Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
January 12, 2020

Was The Shootdown Of The Ukrainian Airplane Near Tehran Intended, A Screw-Up Or A 'Mistake'?

After the shoot down of the Ukrainian flight PS752 the big question within Iran and within its military and political circles is what went wrong.

An analysis of the circumstances under which the incident took place unfortunately shows that nothing went wrong. The strategic and tactical decisions that were made were all rational and made sense. But unfortunately shit happens even when everything else works as it is supposed to work. 

The Iran Front Page has now published a full English language transcript of the press conference by IRGC Aerospace commander Brigadier General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh. It also provides a video with English subtitles of the talk. The narration he gives is highly plausible and has no contradictions within it.


A detailed reading of his talk also clears up some misconceptions in the earlier reporting and comments:

Regarding the details of the incident, I should say; well, you know the region’s conditions remained tense and the risk of conflict was high for over a week. It was really unprecedented compared to what we saw in previous years, even since the 1979 Revolution. The risk of conflict was very high; both the Americans and the Iranian Armed Forces were on highest alert. The Americans had also threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.

This is a main point one must keep in mind. There really was a threat from the U.S. and everyone thought that war would break out within the next minutes or hours. Decisions made under such stress are more prone to be wrong:

What we know from our investigations and from what our friends explained is that, well, at that night, for example from [Tuesday] evening, the level of preparedness was at wartime conditions; the highest alert level communicated by the integrated air defence to all systems. Under such circumstances, a number of air defence systems was added to Tehran’s air defence ring. The first system – which was behind the incident – was deployed in Bidganeh in western Tehran.
An integrated air defense system provides a full picture of the air situation to all connected units. Fixed radars, defense missile units and command and control centers are connected by secure landlines, not by radio.

But the mobile Tor M1 system responsible for shooting down the Ukrainian airliner was added as a stand alone system. It is an relatively old system. Its operators only had a voice radio connection to other parts of the network. If they had a data connection at all it was also via radio and with very little throughput. The system did not have the full picture of the air situation. Its own radar has a maximum detection range of 25 kilometer (16 miles). In most practical situations it will be a lot less than that. Bidganeh, where the system was deployed, is a strategic missile production and test facility some 30 kilometer away from Tehran airport. The Tor operator did not know that a civil airplane had just taken off:

At several stages, the Alert Level 3, which is the highest level, is communicated and emphasized to the entire network. So all air defence systems were at highest alert level. For several times, these systems including the one involved in the incident were notified by the integrated network that cruise missiles have been fired at the country. For a couple of times, they receive reports that ‘the cruise missiles are coming, be prepared’.

This is the normal 'fog of war' situation in which misinformation, or electronic interference, causes false alarms and where confusion sets in.

So you see the systems were at the highest alert level, where you should just press a button. They had been told cruise missiles were coming, and the air defence unit engaged in this incident and fired a missile. Now we have arranged an interview with this operator, which will be released soon as part of the plan to publicize the issue. He says in this interview that “we requested for several times that the country’s airspace be cleared of [civilian] flights.’ At the Alert Level 3, this is normal; such requests are made; well our dear brothers didn’t follow up the issue for certain considerations. So the planes fly despite the wartime situation.

This the major political issue, not a military one.

Iran's strategic intent after the U.S. assassination of its national hero Qassem Soleimani was to project defiance to the U.S. Its revenge missile barrage on the U.S. base in Iraq was fired despite harsh U.S. warnings and threats of war against Iran.

The pin point hits on the selected targets, mostly maintenance shacks, was a warning that demonstrated Iran's capabilities. I think it was necessary and worth the risk.

The political level decided that by leaving the airspace open and by showing normalcy it would further its strategic objective. Closing the airspace would have allowed the U.S. to claim that Iran is fearing its response and that it had shown weakness. The decision to not close the airspace was, I believe, strategically correct. But it had tactical costs which turned out to be high.

In those moments when the incident happens, this air defence unit realizes that there is a target – which it identified as a cruise missile – at a distance of 19 kilometres. [...] Given the information sent to this operator – that it is a wartime situation and a cruise missile has been fired – this poor guy identifies it as a cruise missile.

The Tor M1 was developed in 1991. The radar signals it generates are shown on an analog tube-screen. The radar's 'hits' on the screen are difficult to discriminate. At best one has speed, distance and direction of the target and must draw conclusion from that. The Boeing jet broadcast the usual civil ADS-B signal but one has to expect that a U.S. cruise missile can and would do the same. The speed of the still climbing Boeing 737 was about 250 knots or 460 kilometers per hour (286 mi/h). That is within the range of the speed of a typical cruise missile. The plane needed a bit less than 8 seconds to fly one kilometer. That left little time for the Tor operator to decide and react.

Well at such a situation, he was obliged to contact, get approval. This is where this operator makes the mistake; but at that moment, his communication system was apparently disrupted – whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic. For that reason, he fails to contact [his commanders]. He had 10 seconds to decide; he could hit or not hit [the target]. Under such circumstances, he decides to make that bad decision; he engages, the missile is fired, and the plane is hit at this place. Then it returns through this track, and here’s the point where it hits the ground.

Radio communication can be unreliable. The people at the other side of the operators call may have been talking to someone else or could  not react immediately. Air defense personal is trained to always presume electronic interference by enemy forces. The U.S. has publicly bragged about its cyber-attacks on IRGC systems. U.S. air attacks typically come behind a wave of electronic countermeasures.

Under these circumstances - highest possible alarm level, current warnings of hostile cruise missiles, unknown target flying towards a presumably military objective, lack of communication, little decision time - the operator of the Tor system did what he was trained to do.

As a former military officer I can not see any fault in what the man did. That is why I find this statement by Iran's President Rouhani to be wrong:

In a separate statement, Rouhani called the missile launch an “unforgivable mistake,” and he said officials must “address the weaknesses of the nation’s defense systems to make sure such a disaster is never repeated.”

Iran's strategic intent is to withstand U.S. pressure and to show defiance. Closing the airspace would have contradicted that objective. The shooting down of flight PS752 happened during a tactical engagement by a small mobile unit which did what it was supposed to do. Communication fuck-ups happen all the time during war like situations. They often cause casualties but are unavoidable.

The general in his press conference claimed that his organization is guilty:

Our dear brothers at the Aviation Organization categorically rejected the possibility of a missile hitting the plane; they acted based on what they knew. I must say they were not guilty and have nothing to do with this. All the blame is on us; they’re innocent. The plane was also on its track, it made no mistake. It did the right thing, as did the Aviation Organization. Everyone did the right thing. Only one of our forces made a mistake. Since he is under our command, we are responsible for that. We must be accountable.

It is the right thing to say public relation wise. But the incident itself is not a military error or mistake.

What one can and should criticize is the slow reaction of the Iranian military command after the incident happened. It launched an internal investigation and told everyone to be silent about it. It took the generals three days to look for an excuse that was impossible to find because everything that had happened did happen for rational reasons. The air defense systems have to be dispersed to make them less easy to attack. Communication failures are to be expected during a war. The soldiers are trained to act autonomously when comm-failures happen. They did what they had to do.

It is sad that this incident happened and that 176 lost their life. But if one wants to find a person guilty for it one must look for the person who caused the whole situation. That person is not the lowly sergeant who pressed the button. That person is U.S. President Donald Trump.

Posted by b on January 12, 2020 at 18:08 UTC | Permalink

« previous page | next page »

Jonathan W @198, and everyone

I'm always mindful of the fact that the airline is a Boeing that is majority-owned by Kolomoisky.

That means there is much room for mischief. Possibilities like planting a device on board to blow communications equipment and even taking full control of the plane can't be ruled out.

The ending of transponder signal just before the plane would become visible to the Tor operator is very very suspicious.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 14 2020 0:37 utc | 201

This is also interesting, especially as it is from 2015!! Spiegel had this story Could Hackers Bring Down a Plane? "For years, hackers have been warning that passenger jets are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Airlines and plane manufacturers have largely ignored the risks, but recent events are leading German authorities and pilots to take the threats extremely seriously."

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 14 2020 1:15 utc | 202

Jackrabbit@154 - "It appears that transponder signal ended just before the plane became visible to the Tor operator."

