On An Aircraft Panel that Fell from the Sky, Hints of Flight 17’s End.

An analysis, with IHS Jane’s, of the impact holes and paint blistering on wreckage found by two reporters from The New York Times suggests that the plane was struck by high-velocity shrapnel and a blast wave from a high-explosive fragmenting warhead.  Here.

ABOUT THE IMAGES

By Noah Sneider, who (with Sabrina Tavernise) found this piece of wreckage several miles from the main debris field.

High-res A Catastrophically Insufficient Restriction.
This is the map and Notice to Airmen issued by Ukraine on July 14, hours after a Ukrainian military Antonov was downed by a guided surface-to-air missile as it flew near the border with Russia.  Note Lines F and G of the text in the upper left corner and the shaded area in red.
The notice added 6,000 feet of altitude to the airspace closures in eastern Ukraine, which had previously been set from the ground to 26,000 feet. Thus, this notice forbid civilian traffic beneath 32,000 feet.
From a weapons perspective, this is a very curious decision, given that the class of guided missile implicated in the downing of the Antonov has ranges that can extend, depending on the variants, to altitudes above 70,000 feet.
Put bluntly, Ukraine’s restriction offered no protection to aircraft from a weapon newly in play in the conflict. It was, to use a crude example, akin to telling someone who is standing 10 feet from an angry drunk with a loaded pistol to move a few feet further away.  
Actually, that example is not quite right, because transiting international aircraft over eastern Ukraine already flew over the separatist area at standard cruising altitudes higher than 26,000 and usually higher than 32,000 feet. To comply with the new restriction they did not have to change their behaviors with regard to altitude — at all. This is in spite of the fact that they were in chip-shot range for a class of missiles that had reportedly slipped out state hands, and had been recently fired. So this is more like telling the man already standing 10 feet away from the armed drunk that he should not get within 8 feet. 
When MH17 took off from Amsterdam on July 17 with 298 souls aboard its crew followed an approved flight plan into this red shaded area. The flight’s route and the crew’s behaviors, according to the information publicly available so far, complied with the guidelines set by relevant authorities charged with ensuring aviation safety. But the steps these authorities had taken offered the plane and the people aboard no protection whatsoever against what happened next.
Why? One reason seems to be that the authorities and the aviation safety community did not take the obvious step of aligning the airspace restrictions with the range of antiaircraft weapons newly used in the war. Had that been done, one clear conclusion might have been that the only way to ensure civilian air traffic over the conflict area was safe from the missiles below would be to close the airspace completely and direct air carriers to plan routes around.
Civilian jetliners do not fly nearly as high as this class of weapon, have no defenses against them and cannot withstand their punch. 
Given the capabilities of the weapons involved, and recently used (under circumstances that remained cloudy), there was no fully safe route overhead. The safeguards were not safeguards at all.
 

A Catastrophically Insufficient Restriction.

This is the map and Notice to Airmen issued by Ukraine on July 14, hours after a Ukrainian military Antonov was downed by a guided surface-to-air missile as it flew near the border with Russia.  Note Lines F and G of the text in the upper left corner and the shaded area in red.

The notice added 6,000 feet of altitude to the airspace closures in eastern Ukraine, which had previously been set from the ground to 26,000 feet. Thus, this notice forbid civilian traffic beneath 32,000 feet.

From a weapons perspective, this is a very curious decision, given that the class of guided missile implicated in the downing of the Antonov has ranges that can extend, depending on the variants, to altitudes above 70,000 feet.

Put bluntly, Ukraine’s restriction offered no protection to aircraft from a weapon newly in play in the conflict. It was, to use a crude example, akin to telling someone who is standing 10 feet from an angry drunk with a loaded pistol to move a few feet further away.  

Actually, that example is not quite right, because transiting international aircraft over eastern Ukraine already flew over the separatist area at standard cruising altitudes higher than 26,000 and usually higher than 32,000 feet. To comply with the new restriction they did not have to change their behaviors with regard to altitude — at all. This is in spite of the fact that they were in chip-shot range for a class of missiles that had reportedly slipped out state hands, and had been recently fired. So this is more like telling the man already standing 10 feet away from the armed drunk that he should not get within 8 feet. 

When MH17 took off from Amsterdam on July 17 with 298 souls aboard its crew followed an approved flight plan into this red shaded area. The flight’s route and the crew’s behaviors, according to the information publicly available so far, complied with the guidelines set by relevant authorities charged with ensuring aviation safety. But the steps these authorities had taken offered the plane and the people aboard no protection whatsoever against what happened next.

Why? One reason seems to be that the authorities and the aviation safety community did not take the obvious step of aligning the airspace restrictions with the range of antiaircraft weapons newly used in the war. Had that been done, one clear conclusion might have been that the only way to ensure civilian air traffic over the conflict area was safe from the missiles below would be to close the airspace completely and direct air carriers to plan routes around.

Civilian jetliners do not fly nearly as high as this class of weapon, have no defenses against them and cannot withstand their punch. 

Given the capabilities of the weapons involved, and recently used (under circumstances that remained cloudy), there was no fully safe route overhead. The safeguards were not safeguards at all.

