Friday, July 18, 2014

Ukrainian Air Disaster

The shoot down of Malaysian Air Flt 17 in the Ukraine is a horrible tragedy with shocking loss of life. My sincerest sympathy to the families of the victims.
The airliner was at normal cruising altitude, 33,000 feet, call it six miles up.  No man pack rocket can reach that high.  By the time you pack that much fuel into a rocket, it is too heavy for a man to carry.  It had to be a bigger missile, probably vehicle mounted.   
   For a regulation SAM, 33,000 feet is easy.  The first Soviet SAM, SA-2 Guideline we called it, knocked down Frances Gary Powers at 70,000 feet over Sverdlovsk in the late 1950's.  We flew against SA-2 in Viet Nam.  The newsies have been calling the missile "sophisticated".  Not really, it's a capability SAM has had for 50 years.  In fact Obama just called them sophisticated on TV.
   The newsies have been speculating that the SAM is so complicated to operate that the Ukrainian "rebels" could not work it.  Not likely.  Plenty of guys were drafted in Russia and Ukraine and got trained on the missile during their hitch in the service.  They ought to be enough veterans with missile training  kicking around the Ukraine to operate a single launcher vehicle. From either side. 
   It could have been an accident.  Figuring out what little dots of light on a radar screen mean can be difficult to get right.  They may well have believed they were launching against a military cargo flight, but zapped the airliner instead.
   I'm dubious about equipping airliners with anti missile defenses.  It would be a windfall for BAE down in Nashua, but I dunno if it would do much good on airliners.  The systems we built in Nashua went on helicopters flying combat in Iraq.  The Common Missile Warning System was four TV cameras looking down and out to see the flash of a missile motor.  When they saw a missile heading for them, the system computer got on the aircraft intercom and cried "Missile! Missile! Missile!".  The pilot then took violent evasive action and launched a bunch of decoy flares.  This worked in helicopters, our shops all featured photographs of big choppers, with the whole crew standing in front of them, and hand written letters to the effect that our missile warning system saved their lives.  No so sure if the violent evasive action works when you are flying a Boeing 777. 

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