I agree if the TOR was known to have integrated ADS-B. It may in some upgrade - I just never heard anyone say that. One reason they wouldn't necessarily add it as that an ADS-B receiver listens for *any* ADS-B broadcast and 'believes' it. You spoof ADS-B by putting an antenna on top of your truck or backpack and broadcasting a fake aircraft's data. Or hundreds of fake aircraft's data. ADS-B is part of the S-400, but all of that is taken into account by it's more powerful systems and faster computers. And their radars mean they have a lot more time than 10 seconds to make decisions based on it.

Now if the TOR does not have an ADS-B receiver and have it integrated into their Target Acquisition Radar, then it doesn't matter if the aircraft is broadcasting or now. There's nothing on the console monitor picture that indicates that capability, nor has that ever been mentioned by former operators in mil forums - that's all I have to go on.

In the pictures, there are just numbered targets that - I assume - change labels, colors or symbols when they are type designated. Some other kind of data might exist in the label if it comes from the network ID'd. There are dozens of other radars in the Tehran area AD network that have and do see every Tehran IKA departure, so there's no reason one of them shouldn't have identified and designated it prior to it showing up on the TOR. Maybe they did before the ADS-B stopped, but it's not going to show up on the TOR either if the network link was down. No handoff, no ID, TOR figures it's a new, unidentified 'something' and tries to designate and handle it.

The TOR data and com link within a fixed battery are wire or fiber, but they can use encrypted data/comm radio in a situation like this. So, jamming is always a possibility. Jamming ADS-B is possible. If there were more traffic, we would see all ADS-B in the area end.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 14 2020 1:20 utc | 203

I take it then the Tor IFF will only recognise a friend that transmits the correct code on the correct frequency when it is operating stand alone with no coms. All other will be potential enemies.
My other thought if coms where simply voice, then the Tor crew seeing a cruise missile would not be the result of cyber warfare. More likely EW. There was some reason for the crew to believe the target they were seeing was a cruise missile. Even if it were a new crew, or they were just up and running, being just outside Tehran, they would have known there were flight paths and civilian traffic. According to the IRGC generals presentation, it was the commander of that Tor unit that asked for air traffic to be grounded.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 14 2020 1:33 utc | 204

Published on Thursday, July 5, 2001
Depraved Heart Murder
by Tom Jackson

On Tuesday, June 19, twenty-three people were killed on a soccer field in Iraq. Twenty-one of those killed were under the age of 17. Twelve more were injured; eleven of them are under 17. Since then there have been questions regarding which country fired the missile. The United States and Britain, which patrol the "no fly zones", deny that they fired any missiles on that day. Iraq says the US or Britain did bomb. The US and Britain countered that if there was a bombing, it must have resulted from a malfunctioning surface-to-air missile fired by Iraq. Even if Iraq fired the missile, the US and Britain are not absolved of guilt.
Under a legal theory called "depraved heart murder", if the perpetrator of an inherently dangerous crime such as robbery initiates a gun fight, and a police officer shoots back, killing a bystander, the prosecutor may argue that the burglar behaved with reckless indifference to the value of human life (thus making him guilty of "depraved heart murder"). Whether the missile that killed those people in Iraq was fired by US, British, Iraqi, or other forces is irrelevant, because it is the US and Britain that, through their illegal acts, have created this dangerous situation. But for the US and Britain's imposed illegal presence, this catastrophe would not have occurred.

The "no fly zones" are illegal under international law, and are an inherently dangerous crime of the magnitude to make the US and Britain guilty of depraved heart murder for the deaths of the young people on that soccer field in Iraq. The no-fly zones are not authorized by the UN and are not specifically sanctioned by any Security Council resolution.

Posted by: denk | Jan 14 2020 1:58 utc | 205

PavewayIV @202

Yeah, the Tor operator may not have had ADS-b. But he then he would get info about civilian air traffic from other radar systems as you've explained.

Other commercial aircraft had also flown past the base in the hours before. We have no reason to believe that they didn't have working transponders. And I doubt very much that the Tor operator has to contact his command to determine if every blip he sees is a commercial airliner.

It wasn't just that they Tor operator couldn't reach his command within 10 seconds, but that whatever system he had to identify commercial traffic was not showing THIS aircraft as a commercial airliner.

So what happens when the transponder signal from PS732 ends, either because it's been disabled or Iranian radar systems are hacked? Those other systems stop tracking the aircraft and/or stop relaying the identification of the aircraft. So the Tor operator has only that blip ... and 10 seconds.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 14 2020 2:01 utc | 206

Relevant to this discussion

A comment from Lurker in the Dark links to a twitter post about cyber war ops on Iranian air defense systems on that night.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 14 2020 2:12 utc | 207

Peter AU1@203 - A ground-based IFF transceiver sends a coded query first. If and only if the aircraft's IFF is listening for queries with that code, it can understand the query and reply with its own coded reply. If and only if the ground-based IFF is listening for replies with that code, it can understand the reply and designate as friend - usually.

The transmit and reply codes are usually not the same. IFFs can usually be programmed to understand several codes for queries or replies, and some can be programmed to only use or accept a certain groups of codes during specific time periods. There are other solutions for crowded environments where several ground units may be (independently) broadcasting queries, and several aircraft may be broadcasting replies. Example: F-35 is following a fighter from behind, hears the encoded query, hears the fighter's encoded reply and then rebroadcasts the same reply when it thinks it is being queried.

Re: Cruise missile - that's an odd detail to include in the press briefing. I've explained the reason they may not have been aware that they were sited directly under a known (at least to experienced AD crew) departure route for that airport. Then the reason the TAR computer might interpret it as a cruise missile rather than an aircraft based on its behavior - obviously using logic that didn't take into account the airport. So the operator is surprised by the TOR suddenly screaming that its tracking an inbound cruise missile that is now pointing directly at the TOR and trying to go over the hump to attack it. If the operator was not from that area, he may have had no idea that IKA departures would be flying right over his site. Mehrabad International departures heading to Baghdad fly over that site - maybe others. The TOR leaves it up to the master operator to agree or disagree before hitting the big red button. That's usually done by the operator confirming with command, which he couldn't reach.

On any other day, the master operator may have suspected a screw-up, did nothing and hope for the best. On the day he's expecting the US to take out all Iran's air defenses in a imminent massive initial strike, he might have had though differently. Look at the facts he had. Would you argue with the TOR if it said you were about to get smoked?

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 14 2020 2:14 utc | 208

If Iran had closed its airspace or part of it, such as the airport, it would have been a self-imposed no-fly zone. Although NFZs usually prohibit military aircraft of a belligerent power from operating in the region, air exclusion/no-fly zones and anti-aircraft defences are sometimes set up in a civilian context, for example to protect sensitive locations, or events such as the 2012 London Olympic Games, against terrorist air attack.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 14 2020 2:49 utc | 209

@199 jackrabbit..

""Qparticle | Jan 13 2020 22:22 utc | 190:

Wikileaks alleges that Russia gave Israel the codes of the TOR-M1 air defenses system that Russia sold to Iran ...

Link? I find this difficult to believe. If this proved true, it would be a black eye for Russia diplomatically and would likely mean a big drop in Russian military equipment sales.""

this was mentioned previously it is sounds like it was coming out of stratfor the israeli disinfo place... i question it as well and i think all that got shown was some stratfor info - which i consider disinfo..

Posted by: james | Jan 14 2020 3:02 utc | 210

From the general's presentation.
"They had been told cruise missiles were coming, and the air defence unit engaged in this incident and fired a missile. Now we have arranged an interview with this operator, which will be released soon as part of the plan to publicize the issue. He says in this interview that “we requested for several times that the country’s airspace be cleared of [civilian] flights.’"

"He says in this interview that “we requested for several times that the country’s airspace be cleared of [civilian] flights.’"

The operator that fired had been on station for some time and was not only aware of, but finding civilian aircraft a problem.

The question comes back to 'what was different about the Ukraine plane'.

"Well at such a situation, he was obliged to contact, get approval. This is where this operator makes the mistake; but at that moment, his communication system was apparently disrupted – whether because of jamming systems or the high traffic."

