will probably never know what happened. With both US and Russian 'facts' being of great importance to their own case, we just can't trust any of them.
Anyway, it is highly unlikely that Ukrain ordered in Su-25 (and not 27?) to shoot down an ally, If it used MH17 as a shield, they're surely not going to tell anyone, nor will any party that lured a missile to the flight or shot it down to incriminate others. So please don't take any 'proof' as a reason to interfere in a war that was never ours (as were Iraq, Afghanistan, Tsjetsjenia, Somalia...)..
This plane was at the wrong time and place, it must be treated as an accident, lessons learned, victims mourned, no more.,

on Jul 29, 2014

"an accident"? an accident would be a missile firing itself
in this case, a missile launch team intentionally targeted an aircraft and blew it out of the sky
in any legal system on earth, that is premeditated murder
i'm sorry, but i don't think we're just going to walk away from the murder of 289 innocents
we're not living in that kind of world, not if I have anything to say about it

on Jul 30, 2014

Premeditaded murder it may be, but if you can't prove who did it it's not gonna help anyone. Nor is listening to either Russian, separatist, or Ukrain propaganda to punish the others. If there is a lesson to be learned, please let it be that civil aviation must avoid warzones. The rules that apply to the west simply don't apply to places like Russia, so don't risk innocent victims by sending them there. If airspace is prohibited because of a volcano eruption, why is it free over areas where helicopters are shot down and fully armed Migs roam the airspace with pilots full of arenalin and shitty radar equipment? Why else do we issue NOTAM's?

on Jul 31, 2014

I agree that Malaysian Airlines and any airline in general who knowingly flies paying passengers over a live-fire combat zone is guilty of reckless endangerment.

To pawn responsibility for the safety of the routing decision off on the local governments is patently absurd - it is the airline who bears responsibility for the flight's safety, and in this case Malaysian Airlines should be charged with contributory negligence in the deaths of their passengers.

Nonetheless and regardless of the Malaysian Airlines negligence, there were many flights routed over that portion of the Ukraine and Russia that morning, all trusting that the weapons of war would not be trained on them.

Yet that IS exactly what happened. A fire team armed with powerful and sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons intentionally acquired MH17, targeted MH17, and blew them out of the sky. Regardless of the uniform they were wearing, those soldiers are all guilty of premeditated murder, and they WILL be found and punished. If they were following orders of superior officers, THEY will be found and punished. Trust me on that.

You'd prefer we forget about those who died, call it an "accident" and be done with it. But the souls of the murdered are unquiet, my friend. We are bound by law and duty to see justice done, that they may rest in peace.

on Jul 19, 2015

Actually, while this is a terrible tragedy, there is a case to be made here, and a lesson for aviators and airlines. The BUK system has several variants. The variety sent by Russia has a targeting system that is able to tie into commercial IFF's, to avoid improper targeting. Whomever the firing officer was in command of this battery apparently never bothered to coordinate this function with the targeting program, and that's the "legal" liability (potentially, the final results of the inquiry are yet to be announced). As for airline routing, sure, one would hope the routing officers err on the side of caution, but remember, the rebel forces have no aircraft, and the air activity in the region was generally below 10,000ft, much of it rotary wing or ground attack. The commercial flights were all within well designated corridors, and none of the opposing forces had given any indication of wanting to shut those routes down. There is enough fault to go around for everyone. Still, a tragedy.

on Jul 31, 2014

Please stay on topic - this is an aviation site, not a forum for your political opinions.

on Aug 2, 2014

Wow so how far up the Vincennes chain would you go? The Sailor that pressed the button? The officer than gave the command? The captain of the cruiser? The Admirial in charge of the Persian Gulf? All the way to the US president?

on Aug 3, 2014

Oh, Bob - you know how far up the chain they went. The Vincennes is a historical data file - go read up on it.

We're not talking about a shoot-down in self-defense like the Vincennes, Bob. We're talking about a premeditated act of mass murder.

This isn't a debate, it's a search for justice. Just sit on the sidelines if you don't have the stomach for it, Bob.

on Jul 30, 2014

Prior any investigation, the Western propaganda jumped onto the conclusionof the Russian guilt. It reminded me of the WMD in Irak and the mess in Syria. those acusation are a total fraud. The first guilt is MH that had to divert from unfriendly skies,

on Jul 30, 2014

Prior to any investigation, you are now accusing Malaysian of making the error. You are making propaganda just like the others. Some guys over there gave the order, issued the missiles to renegades, and pressed the button, and I don't give a $h1t if it was a Russian or an Ukrainian. Innocent children are dead is what counts here.

on Aug 2, 2014

"Innocent children are dead is what counts here."