 

High-res Arms Trade Data-Sharing:  Headstamps from Ukraine.
Being back in the states for a moment, hopefully to close out a project too-long in works, has its benefits, including fast internet and access to saved files.  This in turn means a chance to dig up and publish data and images that we collected while moving through the field this year, including a batch of head stamps from the fighting in Ukraine. We have samples from two battles, and will check with the desk to see if they would like to publish them on the At War blog. If not, I will try to get them up on this blog before the end of the week. 
Quick background: Noah Sneider and I gathered the spent-cartridge samples in the spring, working quickly and unobtrusively, and each night I’d make a swift inventory and photo record on the table by the bed, then wrap the spent cases in paper and bag them up tight, so they would not jingle, and quietly discard them. (Some subjects are uneasy when they see a reporter inventorying arms.) For all of the work, the samples yielded no surprises. 
ABOUT THE IMAGE
Bloody 5.45x39 cartridge case, collected after brief, vicious gunfight at the edge of Slovyansk. Though not visible in the image above, this vintage 1982 cartridge’s provenance was made clear after the blood was cleaned away. Earlier this year. 

Arms Trade Data-Sharing:  Headstamps from Ukraine.

Being back in the states for a moment, hopefully to close out a project too-long in works, has its benefits, including fast internet and access to saved files.  This in turn means a chance to dig up and publish data and images that we collected while moving through the field this year, including a batch of head stamps from the fighting in Ukraine. We have samples from two battles, and will check with the desk to see if they would like to publish them on the At War blog. If not, I will try to get them up on this blog before the end of the week. 

Quick background: Noah Sneider and I gathered the spent-cartridge samples in the spring, working quickly and unobtrusively, and each night I’d make a swift inventory and photo record on the table by the bed, then wrap the spent cases in paper and bag them up tight, so they would not jingle, and quietly discard them. (Some subjects are uneasy when they see a reporter inventorying arms.) For all of the work, the samples yielded no surprises. 

ABOUT THE IMAGE

Bloody 5.45x39 cartridge case, collected after brief, vicious gunfight at the edge of Slovyansk. Though not visible in the image above, this vintage 1982 cartridge’s provenance was made clear after the blood was cleaned away. Earlier this year. 

High-res Shiite Militia Gun Locker: A Precis.
The internet was slow, and work days long, in Baghdad, so we had to save many photos for display later.  (The fact that social media was blocked for most of our stay also meant it was not easy to do much posting, beyond slow dumps to Istagram via the smartphone.)  But now that we’ve cleared that place, I can take time to post some of the odder sights from the arms beat. Here was one unusual find, to go with the MAB 38 already posted to Instagram some time back. There is much more to show. This will have to serve for now, as a reminder that the legacies of old arms transfers linger. It’s a Sterling submachine gun, carried by a member of the Mahdi Army last month in Sadr City, Baghdad. More soon. 

Shiite Militia Gun Locker: A Precis.

The internet was slow, and work days long, in Baghdad, so we had to save many photos for display later.  (The fact that social media was blocked for most of our stay also meant it was not easy to do much posting, beyond slow dumps to Istagram via the smartphone.)  But now that we’ve cleared that place, I can take time to post some of the odder sights from the arms beat. Here was one unusual find, to go with the MAB 38 already posted to Instagram some time back. There is much more to show. This will have to serve for now, as a reminder that the legacies of old arms transfers linger. It’s a Sterling submachine gun, carried by a member of the Mahdi Army last month in Sadr City, Baghdad. More soon. 

Misleading Arms Photograph of the Week.

Today is only Tuesday, but this one may still hold the crown on Friday: A New York Post image, in an article claiming that new American Stinger missiles have reached the Taliban, and downed an American helicopter in 2012, showed two Talibs with two Stingers.  

The article asserted that new Stingers “signed out by the CIA recently” were given to Qatar for surreptitious re-issue to rebels in Libya in 2011, and that the Qataris passed some of the stock on to the Taliban. The Taliban then used one of the missiles to strike and disable a CH-47, according to the article, and the USG covered it all up.

All of this was presented as fresh spice in the stew of allegations about the United States’ involvement in Libya, and the Benghazi affair.

For supporting art, The New York Post published a judicially an aggressively cropped image, which had been stripped of its context visually and via a minimalist caption.

image 

The photo shows what it shows: Two Talibs with what clearly do look like two Stingers. Impressive, right? Readers understandably might look at it and see evidence that the Taliban has new Stinger missiles, as the article claimed.

Now look at the original, filed by AFP and available from Getty Images, below.  

image

The photograph, as it happens, is not recent. It was shot by Saeed Khan in December 1999, during the standoff surrounding Indian Airlines Flight 814.
The airplane, in the Post’s image, was edited out. The caption — “Taliban militia stand in the back of a pickup truck with heat-seeking Stinger missiles” — made no reference to the context or the time, which was two years before the United States began its ongoing military operations in Afghanistan.  (The airfield shown is now an American base.)
Whatever the merits of The New York Post’s claims, they are not supported by using a 15-year-old photograph in a manner that could lead readers to believe that the photograph showed something it did not.

High-res На базе. A Ukrainian antigovernment rebel stands on a stack of pallets during a watch at the gate inside one of the bases of the People’s Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic, as the rebels call themselves. #донбасс with @limauricio and @noahsneider #ukraine #iphone

На базе. A Ukrainian antigovernment rebel stands on a stack of pallets during a watch at the gate inside one of the bases of the People’s Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic, as the rebels call themselves. #донбасс with @limauricio and @noahsneider #ukraine #iphone