Iran general staff statement on completion of the investigation.
"3. In such a sensitive and critical situation, flight 752 of Ukraine Airlines which had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport, moved very close to a sensitive military spot belonging to the IRGC forces when completing a loop. The altitude and the direction of the flight's movement were like an enemy target, so the aircraft was targeted unintentionally due to human error..."

There seems to be several different translations of the general staff statement. The first I found which I posted links to had slightly different wording saying the plane turned around. This one the translation says 'completed a loop'. Either wording makes it sound as though the plane turned perhaps to head back to the airport, but at the minimum, it sounds as though the plane did something other than a standard climate on standard path. Loop and turn around a very similar wordings. Loop is generally a full circle whereas 'turn around' is usually thought of as 180 degrees.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 14 2020 3:13 utc | 211

Jackrabbit | Jan 14 2020 0:31 utc | 199

Not my allegation, It is in a quote from the original poster I responded to. But I used this hypothesis and presented another idea for possible hack on the TOR which is similar to the similar and old rumor that Greece let Mossad hack their old S-300 (the make was before 1996-7). They have oudated TOR's too. One thing I am hearing as rumor is that new government is full of Mossad to put it bluntly. Current PM holds record for "newly elected head of gov. that took less time after inaquration than any other PM globaly to rush and order an f35 deal from the US" Only 5 months of new government...

Peter AU1 | Jan 14 2020 0:24 utc | 196

I agree, from what I understood from local news they seemed they were interested in the frequency ranges the system scans for targets.

lex talionis | Jan 13 2020 22:54 utc | 192

T.Y lex talionis.
He used to appear almost every week to news of being supportive of the former government, but since July elections was nowhere to be found. But yesterday made news again for congradulating the starving country's new PM for wanting to participate in the f35 project.

Posted by: Qparticle | Jan 14 2020 5:33 utc | 212

We know [[[who]]] did Mh370.

NO closure.

Posted by: denk | Jan 14 2020 5:33 utc | 213

fyi Interesting. Motivations?

Russian Assessment Disputes Iran Account of UIA Shootdown

"Russian military experts doubt details of missile shootdown of Ukrainian Flt 752, missile track and timing, aircraft damage. Vzglyad reports assessment that Iranian factional politics decided on limited hang-out, lesser of two evils."

Posted by: John Gilberts | Jan 14 2020 7:21 utc | 214

Someone here able to read Farsi?

« University of Tehran Cyperspace Research Lab:

On the matter of the Ukrainian plane accident in Iran, the role of human error has been ruled out [as it has been discovered that] deception operations were carried out on the air control & command system. -

Posted by: mk | Jan 14 2020 9:20 utc | 215

Iran's President Rouhani calls for special court to hear plane tragedy cases

The president noted that the crash could not have been caused by a single individual, giving assurances that all those involved would face prosecution.

“Not just the one person who pressed the button is to blame; there are others involved. I want this issue to be honestly explained to the people,” he said, adding that it is highly important for the Iranian people that everyone bearing some degree of responsibility be identified and punished accordingly.

“It is a first good step that the Iranian Armed Forces have admitted their mistake… We should now [work to] assure the people that this will not happen again,” Rouhani said, adding that his government would be “accountable to the Iranians and the nationals of other countries who lost their lives in this incident.”

This is not just about an unfortunate accident that led to the loss of lives that “were very dear to us," but "this is also a question of airspace security, which is of prime importance to Iran and the world,” said the president.

They will not get their limited hangout.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 14 2020 11:22 utc | 216

Posted by: John Gilberts | Jan 14 2020 7:21 utc | 213

British RUSI spent great effort and understanding for the "poor guy on the trigger having to make a fast decision" theory BEFORE the Iranians admitted the shoot down.

I suspect both sides have got something to hide, Iran maybe playing for time to clear things up.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 14 2020 11:32 utc | 217

As I expected, EU goes along with the US on nuclear deal.

France, Germany & UK blame Iran for violating nuclear deal ‘key restrictions’, trigger mechanism to investigate its non-commitment

Posted by: Zanon | Jan 14 2020 11:49 utc | 218

Posted by: Zanon | Jan 14 2020 11:49 utc | 217

Depends. Might not work the way you think. My feeling is the world tries to reign in the US president by stickling to legality. I did not check but I am pretty sure Russia and China are part of the mechanism.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 14 2020 12:35 utc | 219

This article provides quite detailed reasons about why it is not possible for the TOR/SA-15 to have shot down PS752 by mistake:

Iranian Flight Crash Facts Not Adding Up

The article is obviously based on the theory that two Tor missiles hit PS-752 (I only mention this because I don't recall this theory being discussed on MoA).

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 14 2020 14:49 utc | 220

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, the scenario presented by the Iran is Feasible. The other thing overlooked by this assessment is that Iran’s reaction was not a knee jerk response to the Generals assassination. There were several days in between the U.S. actions and the Iranian response. Any planned missile launch by Iran in retaliation should have included the grounding of all civilian aircraft. Obviously this didn’t happen, If you want to debate this back to the early 1900’s and England wanting to monopolize Iran’s oil feel free to, but sometimes the correct answer is the simplest answer and in this case a tragic accident happened due to human error.

Posted by: Otto | Jan 14 2020 15:09 utc | 221

Guardian from 6 month ago

US launched cyber attack on Iranian rockets and missiles – reports This article is more than 6 months old

Targeted strike on computer-controlled weapons of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard had been planned over weeks.

The US military launched a cyber-attack on Iranian weapons systems on Thursday, according to sources, as President Donald Trump backed away from plans for a more conventional strike in response to Iran’s downing of a US surveillance drone.

The hack disabled Iranian computer systems that controlled its rocket and missile launchers, two officials told the Associated Press, and were conducted with approval from Trump. A third official confirmed the broad outlines of the strike. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly about the operation.

Two of the officials said the attacks, which specifically targeted computer systems of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), had been provided as options after two oil tankers were bombed. The IRGC has been designated a foreign terrorist group by the Trump administration.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 14 2020 15:23 utc | 222

Nice catch you got here, somebody!

Posted by: Mina | Jan 14 2020 15:37 utc | 223

@Otto , because the IRGC had info of cruise missiles being launched. Why would the Americans fake a cruise missile launch knowing very well the airspace above Iran was not closed? Why was the airspace above Iran not closed after IRGC has asked their government to close it? Because the Americans reassured the Iranian political ruling elite though back channels (via swiss embassy) there would not be any retaliation if there were no US casualties with Iranian missile attack (the save face understanding). SO the Americans talk one thing through media they would retaliate, another thing to Iranian political rulers (through back channels) they were willing to accept a save face understanding, and this while USA fakes cruise missile launch to provoke the IRGC into making a fatal mistake knowing very well the airspace was still open.!

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 15:47 utc | 224

@Otto Yes and the simplest answer is that the Americans faked a cruise missile launch, because the IRGC had info of cruise missiles being launched. Why would the Americans fake a cruise missile launch knowing very well the airspace above Iran was not closed? Why was the airspace above Iran not closed after IRGC has asked their government to close it? Because the Americans reassured the Iranian political ruling elite though back channels (via swiss embassy) there would not be any retaliation if there were no US casualties with Iranian missile attack (the save face understanding). SO the Americans talk one thing through media they would retaliate, another thing to Iranian political rulers (through back channels) they were willing to accept a save face understanding, and this while USA fakes cruise missile launch to provoke the IRGC into making a fatal mistake knowing very well the airspace was still open.!

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 15:48 utc | 225

@PavewayIV Why are you obsessed with the smallest picture and focus only on the Tor? You should look at the bigger picture! It is the Integrated Air Defenses that screamed incoming cruise missile, that is why the whole IRGC Air Defenses were on the highest alert. The Tor was merely the target and weakest link of the spoofed cruise missile.

Also spoofing air defenses has been done earlier as reported in: "How Israel Spoofed Syria's Air Defense System"

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 17:12 utc | 227

dave@227 - Did you read my posts? I'm trying to explain why that particular TOR wouldn't need to have been spoofed at all to think it's looking at a cruise missile. And, while suspicious, the loss of ADS-B by the aircraft didn't affect how the TOR reacted. Likewise, there are good reasons why the operator would not consider that particular target's classification to be an aircraft departing from IKA if the TOR thought it was a cruise missile. I'm not saying that this is the way it happened, but you can't just ignore these details in the alternatives. Nor can you ignore the state of alert and F-35 probing the coastal radars with fake targets. They all played a part.

