This image, which appeared on the Russian TV Station '1TV News' website supposedly shows a Ukrainian SU-27 firing (they mistakenly call it a MiG-29) on MH17 as it flies over eastern Ukraine. The image is totally bogus and is an embarrassment to Russia's quasi-state run media.
Looking very much like a doctored screen shot out of Lock-On Modern Air Combat, a popular air combat simulator that is made in Russia and has a plot that occurs over Ukraine, than an actual satellite image, there are many issues with its authenticity right off the bat.
First off, where exactly did this come from? TV1 says it came from a 'foreign intelligence satellite," how convenient. How is the resolution so high for objects far above the ground but so low for objects on the ground? Also, these image appears to be taken some 50km from where MH17 actually went down, and 50km is a long ways to travel after being shattered by a missile, as reports state. If the aircraft continued to actually fly for a relevant period of time, over some 50km of countryside before breaking up, it is likely that many more witnesses would have seen the jet's final, firey descent and described it as such.
Then there is the fact that if this shot were true, it would mean an air-to-air missile's warhead would have taken the jet down, which are much smaller than that carried by the SA-11. For instance, the popular Russian R-73 short-range air-to-air missile carries a 16-lb warhead whereas the SA-11 carries one ten times that size.
Then we have the vector of the attack shown in the photo. Why is an SU-27 taking a highly oblique shot at an un-maneuvering heavy airliner? Why not fall behind it so as not to let the crew see you coming and be at the best possible position for followup attacks and for your missiles to have the best chance of hitting? Additionally, the SA-11 that struck MH-17 did so in the forward hemisphere, near the left side of the cockpit, which would be a near impossible engagement angle for the firing solution shown in this picture. In fact, the missile would have had to of made a tight backwards question mark flight to the other side of the jet before detonating. This is totally ludicrous.
Some folks that are very familiar with satellite imagery say that the scale of the aircraft in comparison to the ground is also not as it should be, nor is the weather shown correct for the time of the incident. Finally, and maybe most damning, the 777 appears to have Malaysian Airlines titles in the wrong place. In fact, it looks like it has the original 777 Boeing house livery on it!:
In the end what you have here is not just a fake but a pretty haphazard one at that. The fact that Russia is letting this float out there is just another sign of Putin's growing disinformation machine, one that has been very consistent, but not of any quality over the last 10 months. It also shows that the whole MH17 issue is not even near to being laid to rest, and the subject was known to have been brought up multiple times at the recent APEC summit in China.
I get it, Kremlin, when the answer is not beneficial for you politically or strategically, just go make up another one. The KGB were masters at denying obvious truths, and those skills die hard when your President/eternal leader was raised by the KGB during the ending days of the Cold War. But if you are going to put disinformation and propaganda out there, at least make it somewhat believable, as not doing so just turns manufactured doubt into manufactured shame.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com