The Russian separatists who shot down MH17 allegedly thought it was a military target — though it was easily distinguishable as a commercial plane.
The truth about the destruction of MH17 has come out far faster than the baffling and totally unrelated mystery of the disappearance of MH370 on March 8. But a crucial question remains: what was the commercial jet doing flying over a war zone in the first place?
The jet and its 298 souls were targeted, tracked and destroyed by a modern warfare surface-to-air missile (SAM) launched by Russian separatists controlling the part of the eastern Ukraine, where it crashed to earth.
If as intelligence sources have unambiguously suggested this SAM was a Russian-made BUK, it requires a very deliberate drill by a launch squad that chose the target, locked onto it, and pressed the fire button the moment the control system had computed the intercept trajectory and loaded it into the already primed missile.
If the now widely circulated recording of conversations by separatists involved in the launch are the real thing, the jet was shot down in the belief that it was a military target.
As one voice is heard saying, after the bodies of adults and children are found after the kill, “they must have been carrying spies ….. What are they doing flying here? …. This is a fucking war.”
But some airlines had been routinely flying over Ukrainian airspace since the war started.
Visibility is shown in the newscasts as being more than adequate for a normal sighted adult to have recognized MH17 for what it was — a commercial flight. At 33,000 feet the shape and even livery of a large airliner is quite obvious, and the flight was quite obviously not military in its profile or other characteristics.
But with the attitude conveyed by the people in the alleged recording of the conversations after the missile hit, it is only by chance that the SAM-launching platoon didn’t bring down an even larger A380.
The destruction of MH17 raises exceptionally awkward questions for civil aviation authorities and air traffic control systems in general. Whatever logic was employed in deciding that it was safe to fly over a war zone at more than 32,000 feet, it was woefully ignorant of the capabilities of modern SAM systems, which in their heavier more capable forms are intended to destroy targets that may be supersonic and flying at much higher altitudes.
It all smacks of decision-making that favoured fuel-saving corridors over routes that avoided the risks of conflicts in which contemporary weapons technology is being used.