I'm considering the potential human and technical factors we know now to make a reasonable guess at what did or did not happen regardless of 'who is to blame' here. Certain details are obviously much more incriminating to one side or the other or a particular individual. That doesn't make them more significant from a technical standpoint, nor does it means you should ignore possibilities because they do or do not incriminate someone.

Like every other aviation disaster, this one was the end-point of several chains of failure, missed opportunity and bad luck. There was not one single cause, nor would there be one single solution.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 14 2020 19:42 utc | 228

@PavewayIV You do not understand anything what i am trying to tell you. Yes, the Tor was the weakest link in the chain, but the integrated air defenses were on the highest alert level cause they detected cruise missiles being launched. Why would the Americans fake a cruise missile launch? What is the purpose of this?
It is not like the Americans were not aware of the overall configuration of the IRGC Air Defenses and their potential weak points.

You have to look at the complete picture, For example when a hacker tries to break into a computer network he always goes after the weakest link in the network.

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 20:56 utc | 229

dave@229 - Why would the Americans fake a cruise missile launch? What is the purpose of this?

Just to make sure I understand what you've been saying: the spoofed cruise missiles were just a way for CENTCOM to get Iran to raise the AD alert level... creating conditions that could then be exploited by the US cyber warriors... to trick an Iranian AD unit into destroying a passenger aircraft?

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 14 2020 21:26 utc | 230

Texas @ Fort Russ has what seems to be an informed opinion. He doubts both the stories, ie that it was an error by Iran, and also that it was not. Says everyboy's lying. And that they all have reasons. And that actions reveal intent and policy.

In a larger arena, a bombing campaign by US against Iraq in being prepared (see FR).

And of course that Clestial Intellect Fatboy Pompeo has announcced the policy of murdering both Russian and Chinese whenever the US wishes to (see twitter -)

So Texas' prediction of showdown with Russia in April may well be correct.

I sure wish it was a prettier picture...

Posted by: Walter | Jan 14 2020 21:43 utc | 231

Walter 231

Texas seems to be going off the Tor specs for the latest models. Iran's units were much older. Possibly their electronics have been updated, possibly not. Another unknown.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 14 2020 21:52 utc | 232

@PavewayIV The result of this is that the Iranians have become way more demoralized, the Iranian faction (doves) that is willing to cooperate with the Americans have now the upper hand. It was for Trump a choice of the lesser of two evils; sacrifice 1 airliner at the hands of IRGC (hardliners and US designated terrorist organization) or a full scale confrontation with Iran with potentially 100.000s of deaths on all sides which would make Trump and USA look real bad in public opinion abroad and at home.
I believe Trump made this choice.

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 22:02 utc | 233

there's no evidence that iran has become way more demoralized, and more willing to cooperate with americans. this was a ghastly miscalculation by trump, and the effects will play out over years, not days.

Posted by: pretzelattack | Jan 14 2020 22:05 utc | 234

@pretzelattack Shooting your "own" plane down is an embarrassment to the hardliners (IRGC), the doves are taking over now in Iran.

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 22:13 utc | 235

@ Peter AU1 | Jan 14 2020 21:52 utc | 232

Yes, I noticed his assumptions about the anti air system(s) are unsupported. I do assume that "Texas, being an intelligence officer, also has reason to lie about some topics, and not lie about others, and also possibly has information he's keeping to himself - like the specifications of whatever did happen, through, presumably the Russian intel services. I assume he's linked up to Russian intel. I do tend to agree that everybody is lying, it's, after all, war - truth being the first "casualty".

As to the attacks...I recall that the Cuban Revolutionaries were delighted by the US attacking Cuba, as this solidified the Revolutionary's legitimacy. And I recall that Saddam's curated attack on Revolutionary Iran resulted in a consolidation of Revolutionary power in Iran. It's ordinary - attack people and they tend to set aside their personal interests in favor of the nation. This, then, would dove-tail to an increased resolve in Iran, not dissolution. And I recall what happened to Napoleon when the Russians massed at Borodino...

And observe that The "Pompeo Doctrine" of murder at will of Russian and Chinese "assets" (like Generals and diplomats, etc) is predictably liable to rapidly become "two-way"... ie the boom-er-ang might well be somewhat disagreeable for the fat boys.

I do hope Brother Lavrov speaks to this now announced Policy (which, given all the murders, is not new, merely expanded...I mean ask JFK or Brother Martin).


Posted by: Walter | Jan 14 2020 22:52 utc | 236

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 17:12 utc | 227

You are assuming that the stuff about the "incoming missile scare" is true.

What the US side was trying to do is obvious - at a minimum, they tried to get a clear picture of Iran's defenses, at a maximum they would have answered missiles with missiles.

I am not sure doves won this, as doves' assumptions - that the West can be trusted and you can make a deal with the US and Europe - have been disproved. Hardliners were caught in placing more importance on military success than civilian safety. I would say Iranians are between a rock and a hard place.

De facto China and Russia won this as they will be the ones Iran will make business with. It is another layer that it was a Russian system that failed.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 14 2020 23:12 utc | 237

Hajizadeh says air defence units were on "full alert" and received messages that "cruise missiles had been fired at the country". source:

You really cannot read my post, you must be a typical American, when i am referring to doves i mean Iranian doves (not US doves!), there are two factions in the Iranian regime, one is the hardliner anti-imperialist faction (IRGC) and the other is the conservative faction (doves) which is willing to cooperate with the US. The Iranian hardliners failed miserably with the shootdown of an airliner, now the faction which is willing to cooperate with the US have the upper hand.

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 23:43 utc | 238


quoting @somebody "they tried to get a clear picture of Iran's defenses"

Sure they did knowing very well the risks spoofing a cruise missile attack brings as is proven by the fact they had issued flight restrictions to US civil aviation operators:

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 23:54 utc | 239

Posted by: dave | Jan 14 2020 23:43 utc | 238

I understood you perfectly.

Iranian doves (people who thought they could cooperate with the US) have been proven wrong with Trump's backtracking on the Iran deal and the assassination of an Iranian general (which should be a case for the Hague), Iranian hardliners have been shown to care more about military success than civilian safety.

You really think Iranian doves "won"?

"Sure they did knowing very well the risks spoofing a cruise missile attack brings as is proven by the fact they had issued flight restrictions to US civil aviation operators"
Should it turn out that the people "spoofing" Iran's military defenses turned them intentionally to shoot down a civilian plane, that would be another case for the Hague.
There is no declaration of war, remember, if you don't count Trump's tweets and if you do count Trump's tweet that is another case for the Hague.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 15 2020 0:07 utc | 240

@somebody Imperial powers are not going to persecute themselves at the Hague.

According to US law Trump did nothing wrong with the assassination of the General of IRGC, cause the US have designated IRGC as a terrorist organization and had every right (according to US law) to assassinate him as they have done to many other terrorists and civilians.

Posted by: dave | Jan 15 2020 0:19 utc | 241

@somebody Oh i forgot to mention.. This US flight restriction was issued after the Iranian missile attack but before PS752 got shot down.

Posted by: dave | Jan 15 2020 0:25 utc | 242

Posted by: dave | Jan 15 2020 0:26 utc | 243

hey dave... to the rest of the world it matters diddley squat what USA law says... it is written by a bunch of jackasses to maintain its exceptional position...according to USA law the world is upside down too.. who gives a fuck about USA law outside of the USA? more importantly does the usa feel like relating to the rest of the planet at any time? it appears not..

Posted by: james | Jan 15 2020 0:26 utc | 244

the faa - the same org that green lighted those amazing boeings that are sitting until further notice... what an organization that is the faa...

Posted by: james | Jan 15 2020 0:27 utc | 245

speaking of holding others accountable for the death by a plane going down it seems to me the usa-faa has some need for accountability on their own end, but i guess if they are only foreigners and not americans, it doesn't count according to americans? or is it okay if boeing makes a product it knows is unsafe, but the faa lets it fly anyway? how many deaths did it take before others stepped in - way before the faa - to stop the flight of these 737 maxes?

Posted by: james | Jan 15 2020 0:34 utc | 246

I wonder if this can has been the case in Iran too

Posted by: ARN | Jan 15 2020 1:06 utc | 247

saw this twitter too..

