Defenseworld.net Analysis
01:29 PM, July 21, 2014
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Was It Possible For Malaysian MH-17 Aircraft To Adopt Evasive Maneuvers?
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17)

Fired missiles can be evaded by hard maneuvers. Infra Red missiles’ lock on can be defeated if the targeted aircraft fly out of the missile seeker’s field of view.

According to industry expert for Smart Weapons and Unmanned Vehicle Systems, Debajit Sarkar, With radar guided missiles, it is possible to avoid or break radar lock (“Beam Turn” and “Doppler Turn”) by adopting hard turns that will cause the missile to lose the lock and consequently miss the target . 

While fighter aircrafts will not face problems in adopting the evasive maneuvers we are talking here about a behemoth that has a max takeoff weight of 660,000 lbs, a wing span of 200 ft and an overall length of 242 ft. The pilot would have < 40 sec to make a hard maneuver even if he was aware that the aircraft was being targeted.

The 9M38M1 missile carries a 70Kg HE fragmentation warhead with a radar proximity fuse. Radar lock can be prevented or delayed through Jamming.

Large military aircrafts like the C-17 carries the AN/AAQ-24 Directional Infrared Counter Measures (DIRCM) system to protect the aircraft from IR missiles. These DIRCM systems do not come cheap. 

One way to intercept ARH or IR missiles is to shoot them down with a Close in Weapon System (CIWS) like Phalanx. However, as on this date a miniaturized civilian version of a CIWS that can be used on Commercial Jet liners do not exist. 

BUK M2 is a modern capable missile system designed to be used against small nimble fighter aircrafts that use Electronic Counter Measures (ECM). For a system like the BUK having active radar homing (ARH) seekers is same as for the Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system as it would for an aircraft using ARH R-77s instead of Semi-ARH R-27s.

Another advantage of vertical launch as in BUK is engagement time. With ARH missiles there is less need to continue tracking. It is certainly possible for ARH missiles to be used together with SARH missiles, and under some conditions using an ARH in a SARH mode makes sense too as the enormous radar on a TEL is going be more sophisticated and capable and have better ECCM capability against certain targets than the little radar set in the nose of a missile.

Flares and chaffs that a few Commercial Jet liners carry are useful only against old MANPADS. They are not effective against more modern MANPADs with 2-3 light spectrum filtration that can differ from decoys and actual engines.

Flares have zero effect on radar guided missiles. BUK-M2 consists of 3 vehicles. The TELAR BUK with the missiles, a command vehicle that passes the data feed and a radar vehicle that is usually located far away from the missile launcher. Depending on the position of BUK missile launcher and the radar it is fair to suggest that there is low probability of Chaffs being able to fool the System. 

What Could Have Been Done to Avoid This Tragedy? 

A good solution is not to fly over a No-Fly Zone. British Airways is avoiding Ukrainian airspace like plague as are a few other airliners. 

The best thing a civilian airliner can do is to stick to commercial flight paths and keep its civilian transponder on. If it starts popping chaff and flares and trying to jam the system that will likely just confirm to the SAM crew the target is military and they would likely switch to optical guidance against which flares, jammers, chaff, etc are all useless. 

The unfortunate part here is that MH-17 flew over this exact Ukrainian airspace many times in the past few weeks as FlightRadar24 confirms.

And even on July-17 MH-17 was not descending from 35000 ft. It flew over Poland at 31 000 ft, then climbed to 33000 ft when it entered Ukrainian airspace and stayed at that altitude before it was shot down. 

So it was not that the aircraft descended from 35,000 ft to 32,000 ft thereby giving an impression to the BUK operators that it was a Military aircraft.

The article is a response by one of our readers on social media, Debajit Sarkar , a subject matter expert for Smart Weapons and Unmanned Vehicle Systems.                                                                                                                                                                    

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