How the US knew missile shot down MH17

Buk air defence system

(Malay Mail Online) – An advanced spy satellite network sensitive enough to detect heat signatures from missiles may have been used by the United States to conclude Flight MH17 was shot down over the Ukraine.

According to the Los Angeles Times (LAT), the specialised spy technology known as measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) allows the US to identify and track the electronic signatures similarly to how radar operates.

“The US operates fleets of listening satellites and early warning satellites that could have identified the location of a missile launch site and its trajectory as it shot up to the 33,000-foot cruising altitude of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777,” the LAT reported.

Flight MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it went down over eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have been locked in pitched battles with Ukrainian forces over the past few months.

Forty-three Malaysians were among the 298 passengers and crew aboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.

US officials said it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, a possible casualty of a violent rebellion in the area by pro-Russia insurgents.

Citing Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance (MDAA) founder and chairman Riki Ellison, the report stated that the headquarters of the US Department of Defence or the Pentagon would have spotted the missile launch from its heat signature.

The non-profit group, which lobbies for missile defence spending, disclosed that the US Air Force owned satellites in the high-Earth orbit — which “use infrared sensors to detect heat from missile and booster plumes against Earth’s background”.

The Air Force’s Defence Support Programme provides early signals for “intercontinental ballistic missile launches,” stated the report, adding that the satellites are sensitive enough to pick-up hotspots in forest fires.

The daily added that the country’s radar installation and other defence assets in the region would also help record any surface-to-air missiles and the information would be passed on to the US European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

“They would have known exactly where it was launched, where it was headed, and the rate at which it was traveling,” said Ellison.

The article also noted that the US runs a number of “listening satellites”, which have the capability to record wide range of electronic emissions from foreign countries defence systems.

This data, it said, allowed analysts to figure out the origin of the signals and the type weapon that was used.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that the missile, which downed MH17, came from a Russian-made Buk air defence system, which according to the LAT has the ability to run a radar search and tracking system to guide a missile to its target.

“At some point in its flight, the missile begins to use its own radar system, emitting a unique signal,” read the report further noting that the “unique signals” over a period of seconds or minutes would allow the US satellite in the region to pinpoint the launch and track the trajectory of the missile.

Yesterday’s incident comes as Malaysia continues to grapple with the still-missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared off radars in the twilight hours of March 8.

The Beijing-bound plane had mysteriously diverted off its route, and is believed to have crashed along with its 239 passengers and crew somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. There, however, has not been any trace of the plane until today.