Posted by: ARN | Jan 15 2020 1:09 utc | 248

is it possible that the US Armed forces jammed or disabled the 737 transponders given all the electronic warfare knowledge it to may have been by accident given Iran had been shooting at the US bases
which then started the chain of events that ended with the shooting down of the 737

Posted by: robert webb | Jan 15 2020 7:36 utc | 249

dave @233

Such a result favoring the MEK is consistent with your observation that opposition forces willing to cooperate with the U.S. have been gifted leverage. Recall that five months ago Rudi Giuliani gave a speech in Albania to MEK members, calling them Iran's "government-in-exile" with assurances the U.S. will trust transition to such a responsible group of people.

Posted by: psychedelicatessen | Jan 15 2020 8:25 utc | 250

It should be noted that the ability of the US and Israel to intervene electronically into technical processes is highly develeopped. I take it to be possible that the technical problems that forced the pilots to return could have been "televised", likewise I take it to be possible that the communication to inform the tower could have been blocked. Even an electronic intervention in the air defence is imaginable. Protests in Iran against the downing "by Iran´s forces" (most passengers were Iranians or of Iranian descent) were predictable. On the other hand Iran´s government from their self understanding could hardly admit that the US or/and Israel were able to "finger" into the internal events! Just thinking!

Posted by: Andreas Schlüter | Jan 15 2020 13:16 utc | 251

US Statutory Law, which seems to make murder legal and smashing objects wherever they wish, is moot. The UN Charter under the Treaty Clause is superior to mere statute. Making war of aggression (and murder) is prohibited and illegal.

The US Constitution, however, was abandoned long ago. And if one studies the history of the US signing of the UN Treaty, one can see that the US relationship was fraudulent...perhaps invalidating the entire relationship.

Nuremberg Laws, nevertheless, is established, war as supreme crime and all of that...

None of this matters, however. The US Imperial Structure, based on "export" on plunder-buckies through force and blackmail, cannot go back to the status quo ante of 1940. Nobody can. The control of critical materials, oil, minerals, media, and so forth is an intrinsic feature of the Empire.

Empire, whoever is titularly in charge, has essentially zero options other than violence, force, intrigue, deception. The Old Army Game...


The idea that the Iranian AD was spoofed might be why Iran is (see Texas' thesis) lying. They know they were spoofed? Maybe...if so that would be an important secret. Quite possibly that trick won't work a second time. Persia been around long time...

Posted by: Walter | Jan 15 2020 13:54 utc | 252

This is an article that puts forward a different theory - that it was a western backed intelligence agency/group that shot down PS752 with Manpads.

Time to Untangle A Very Deep Deception Downing Of Flight 752

It strikes me as providing a much simpler explanation of what happened; no need for EW, no need for multiple coincidences, no need to compromise PS752, no need to interfere with the Tor, no need for communications to be out, easier to understand how the event was conveniently filmed, etc.

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 15 2020 13:54 utc | 253

ADKC, that would explain why the first video had the missile coming from the west, as Bellingcat suggested, while Iran said it had fired it from the north, with the NYT seeking a compromise suggesting it came from the northwest. However, the NYT has now confirmed the flight data was normal and nothing was wrong with this flight or the previous ones that day until this plane was hit. Why was it hit? Conveniently, the NYT unearthed another video that seeks to answer that. It shows two missiles. The second missile makes sense of the transponder going down, the plane turns right to return to the airport and is hit a second time. Unfortunately, this new angle does nothing to explain why the first missile was launched. There are other problems with the new video, like the date. More importantly, so far nobody has explained what was supposed to be so different about that flight. I had also the curious feeling that the first missile in the now-uncovered video was heat-seeking but cannot tell.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 15 2020 15:04 utc | 254

However, no matter how straightforward one might be in one's execution of the mission, it is necessary to make the Iranian airdefense to shoot something! EW is still my fave. And we do know the coms were jammed.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 15 2020 15:43 utc | 255

Jonathan W @254

In terms of the article, I linked @253, none of these questions presents problems. The plane was just target of convenience. The article doesn't mention two Manpads launched but we can easily assume there were two. The first Manpad strike took out the transponder and doomed PS752 (even though PS752 hadn't yet become uncontrollable if was not going to recover and was bound to suffer a catastrophic collapse - that is what Manpads do) and the second strike was just insurance.

Manpads are heat-seeking (or, more accurately, infrared-seeking) which aligns with your feelings.

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 15 2020 15:51 utc | 256

Jonathan W @255

"it is necessary to make the Iranian airdefense to shoot something"

No, it is not. All we know is that the Iranians said it was a Tor - the Iranians may not be telling the truth.

"we do know the coms were jammed."

No, we don't. We only know that is what the Iranians claim - they may not be telling the truth.

The article I link @253 makes the case that the strike on PS752 is not consistent with a Tor missile but is very consistent with a Manpad.

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 15 2020 15:58 utc | 257

ADKC @253:

... shot down PS752 with Manpads. ... a much simpler explanation of what happened; no need for EW, no need for multiple coincidences, no need to compromise PS752 ...

Nah. MANPAD launch can be detected. SecOp can be compromised (MEK can be infiltrated). And there could be hardware or human error.

An on-board device and a small bomb to destroy the evidence provides certainty and opsec.

Radar-spoofing electronic warfare (EW) technology from Mercury Systems can fool enemy radar systems with false and deceptively moving targets (ht SOTT).


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 16:15 utc | 258

You know who your daddy is because somebody told you. It's all simply what other people say. No point in hammering on hearsay. There's no knowledge in it.

Posted by: Walter | Jan 15 2020 16:28 utc | 259

If A were to take a plane down during takeoff A would just shoot it down. Everybody's nerve would be on edge. A would launch hmultiple missiles. If the Iranian air defense reacts to the missiles A has launched well you would have the mess we are in now. If you really want to implicate it just use EW. By the way, what was that a out 9/11 executed on autopilot?

Posted by: Jonathan Widell | Jan 15 2020 17:10 utc | 260

One missile fired. General Hajizadeh points out the flight path from their to the crash point. A sharp turn then relatively straight flight until it crashed. General staff statement say plane was hit while turning around or completing a loop depending on translation.
Also that unit was the first to be deployed around Tehran (Tehran also has its permanent air defences) and had been on position since 0.00hrs Something was different about that flight that caused the unit commander to believe it was a cruise missile. Five-eyes are adamant two missiles were fired so MEK with manpad is likely.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 15 2020 17:13 utc | 261

@ peter... manpad would explain the rest of what happened after?? would explain someone taking a video ahead of time..

Posted by: james | Jan 15 2020 17:20 utc | 262

Jonathan Widell @260:

If you really want to implicate it just use EW. By the way, what was that a out 9/11 executed on autopilot?

Not sure that remotely flying the plane would be necessary. AFAC, the goal wasn't to fly it into something but to trick Iranian ADS into shooting the plane down.

AFAIK EW needs a local device. And it's either active (like jamming) or passive (like the Mercury Systems device I mentioned @258). I'm not an expert, but I'd guess that active devices can be traced, while passive devices are very difficult, if not impossible, to detect.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 17:26 utc | 263

manpad was my thought when I first heard the five-eyes narrative on the radio.
Thinking about it now, a manpad is likely to take out an engine and cause the plane to turn, but then that wouldn't explained the transponder discrepancy. So perhaps explosives as jackrabbit has been saying. That would also give a reason why five-eyes are saying two missiles.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 15 2020 17:28 utc | 264

Peter AU1 @261: Five-eyes are adamant two missiles were fired ...

But they've shown no proof of that. All we have are NYTimes videos. LOL.

The two-missile theory is flawed by the short time-frames. The first missile would almost have to be MEK with MANPAD. But MANPADs are almost all heat-seeking and would go after engines. Seems doubtful that such a hit would terminate communications like the transponder signal and pilot contact with the tower.

And how does a prior missile strike account for the Tor system/operator determination that the aircraft was a cruise missile?

The two-missile claim could be cover for a device on-board PS732.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 17:38 utc | 265

dave@233 - I don't disagree with you on the political and military effects of the strike. Iran stopped (at least temporarily) their retaliatory strikes on US bases. I also wouldn't dispute the motivation for Trump to make that happen. He was clearly worried about Iran's resolve and its potential to inflict rounds of painful retaliation on US troops with its missiles. I think we (the US) have more than enough EW tricks that could cause such a disaster.

