Iran is Trying to Hide a Military Blunder
by Stephen Bryen
US Intelligence is now confirming that the Ukrainian Airline Flight PS 752 was shot down by a missile, probably a Tor missile (SA-15) which Russia sold to Iran in 2007. According to the report from US intelligence sources, the Iranians fired two missiles and one hit the Ukrainian plane. I explain all this below.
In our Asia Times article (reproduced below), the first to squarely put the blame on Iran and say the plane was downed by missiles, we thought it would have been a MANPADS or shoulder fired missile. The US is now convinced it was a Tor missile and the photo below of the remnants of one of those missiles is credible. There is now video that shows the missile flying toward the plane and exploding. The Tor missile has a a fragmentation high explosive warhead that weighs 15 kg. It was designed to shoot down aircraft. The explosive charge is set off by a proximity fuse when it gets close to the target.
In support of the Tor identification is a photo of a piece of the Tor missile found not too far from the crash site. It was first circulated on Twitter and given what the US government is now confirming, the picture appears entirely credible.
Iran has now issued an “Investigative Report.” That is fairly astonishing in and of itself. Generally a preliminary report takes weeks to work out, and a final report may take a year or longer. The Report is good evidence of a cover up.
Iran also decided to start to clean up the crash site before investigators have a chance to inspect the destroyed plane. This means that evidence of a missile strike, or evidence of explosive material, won’t be available for inspection by outside investigators. The Ukrainians sent to Iran will have a hard time getting useful information out of the regime.
There was no pilot Mayday communication. An aircraft on takeoff is in touch directly with the control tower of the airport until communications are handed over to en-route control.
In the case of Flight PS-752 communications just stopped. At minimum this means a complete electrical failure.
We now have video of the missile hitting the plane. There is a huge flash and twenty seconds later you hear the plane impact the ground.
The best guess is that the plane disintegrated and everything was lost at once. Because the pilots sit in a sealed cockpit, the only thing that would tell them something was wrong, like an engine fire, would be the aircraft’s instruments. Pilots cannot see the engines or even the plane’s wings and control surfaces.
There are a number of stories that when passengers see an engine fire, or smoke in the cabin, the staff generally call the pilots on the intercom to tell them. Nothing like this happened in this case because there would immediately have been a Mayday call. That’s why the Iranian claim that the plane was turning back to the airport isn’t credible. Pilots would immediately ask by radio to return to the airport or take other emergency procedures.
The Boeing 737, unlike the Max series, is a very reliable workhorse aircraft. There have been accidents but of the millions of hours flown, not very many. The 737-800, the model type of the Ukrainian Airliner, a two year old plane, is the most modern of the 737 series currently flying (all the Max’s are grounded). There were seven crashes in all involving 737-800’s, but only two in takeoff mode.
One was a 2009 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 taking off from Beirut in bad weather; the other a 2007 Kenya Airlines takeoff crash in the Cameroons, also in bad weather.
The Kenya Airlines 2007 crash of Flight 507 was thoroughly investigated.
The engines stopped operating during the takeoff, probably inundated by water from very heavy rain. The pilots tried to glide back to the airfield but apparently became disoriented, banked the airplane too hard, thereby losing control of the plane.
Ethiopian Airlines flight 409 reached an altitude of 9,000 feet flying into a thunderstorm. The pilots lost control of the aircraft. There was an argument that possibly there was terrorism and a bomb on the plane, but the autopsies of the bodies and analysis of the wreckage did not support that claim.
In both cases there was no fire in an engine and no explosion in the air.
The Ukrainian airliner took off in perfectly clear weather.
Why the Ukrainian Airliner was Shot Down
All of this raises the issue of why the aircraft may have been shot down. This is all speculation, but here are three theories.
Very tense air defense operators stationed either around the airport or relatively nearby fired a missile at the airplane thinking it was an American plane about to bomb Tehran or the airport. This was only a short time after the Iranian missile attack on two US bases in Iraq. So these guys were on high alert and waiting.
In short, a big mistake happened. Such incompetence is not unknown in the Middle East. Anyone who watched the Syrians operate their air defense systems knows how bad a job they do. The Iranians are no exception. And remember a special Russian Il-20M ELINT reconnaissance plane returning to Khmeimim Air Base in Syria, with 15 Russian servicemen on board, was shot down by a Syrian S-200 (SA-5 NATO designation) surface-to-air missile.
