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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.

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Aviation Week editors blog their personal views on the defense industry.

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