I just disagree that Trump would go to that extent to interrupt the slippery slope to war he started, especially when his order would have resulted in the deaths of many non-Iranians. Not that he has any compassion for them, but even the minutest the risk of someone finding out and the potential repercussions for him, personally, are is just too great. It wasn't the only alternative that would have accomplished nearly the same thing.

I can think of a lot of other ruses Trump could have used that wouldn't involve the 'sacrifice' of foreign national citizens and would have effectively distracted Iran, however temporarily, from their retaliatory campaign. You probably can, too. And Trump is a bully. But he's also a coward. He'll going with cruel if necessary, but only if it's riskless for him. He's surrounded by people who are trying to take him down legally (another impeachment) by ratting him out. Those same people in Washington that hate Trump also hate Iran, too. No problem. Psychopath and Apocalypse-worshipper Pence would be the ideal replacement. Why would Trump walk into that kind of trap when he has so many other alternatives?

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 15 2020 17:42 utc | 266

Peter AU1 @264: manpad was my thought

I doubt MEK would fire a MANPAD at a commercial airliner (especially a Western airliner) without getting an "OK" from their CIA-sponsors.

Everyone knows of the CIA connection to MEK.

So why would CIA approve of such an action? It just comes back to them. And for such a sensitive op, CIA or Mossad would not want ANY possibility that MEK was compromised.

<> <> <> <> <>

I'm actually leaning toward Mossad for much the same reason. They are much better at keeping such ops secret. They've tricked Syrian ADS when the Russian spy plane was downed and tried to trick them again with a commercial airliner. And they've appear to have been working hard on false-flag ops that make Iran look like a terrorist nation (like the tanker attacks).

And then there's the fact that Kolomoisky owns a majority stake in UIA.

But this is all speculation until we get more info.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 17:48 utc | 267

But from the viewpoint of someone who would have to pull off this "accident", this is how it must have gone: Iran launches missiles to the US bases in Iraq. Trump wants to retaliate to THAT. Tehran is the venue. The FAA issues a NOTAM. US planes stay out of Tehran. A UIA plane full of Muslims is going to take off. Trump tweets: All is well. The V for Vendetta squad takes the MANPAD to the bushes west of the airport launches the missile. It hits. It knocks down the transponder. The pilot wants to return to the airport. Maybe there was another missile just to makes sure. The poor TOR operator has been spoofed on his screen all night but he realizes something is wrong now. He must have heard the explosion as well. He thought it was an incoming missile. He would be right in that a missile had been launched but by now all he can spot in the sky is the airplane turning towards his unit and he thinks that is the incoming missile. Everything happens in a few seconds and he launches. I think the Ukrainian investigators found two missiles at the crash site. However, the point is that this is a feasible scenario. The others do not seem that strong to me although the electronic hijacking is appealing. But then the Vendetta squad would have to trust the air defence to shoot the plane down and with so many unknowns that does not seem to be a good way to execute the plan. Whether the Vendetta is MEK or SAS or whatever is of course ope.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 15 2020 17:51 utc | 268


Apart from remote tinkering with the Boeing and radar spoofing, most theories see to have holes at some point.
Manpad hitting an engine would cause the plane to turn but not take out the radar. An explosive up front to take out the transponder may not cause the plane to turn..

Five-eyes generally build their fictional tales around one or two facts. That they have been adamant from the start that two Tor missiles were fired makes me think there were two explosions that had to be covered by the narrative. Perhaps a combination. Manpad or explosives to take out an engine, remote tinkering to switch of transponder, accompanied by coms jamming and radar spoofing.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 15 2020 18:10 utc | 269

Jonathan W @268

Another complication with MANPAD theory (adding to my previous list): using a MANPAD risks taking down the plane just by itself.

That would end any chance of getting evidence of Iran ADS firing on the aircraft - which IMO was the intention.

IRGC probably knew that USA (and others, like Russia?) could detect the Tor launch and that's why IRGC had to admit to firing on the airliner. Otherwise, USA would claim a cover-up and that only compounds the error.

While it's possible that a MANPAD was used, there is just too many potential complications. Unless one believes that they intent was to actually down the airliner instead of trick Iranian ADS into doing so. And I don't really see much benefit in doing that.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 18:24 utc | 270

Peter AU1 @269

You could turn the plane remotely, but to have the plane look like a missile you need to have a spoofing device on board, and then you need to be able to destroy it.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 18:29 utc | 271

Jackrabbit. It was probably a combination of everything. Anyway, it is suspicious that the "Western intelligence" was sure from the start it was a missile. Yet, that was the last we heard from the "Western intelligence". Now we are studying NYT videos they have found on YouTube like. I believe these are the broad parameters. Every single scenario has a bunch of uncertainties but to minimize the possibility of anything going wrong, if you want to shoot down the plane you shoot down the damn thing and take it from there.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 15 2020 18:34 utc | 272
"The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces has been tasked with probing the data on the aircraft's black boxes with the help of experts from the General Staff of the Armed Forces and the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran as well as electronic warfare professionals, the spokesman said."

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 15 2020 18:38 utc | 273
"The chairman of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, expressed hope that “lessons will be learned” from the incident and that needed “action is taken by all parties”.

“If decryption of the black boxes and the work of the investigation do not prove that the Iranian army did this intentionally, and there are no logical reasons for this, the incident must be closed,” he said."

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 15 2020 18:59 utc | 274

No way a MANPADS missile launch or flight can be seen from low-earth orbit US IR recon satellites - by any stretch of the imagination. If it was that easy, then we could identify every TOW launch and flight as well. We just can't.

There have been pictures of (the beginning of) the reconstruction using PS752 wreckage. The right, front side and the underside of the flight deck under the pilot's seat were blown away by the first missile. All the 737's electronics are in the space under the flight deck. There was shrapnel damage going through the skin on that side and shrapnel damage on the copilot's (left) side windscreen from - what appears to be - inside the aircraft. The first strike would have been followed by immediate explosive decompression and lateral shredding of the fuselage some distance back. If there was not structural failure of the main body or wing at that point, then the bottom, right shredded area would have caused enough drag (at 300kts) to slowly turn the aircraft and slow it down. Both pilots could have been dead at that point, an the aircraft could have continued in relatively stable flight - slowly descending and turning right - without any controls or flight computers.

That damage is perfectly consistent with radar-guided, proximity-fused SAMs like a TOR and BUK - their shrapnel pattern is designed to hit the most lethal and effective spot: just behind the nose at the cockpit or flight deck, not the engines or wings. This is true even if this type of missile is approaching from the side or back. MANPADS do not use a shrapnel warhead (weight). It's a high-explosive warhead.

If the aircraft is approaching the SAM, the missile will try to fly higher than the target's flight path. The missile's terminal approach will be at a spot behind the nose from above (MA17). Same thing from below with PS72.

A second missile from a TOR wouldn't be a surprise - they are designed to keep targeting a threat and engaging until the target is destroyed. It would have continued to track and target PS752 even after the strike, once again alerting the operator of the continuing threat and readying a missile for launch. The aircraft would have been turning out of the engagement range in tens of seconds and heading (generally) towards Tehran. No reason for the operator to do anything different this time.

Again, I have no idea what 'really' happened. I'm just explaining how it's possible for this scenario to have played out if the operator was relying entirely on what the TOR was telling him about the target and with no knowledge of his position underneath a known IKA departure route.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 15 2020 20:46 utc | 275

pat langs comment today - 2. The Iranian SAM battery fired a salvo of two at the Ukrainian airliner. Is anyone really surprised at that? That is what they do in the air defense business.

Posted by: james | Jan 15 2020 21:06 utc | 276

pat lang's "salvo of two missiles" makes much more sense than two separate launches.

To me, "salvo" means that there was one decision to fire 2 missiles. They would've launched within seconds of each other. And the impact point would've been in the same vicinity. That also explains why the IRGC Commander's presentation only talked about one missile strike.

We are still left with the question of what happened to the flight about the time that it would first become visible to the Tor. It's difficult for me to say definitively that the transponder stopped just before or just after it became visible to Tor.

