Most have discounted the possibility of an air to air missile taking down MH17 as the recent Russian MOD briefing suggested as a possible scenario. Up to now, I’ve also considered this as the least likely explanation. All eyes are on the BUK. But is this a case of sleight of hand, a misdirection? Perhaps.
Let’s take a closer look at the air to air missile theory. The most probable missile that would have been used is the R-60. The NATO designation is AA-8 Aphid. The R-60 weights only 44 kg (100 lbs) and can be launched from a wide range of high performance jets, including the SU-25. Even the HIND attack helicopter can use it. It’s warhead uses either a 3 or 3.5 kg high explosive charge surrounded by a tungsten expanding rod. Some versions have an additional 1.6 kg of depleted uranium for increased lethality. It uses a proximity fuze. That is an important point.
Some analysis of damage found on part of MH17 suggest a proximity explosion slightly below and ahead of the planes port wing. NBC News use this information to confirm that it was an SA-11 missile because an infrared guided air to air missile would have hit an engine. I always thought that would be the case since my experience was with the Redeye which tracks the aircraft’s hot exhaust and detonates on impact, usually up a jet engine’s ass end. The NBC News analysts obviously were working with the same limited and dated understanding as I had.
In reality the R-60 and the SA-11 detonate on the same proximity fuze principle. The difference is that the SA-11 has a 70 kg warhead. One commenter on the Saker blog suggested that a 70 kg warhead would have turned MH17 into confetti at 10,000 meters altitude. I doubt he’s an expert in missile damage. I know I’m not, but the SA-11 warhead has more explosive power than half a dozen 155mm HE shells. I’ve been very close to 5 inch naval gun fire. Believe me, the explosive power is mind altering. I have serious doubts an SA-11 blast would leave such big aircraft pieces lying in the fields outside Grabovo.
An R-60 did take down a commercial airliner in 1978. At an altitude of 9,000 meters, KAL902 had 4 meters of its port wingtip sheared off, an engine damaged and shrapnel punctures of the fuselage that killed two passengers by one R-60 hit. It was able to crash land on a frozen lake. Photos of the damage done can be viewed here. The aircraft was a Boeing 707.
My guess is that explosive ordnance experts can easily tell the difference between the damage produced by an SA-11 from that produced by an R-60. That would definitely eliminate at least one theory… and perhaps the West's and Ukraine’s pet theory. Where would the information operation go then?