MH17 'shot down by Ukrainian SAM', claims Almaz-Antey

08 June 2015
Almaz-Antey claimed on 2 June that analysis of the MH17 wreckage proves that a 9M38M1 SAM brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight, the implication being that the firing unit was Ukrainian. Such an assertion is at least more credible than previous Russian claims a Ukrainian fighter brought down the aircraft. Source: PA

Russian air defence system manufacturer Almaz-Antey claims to have evidence Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777 downed over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 with the loss of all 298 on board, was destroyed by a Ukrainian 9M38M1 surface-to-air missile (SAM) fired from a Buk-M1 (SA-11) system located south of the town of Zaroschenskoe in the Donetsk region, rather than by a Russian SAM as previously claimed.

At a presentation in Moscow on 2 June in connection with Almaz-Antey's case in the European Court of Justice to have sanctions on it lifted, Almaz-Antey Director General Yan Novikov said the 9M38M1 missile used by the Buk-M1 air defence system had been withdrawn from production in 1999, after which the whole missile inventory had been transferred to foreign customers.

Novikov said he knew Ukraine had received 991 of the missiles because Almaz-Antey, which was only established in 2002, helped perform maintenance on them in 2005. He said the missiles were not currently in use with the Russian armed forces.

According to Novikov, Almaz-Antey engineers analysed the damage to the aircraft's outer fuselage and main structure to define the type of missile that had shot down MH17. The experts also extensively studied destructive fragments the Netherlands-based international investigation committee extracted from surviving parts of MH17 and provided for analysis.

Materials received by the experts included destructive double-T-shaped fragments only used in the warhead of the 9M38M1 missile, according to Almaz-Antey. Damage to MH17's structure in the shape of 13x13 mm and 14x14 mm squares also identify this missile as the culprit of the MH17 shootdown, claims the Russian company.

Novikov noted that not only the shape but the general nature of the damage inflicted on MH17 had been studied, adding that only primary damage from the SAM warhead's destructive fragments was taken into account, not secondary damage from destroyed aircraft parts, which is unmistakably different.

The characteristics of fragments, their velocity and blast zone are crucial in identifying a warhead, explained Novikov. He added that the 9M38M1's explosion has a distinctive formation of two waves of destructive fragments. The first wave consists of smaller fragments, while the second wave, containing the heavy double-T-shaped fragments, has the greatest momentum.

A high concentration of destructive elements, which can destroy even the strongest parts of a fuselage, is known as the 'scalpel' and contains more than 40% of fragments and about half the warhead's explosive energy. Traces of the 'scalpel' found within the wreckage of MH17 confirm a 9M38M1 missile was the only type of SAM that could have destroyed the aircraft, according to Novikov.

By extensively studying peripheral damage to the outside of the aircraft on the line of the fragmentation field, Almaz-Antey's experts identified the missile's warhead explosion point, which was closer to the aircraft's left side, then defined the missile's orientation in relation to the Boeing 777, namely its approach angle in the horizontal and vertical planes, he said.

Conclusions were then drawn from analysing fuselage and airframe damage and the distinctive features of the missile warhead's fragmentation field. Studying entry holes on the fuselage and on the aircraft's transverse bulkheads allowed the Almaz-Antey experts to determine how, after the explosion of the warhead, its destructive elements moved through MH17 from nose to tail, said Novikov.

As the direction of the main wave of the 9M38M1's destructive elements was perpendicular to the missile's direction, the Almaz-Antey experts concluded the missile was moving across the aircraft's heading angle, he added. Reconstruction of the Boeing 777's nose-section damage revealed the areas where the aircraft's structural framework suffered the most extensive damage. Modelling the fragmentation field after the warhead's detonation allowed the Almaz-Antey experts to define the missile's precise orientation in the air and thus its course, namely 72-78° in horizontal plane and 20-22° in the vertical plane.

The experts then reconstructed the missile's estimated flight profile through reverse modelling. As the Boeing 777 was moving rectilinearly, the horizontal perspective of the missile's flight profile is close to a straight line. This point makes it possible to define the azimuth to the launch area. The range to the launch point is closely connected with the missile's flight profile projection in the vertical plane and has a direct influence on the missile's vertical approach angle, making it possible to determine the range of probable distances to the launch area.

The modelling process demonstrated that the point at which the flight trajectories of aircraft and missile intersected is possible only for a SAM launched from a 2.5x3.5 km zone to the south of Zaroschenskoe town, and not from Snezhnoe town as previously asserted, according to Almaz-Antey.

The detailed report of the analysis conducted by Almaz-Antey's experts has been transferred to the international committee investigating the incident.

Almaz-Antey has stated that it has appealed through the courts against the sanctions relating both to freezing the company's assets (imposed by the EU Council's decision 2014/508/CFSP and by the EU Council's administrative order No 826/2014 from 30 July 2014) and against the ban on the company making any dual-purpose exports (imposed by the EU Council's decision 2014/659/CFSP and administrative order No 960/2014 from 8 September 2014).

The company also appealed through the EU's ordinary court to extinguish the EU Council's decision 2015/432/CFSP and administrative order No 427/2015, both of 13 March 2015, to prolong the sanctions relating to the freezing of the company's assets.

Almaz-Antey is assuming there is a direct connection between the sanctions imposed on it by the EU and the crash of MH17.

Even if this Almaz-Antey analysis provided strong evidence the culprit missile for the shootdown was, indeed, a 9M38M1 SAM fired by an older Buk-M1system, that leaves unresolved the question of whether a Ukrainian or Russian/pro-Russian unit fired the missile, writes Peter Felstead .
Zaroschenskoe was close to the front line at the time of the MH17 shootdown, but is believed to have been under rebel control. A number of eyewitnesses spoke of seeing a Buk system passing through rebel lines prior to the incident.
It is certainly possible Russia could have supplied the rebels with an older system no longer in its inventory.
More obviously, Ukrainian forces were facing no air threat at the time and would have had no reason to deploy or fire a SAM, whereas pro-Russian forces had already brought down Ukrainianaircraft with SAMs before MH17 was destroyed and were presumably looking to increase their tally.
Almaz-Antey's briefing, coming almost 11 months after the shootdown, may at least be an acknowledgement by Russia that its previous claim, that a Ukrainian fighter was responsible for shooting down MH17, is simply not credible.

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