Some are saying that the Tor/Iranians would use EW as standard procedure before firing the missile. In this scenario, the plane becomes visible as it moves higher than the mountainous terrain, is identified as a threat within seconds, and EW is applied (immediately/automatically? but that didn't happen with previous flights!) as the operator calls his superiors for clearance to fire. When he can't get through to them, he fires a "salvo".

What makes no sense to me about this scenario is that if the transponder is working when the flight becomes visible to the Tor, then it should send back a response to IFF (according to what I've read from PavewayIV and others). This leads me to believe that the transponder failed just before it became visible to the Tor. That timing is so strange as to raise questions about whether it was planned.

And, IMO anyone that planned to make the plan look like a cruise missile threat would not use MANPAD to do that.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 15 2020 21:48 utc | 277

All I can say is: TWA 800. The US Navy took down an airliner by mistake on a clear night free of distraction - and has lied about it non-stop ever since and engaged in an aggressive cover up.

Posted by: Ken | Jan 15 2020 23:36 utc | 278

Jackrabbit@277 - I'm horrible at explaining this stuff, yet here I go again:

Old-timey air traffic radar (primary radar): require no special equipment on the aircraft. It blasts out a radar pulse and listens for echoes off the skin of aircraft. You just get blips on a screen of those echoes.

Later on - but still years ago - they added another separate radar using a different frequency to give controllers more information.

Aircraft transponders (really, RADAR transponders) were specifically designed to hear interrogations from that second type of air traffic radar on the single frequency they all use. The transponder replies to those interrogations on a different frequency that all transponders use for replies. You don't change ever change those (radar) frequencies like you do on a regular radio - all transponders use the same two for send/receive, as do all secondary air traffic radars.

In older implementations, the secondary radar spins around just like the primary radar. Except the secondary one isn't sending pulses - it sends and interrogation code. An aircraft transponder will only hear interrogations when the radar dish is pointed directly at it. In response, it will broadcast a seven-character code (kind of) fast enough that the radar is still pointed at it and hears the reply. The old-timey primary radar dish can have the secondary radar dish mounted right on top of it, making it easy to combine the older primary radar echoes with any secondary responses from that same direction. The air traffic controllers got to see partially identified blips with a four-digit id code and maybe three-digit altitude - yay!

The newer implementations of secondary radar do not rely on constantly blasting out interrogations and sifting through every reply. They can interrogate a specific aircraft (if it has a newer transponder) by using that aircraft's electronic serial number. The interrogation can also request many different kinds of data from the aircraft, and the newer transponders will reply with an entire data packet (vs. a single seven-digit code).

IFF is only military. It DOES use the exact same civilian secondary radar interrogation/reply frequencies. But IFF interrogations are always encrypted. Civilian aircraft transponders could hear the interrogation, but had no idea what it was and wouldn't respond. Military aircraft could hear the interrogation, but couldn't understand it unless they had the right un-encryption code. Old military aircraft would reply with a few precisely-timed pulses (Friendly - Don't kill me, bro). Modern military aircraft reply with an encrypted response that must use an un-encryption code known to the interrogator and contain whatever other information that's required to identify it as 'Friendly'.

There is no possible way for IFF to tell if an aircraft is 'Foe'. There are only one of two outcomes for any IFF query: 'Proven Friendly' or unknown. Civilian aircraft never have military un-encryption codes and have no idea how to respond even if they did. Even if PS752's transponder was working, the TOR's IFF query would go unanswered = 'unknown'.

Last bit of nonsense: modern aircraft transponders have another capability called ADS-B. In that setting, the aircraft doesn't need to be interrogated by anybody. It just continuously transmits a data packet every second with the aircraft's information. The secondary radar can hear those broadcasts, as well as anyone with a receiver tuned to that frequency. Flightradar24 and other tracking services use a network of ground receivers to collect those broadcasts and plot the aircraft.

For PS752, we ONLY know that the ADS-B broadcasts stopped, presumably because the transponder stopped working. Maybe the pilot (or evil hacker) just turned off the ADS-B part. Or the transponder was blown to bits.

You can't directly jam the transceiver - it will just keep broadcasting ADS-B. EW and jamming would only affect the ground stations (three different ones in this case) and their ability to hear any ADS-B broadcasts by any aircraft.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 16 2020 3:09 utc | 279

Looks like we have to wait for a final report once investigation is complete. Flight recorders, EW ect.
Civilian admin under Rouhani doesn't look so good. Adamant the plane came down due to tech problems even after IRGC told them they believed they had shot the plane down. Political and the Iran Civil aviation authority.
Once evidence showed beyond doubt in the wreckage, Rouhani government went overboard, over compensating, will prosecute all involved, pay out compo ect ect, when they should have waited for full investigation.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 16 2020 6:54 utc | 280

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 16 2020 3:09 utc | 279

You can't directly jam the transceiver - it will just keep broadcasting ADS-B

A simple google search proves you wrong

ADS-B vulnerability to low cost jammers: Risk assessment and possible solutions

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 6:59 utc | 281


There is also the issue of TWO rockets not being able to take a slowly flying plane down - just to make it burn inside.

That would suggest that the position or speed of the plane had been changed for that TOR system.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 7:13 utc | 282

When you google around, you find a lot of irresponsible military stuff.

GPS, ADS-B may be out in Southeast during 'interference tests'
AOPA calls FAA’s response to flight safety risk unacceptable

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 7:58 utc | 283


Jamming is generally swamping a frequency with noise at more power than anything else transmitting.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 16 2020 8:03 utc | 284


Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jan 16 2020 8:03 utc | 284

ok. You would have to change the information ie interfere.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 8:24 utc | 285

add: We are back to realizing that military systems cannot reliably detect civilian planes. And that ADS-B is not reliable.

So it might be an error and people selling regime change just using another opportunity, or an error that was made to happen.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 8:50 utc | 286

PavewayIV @279

One of the articles that was linked to talks about Tor and IFF. I believe that it said that commercial airliner transponders respond to IFF.

I try to find the article later today.

Once again: ADS-b stopped transmitting well before the Tor missiles hit. And the Tor operator mistook the plane as a cruise missile. I've offered ONE possibility that explains how this could happen. All that is required for my theory is access to the plane (in Ukraine) and a burning desire to embarrass/destablize the Iranian government.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 16 2020 9:05 utc | 287

It is not called hybrid warfare for nothing and most likely this was a combination of different factors. I like the MANPAD theory. If a MANPAD projectile hits the transponder and explodes that would explain why the transponder did not work. Also, the plane changed direction. That could be caused mechanically by the MANPAD + explosion rather than electronically. At a more philosophical level, just because this turned out in a certain way does not mean it was planned that way. I don't know if the air defense fire was part of the plan. If Trump was part of the planning mayhem was all that mattered. Anyway, are we supposing that the black boxes will tell us what happened? The Canadian investigators said they did not even know where the boxes were. Off to a great start.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 9:20 utc | 288

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 9:20 utc | 288

I guess that the people who designed BUK and TOR did not have protecting civilian airplanes as a priority. These systems were developed for conventional war not the undeclared undercover war that is taking place now.

I would not be too sure the transponder stopped before shootdown, if flightradar24 is what you base it on.

Update 9 January — The Iranian Civil Aviation Organization has released an initial report on the crash. According to the report the aircraft climbed to 8000 feet and turned right back toward the airport and crashed at 06:18 local time (02:48 UTC)—four minutes after the last ADS-B signal was received by the Flightradar24 network.

The two missiles hit 30 seconds apart according to New York Times, so you have ADS-B signal interval (1 minute?) hit second hit (1.5 minutes) and then the plane continued to fly for a few minutes (2.5?) till crash on the ground.

If it was foul play the most likely scenario is that the TOR-System got hacked - as "anonymous sources" had claimed the US did after the downing of the drone.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 10:08 utc | 289

The transponder is the problem. The best available information (whatever that means) suggests it stopped working while the plane was still on its designated path. It has been suggested that the transponder had to be turned off so the plane would appear as an enemy target to the air defence. For the sake of argument, let us suppose it did not have to be that way: the air defence would have hit the plane whether the transponder was working or not. Indeed, if TOR was hacked it does not seem to matter. Why then take the trouble of turning it off? It could just as well be hit accidentally by a MANPAD. The MANPAD impact would also explain why the plane turned. If hacking the TOR system was all that was needed, the air defence would have hit the plane whether it was flying in a straight line or turning towards the TOR operator.