A variation on Theory 1 is that an Iranian missile radar picked up a bogey (a radar image) of a drone not unlike the Reaper which killed Qasem Suleimani. Reaper is a fairly large drone with a wingspan of 66 feet. That is about half the wingspan of a 737 airliner, but it is largely irrelevant if you fired at the drone or what you thought was a drone, missed, and then hit the airliner instead. It is quite possible that the US had a drone or drones over Iranian airspace at that time, since the Pentagon was on notice to prepare a counter attack after the Iranian rockets rained down on US bases in Iraq. The US counterattack was called it off after heated discussions at the White House. The fact that a key argument the President made in his public statement at the White House was contradicted the next morning by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, namely that the Iranians in fact did intend to kill Americans in their missile strike on the two US bases, suggests that the President was actively overriding his generals who wanted to retaliate to maintain deterrence. Interestingly, the Pentagon kept talking about deterrence after the attack on the US bases, suggesting they were rather upset about the situation and wanted to respond.
A variation on Theory 2 is that the Iranians thought they saw a US fighter plane or bomber and fired on it. Modern radar systems usually can classify a threat, but not much is known about the Russian radar used with Tor. It seems more likely the Iranians went after a drone, but no one knows for sure.
The third theory is that the Ukrainian airliner was shot down by some terrorist organization, perhaps intending to shoot down an Iranian commercial aircraft, some of which are known to be carrying troops and munitions from Iran to Syria and Lebanon. Typically terrorists like to claim responsibility, but if they got the wrong plane they might not do so, especially considering all the ramifications.
Was the Tehran jet crash a criminal act?
Early evidence suggests Ukrainian Airlines 737 could have been shot down
Asia Times, December 8, 2020
Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 crashed after takeoff from Iran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday, killing everyone on board. Information is not yet complete, but if it was shot down by a missile – as some early evidence suggests – Iran should be held accountable.
In 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a BUK air defense missile over eastern Ukraine. Dutch investigators concluded it was a criminal act of murder and charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murdering 298 passengers and crew.
The Ukrainian 737 was almost brand new and was serviced only a few days earlier. Iran immediately pre-determined the crash was caused by a mechanical failure, even though no investigation had taken place and the pilots never reported a mechanical problem or even an emergency – all of which suggests the plane may have been knocked out by a missile and that the Iranian regime is covering up what happened.
Photographs of the crashed plane debris tell an important story.
Photos show what looks like entry holes by shrapnel into the fuselage of the aircraft, including shrapnel holes above passenger windows.
The engines of the 737 are located below the wings. If an engine exploded, disintegrated or caught on fire, it could spew out parts of the engine behind the wing, but likely not above the passenger windows.
There are photos of the remains of both engines. It is difficult to tell from the photos whether either engine exploded. Neither engine looks burned.
Red circles show perforations in one wing of the doomed Ukrainian Airlines 737-800 jet. Photo: ISNA
Rather revealing is the fact Iran has, so far, refused to release the recovered black boxes from the aircraft. The Boeing 737 like most commercial aircraft has two flight recording devices: a Flight Data Recorder and a Cockpit Voice Recorder. Both look to be in fairly good shape.
Iran has shoulder-fired missiles and air defense units stationed around the airport. If the 737 was hit by a missile the likelihood is that it was struck by a small MANPADS shoulder-fired missile rather than by larger air defense missiles, because fixed air defense missile sites usually fire salvos of missiles (generally two per target) at intruders.
Debris from the crashed Ukraine Airlines 737-800 outside Tehran. Photo: Chinanews
The current generation of Iranian shoulder-fired missiles is called the Misagh-2 (Misagh means “covenant” in Arabic and Persian). The Misagh is infrared-guided (also called a heat-seeking missile because it locks onto engine exhaust) and has a range of about 5,000 meters and a small warhead of 1.42 kg of high explosive that explodes near the target and unleashes metal fragments by means of a proximity fuse. If it exploded close to the Boeing, the blast and fragments would cause the jet to crash but not explode in mid-air.
The Iranian regime has prejudged the crash and apparently is not conducting an investigation. This, plus the decision not to release the black boxes suggest that the regime is complicit in the downing of the plane.