No it's not. Never has been, never wil be.

Propagandists always major on the "it's all about the children" so long as the dead kiddies are on "their" side but then forget/render as statistics those on the other.

For example are you deeply concerned by the kids being killed by Ukrainian shelling of built up areas?

on Aug 3, 2014

Bob, Bob, Bob - MH17, remember? This isn't a Ukraine political forum, it's an aviation site.

We're not discussing whether the Ukrainian government is moral every time it fires an artillery shell at a Russian passport-bearing militia man hiding behind a civilian shield in a children's school. Okay?

The shoot-down, Bob. Not the shelling. Not the politics of Russian proxy guerrilla war in East Ukraine.

The people on board the airplane, many of which WERE children, is EXACTLY what matters.

Come back when you've found a soul.

on Aug 2, 2014

With glider we are currently flying with oxygen up to FL 195 and above in designated area.
Personally I flyed at 8700 meter for my diamond badge
The altitude record with glider (not pressurized) is steve fosset 50600 ft
So pressurisation of the figther is not an issue

on Aug 3, 2014

Hmm, interesting, Theo. So your point seems to be that the defined "service ceiling" for aircraft is actually not in fact a "ceiling" at all, and that fighter planes can fly several miles higher than their design specification and onboard systems permit if it is required to make a fabricated story by the Russians hold together.

And your argument for this is that you got up to 28,500 for your diamond badge? I don't understand how this is proof -- did you fire a BUK missile at a triple-7 while you were up there?

Well, whether you personally believe the passengers of MH17 were slaughtered by a missile launched by a Russian trained BUK fire team on the ground, or by a Russian SU-25 or -27 fighter plane in the air flying two miles above it's service ceiling, I don't think it really matters.

Either way, it is necessary to gather the evidence and bring the perpetrators to justice. It's just something we need to do, and the sooner the better. Before somebody takes another one down.

on Aug 4, 2014

No that was just reply to a post saying figther canot fly this high because not pressurised, being not pressurized
does not limit the ceiling of a plane
For instance U2 pilot where wearing astronaute gears in their not pressurised plane and flew at edge of atmosphere

on Aug 5, 2014

Actually the U2 pilots don't wear "astronaut gear" - they wear a pressure suit connected to the pressurization system of their aircraft. Without that system built into their plane, they'd die at altitude. You may remember that astronauts have a large backpack - that is their portable life support system which pressurizes their suit. You may also recall U2 pilots wearing no such backpack.

This is what is meant by 'unpressurized' - the aircraft does not have the built-in systems designed to keep the pilot alive above 20,000 feet.

You also need to consider the atmospheric requirements of the aircraft itself. The service ceiling means just that - THE PLANE can not fly above a certain altitude, regardless of whether the pilot feels like going higher.

on Aug 3, 2014

The strongest evidence that the SU-25 theory can be turned down has been presented by the Russian military themselves. During a poorly prepared press conference bringing forward the SU-25 theory, actual radar images of the shoot-down were shown. These images show that there are no other aircraft near the MH17 BEFORE the aircraft was hit. (20 min into the clip.)

Directly AFTER the MH17 had been hit, another radar echo pops up from nowhere on the radar screen, however. The Russians refer to this as an aircraft believed to be a SU-25 flying at 200 km/h. Since we know that MH17 broke up in the air and assuming that the radar images are genuine the most natural explanation is that the new echo is nothing but a big part of the disintegrating aircraft.

on Aug 8, 2014

I fail to make a choice on which of Bob's articles I must react to, so I don't.
The question however was if a SU25 did it. With Ukrain having both AAM's and SU27's, the chances of sending in a Frogfoot to shoot an airliner are small. Using it to hide under is more possible (and is not a very nice thing to do either).
But anyone who knows there's an enemy Frogfoot approaching (and both Russians and the BUK seems to have thought it was there), tries to shoot it down, making a deadly mistake and then simply saying 'hey, there was a Frogfoot there, he did it' makes himself suspicious, because the odds are against them. Chances are, if there was an SU25 there, it was the target that the BUK tried to hit, instead of it trying to down MH17.

on Mar 30, 2015

I didn't know the separatists had much of an airforce. They were the ones shooting down Ukrainian planes and helicopters. They probably mistook the airliner for a Ukrainian transport. Remember Occam's razor, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

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