The NYT article that shows two missiles has major problems. Yes, it may have been "verified" by the NYT but the date is wrong and they have not done a proper geolocation judging by Twitter posts.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 10:52 utc | 290

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 10:52 utc | 290

Would a plane glide as it did with all the electronics destroyed, or would it have to be at least on autopilot?
It sure looked as if the pilots were flying a burning plane.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 13:12 utc | 291

Let us suppose that a MANPAD brought the plane down. The plan must have been to fire at it and watch what happened next. The expectation was that it would make a crash landing and destroy residential buildings. You could not be certain it would end up in a recreational park as it ultimately did. That would have been Trump's retaliation. Probably there would have been casualties unless you had Mr Sullenberg onboard. Things got out of hand when the plane crossed paths with the air defence missile. Even if that was your plan all along, how could you be sure the Iranians would admit their mistake as soon as they did?

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 13:36 utc | 292

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 13:36 utc | 292

The expectation was that it would make a crash landing and destroy residential buildings.

That would have aggravated the hit. But let's assume the plane was chosen for its passengers - middle class highly educated Iranian-Canadians in a Ukrainian plane (two close allies of the US) with middle class Iranian families still residing in the country - ie people bridging the political conflict. With Iranian families capable of putting strain on the Iranian government.

Trump's administration is engaged in a maximum pressure campaign involving blackmail (EU), cyber, destabilization/warfare by proxies (MEK, monarchists, ethnic nationalists) in the hope Iran will collapse.

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 14:04 utc | 293

somebody, that certainly makes sense and, as was also suggested, there were a few nuclear scientists on board so it may have been a mixed bag of goodies and baddies in Trump's world. However, destroying a whole passenger plane full of civilians is a pretty strong indication that something went wrong. It is beyond deranged.

Posted by: Jonathan W | Jan 16 2020 14:17 utc | 294

As for the various theories floating around, which I appreciate, everyone should answer for himself the question: how honest is the IRGC video? Everyone is free not to trust the presentation, and if they Iranians are lying, they may have a good reason.

However, I for myself think the video and the presented facts are for real, if only not complete. I see no reason to distrust it. Therefore I see it like Jackrabbit: at first transponder off, then 24 or 30 seconds later missile impact, as shown in the IRGC video. What the Iranians don't relate is what caused the tranponder to go off. Maybe because they didn't know it yet.

The new two-strike video is a fake IMO and not compatible with the IRGC graphics.

Posted by: mk | Jan 16 2020 14:19 utc | 295

This here - via Europe - is now on the table.

France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the Iran nuclear deal was in danger after “repeated violations” by Tehran. Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing that a dispute mechanism triggered by France, Britain and Germany aimed to resolve the problems diplomatically.

The three European powers launched a process to formally rebuke Iran’s violations of the 2015 accord on Tuesday.

The minister also said that the only way to resolve the current crisis between the United States and Iran was for Tehran to accept a broad negotiation and Washington to progressively reduce sanctions, Reuters reported.

"broad negotiation" means everything, from Iraq to Lebanon to Syria to Afghanistan.

Khamenei is going to preach in person tomorrow. What are your bets, how will he answer to these suggestions?

Posted by: somebody | Jan 16 2020 14:26 utc | 296


You can't directly jam the transceiver - it will just keep broadcasting ADS-B

A simple google search proves you wrong

At least until you get to the third sentence of the abstract you linked:

In this paper, we show how a low cost jammer can affect an ADS-B receiver.

An aircraft can transmit ADS-B from its radar transponder. Ground stations listen for those broadcasts with ADS-B receivers. Jamming makes the channel too noisy to hear any broadcasts.

Spoofing, on the other hand, uses fake ADS-B messages to spoof the appearance of non-existent aircraft to any ADS-B receiver within listening range. And like jamming, spoofing only affects receivers. The transmit side of the aircraft transponder is unaffected and will keep sending ADS-B messages.

Jackrabbit@287 - "I believe that it said that commercial airliner transponders respond to IFF." They can't, unless someone in every country they pass through is willing to give them their IFF interrogator cryptological key and then give them the transponder response cryptological key and 'correct' data for the answer. If you do a Google search for transponders, you may come up with IFF-capable ones. These are aimed at military markets.

It would be a waste of money for, say, a commercial airliner to buy a transceiver with that capability 'just in case'. The Pentagon is not going to give intimate details of our IFF to Delta or FedEx, and those keys would only (potentially) protect them from US/NATO air defense equipment. I'm sure there's exceptions - like when a civilian aircraft is dedicated to military use. In general though, civilian aircraft don't have and couldn't use IFF even if their transponder had that capability.

The military has to rely on other methods to identify civilian aircraft (transponders using Mode-S, ADS-B) and that requires an additional step for positive 'friendly' verification. That's almost exclusively done at AD layers above the short range defenses based on time/resources. A TOR or Pantsir operator cannot possibly be expected to monitor ATC for all the nearby airports, check flight schedules, communicate with pilots or controllers or anything else during acquisition and classification. There's not enough time. All you would have to do to take the site out is send two drones/cruise missiles to enter the unit's radar detection range from opposite sides transmitting fake ADS-B info. Or one in this case if the TOR operator was ordered to 'believe' ADS-B. He would be dead long before brigade could call down and say the aircraft ID is suspicious and may be a spoof.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 16 2020 17:12 utc | 297

PavewayIV @297

Your explanation makes sense.

I haven't had time to look for the article yet.

I'm thinking that maybe the transponder responds to IFF? Then the ADS confirms via radar that an aircraft is commercial (via speed and size) and gives it the designation provided by the transponder.

Now, imagine that a plane is using the Mercury spoofing tech and what appears to be a missile is putting out ADS-b. That would seem strange.

So if you're gonna spoof, you probably want to end the ADS-b before you do so - then your faked missile signal really looks like a missile.

But there's some other "magic" that might be necessary to get the desired effect (the mistaken shoot-down of a commercial airliner). That is interrupting the comms of the Tor. Which appears to have happened. The Tor operator followed procedure and tried to contact his commander who could have verified that the plane was an airline - but he couldn't reach him.

Any theory has to explain a set of unusual events, such as:

- the early termination of ADS-b; the pilot's non-communication with the tower;

- the Tor operators belief that the plane was a cruise missile;

- the interruption in the Tor operator comms;

- USA warning to aircraft;

- Iran's shooting down a plane ... of Iranians (making deliberate shoot-down very unlikely);

- the strange filming of night sky as though someone on the ground knew that something was about to happen.

I think the theory of a device on board best fits these but that is tentative because we don't have all the info yet.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jan 16 2020 17:54 utc | 298

As I understand it the Tor system that allegedly targeted PS752...

1. ...was not integrated in Iran air defence (computerised) network (essentially it was a stand-alone unit), and...

2. ...has an optical system for identifying targets... it was very unlikely to have been "fooled" into shooting down PS752.

Posted by: ADKC | Jan 16 2020 18:13 utc | 299

Jackrabbit@298 - "I'm thinking that maybe the transponder responds to IFF? Then the ADS confirms via radar that an aircraft is commercial (via speed and size) and gives it the designation provided by the transponder."

An aircraft transponder replies to an IFF query only if it has that capability. All Iranian military aircraft DO have that capability. The transponders on civilian aircraft from Iran or anywhere else DON'T have that capability or don't understand the IFF interrogation and don't reply.

The TORs acquisition radar only sees echoes. It's computer (not the operator) makes the determination based on whatever logic they put in the target discrimination program. At a minimum: size, speed and maneuvering, but it's probably more complex than that.

The operator can override the acquisition computer's classification of a target without any specific identification data. If the operator thought it might be a civilian aircraft instead of an unknown threat, they can mark it as such and the TOR will ignore it.

IFF only helps by marking friendly military aircraft as such when they appear on the radar. Higher levels of the AD network can also classify aircraft before they show up on the TOR radar screen. Everything else is unknown and a potential threat after detection unless re-classified by the operator or updated by the network.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Jan 16 2020 18:31 utc | 300

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