For a long time it was not certain if the Ukraine Air Force indeed did not fly at July 17, 2014 near the location where MH17 crashed. For a long time the Russian Federation hinted that MH17 was shot down by a fighter jet. Russian media came with many stories stating that a SU-25 shot down MH17.
At a press conference at September 26 2016 the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed using primary radar there were no military aircraft near MH17.
Joint Investigation Team conclude the same and stated the request for radar recordings by politics and media should stop now.
In this post we will show that Russian radar recordings confirm there were no military aircraft flying at a very low altitude.
For background on the radar capabilities read my post here.
Radar capabilities Ust-Donetsk
The primary radar recordings shown by Russia were based on the detection by a Russian radar antenna type Utes-T located at Ust-Donetsk. The location of the radar is shown in this map here. The distance to the location where MH17 was hit by a BUK missile is 171 km based on Google Earth. This distance is confirmed by the radar recording as shown in the press conference of the Russia MoD.
Now it is interesting to understand the radar horizon of this radar. The radar horizon can be calculated if we know the height of the radar antenna.
Google Earth can tell us the elevation of the radar. The radar antenna is located on a small mountain. The elevation is 142 meters. The antenna is on a tower with an estimated height of about 30 meters. So in total the antenna is at 172 meters above sealevel.
Using this calculator we can estimate the radar horizon at a distance of 171 km. (distance between radar and MH17 impact with missile). The horizon is 800 meters. So anything below 800 meters cannot be seen on radar. At Hrabove (where the main fuselage hit the ground) the radar horizon is even a bit lower. The maths behind calculation of radar horizon can be found here.
We can crosscheck this by the radar recordings presented by the Russian MoD. We see various debris on that recording for about 1 minute after the flight data recorder of MH17 stopped recording.
On the Russian forum mh17.webtalk.ru some of the marks shown on the primary radar were mapped to Google Earth.
On the image below we see a radar detection at time 13:20:50 near the main crash site Hrabove. So this radarplot is for sure the main fuselage, wings and engines. The last recorded radar mark is very close to the location where the main fuselage impacted to the ground. So the 800 or less meters radar horizon is very well possible.
Eyewitness of military aircraft
We know that Ukraine airforce decided to operate at higher altitudes since a couple of SU-25 were shot down by MANPADS. On one of the tapped telephone conversations it can be heard that separatists requested a BUK to reach SU-25 flying at high altitudes not in reach by MANPADS.
So it seems very unlikely that at July 17 Ukraine airforce aircraft flew lower than the radar horizon of 900 meters. Some of the eyewitness stated they saw military aircraft at 7 km altitude. Some told they saw two aircraft. Some say they saw a fighter aircraft launch a missile towards MH17. Here is an overview of eyewitness stating they saw military aircraft.
There are no additional sources of evidence which can confirm the presence of fighter jets. For example there are no video recordings nor photographs. This despite the fact that many people in the area have a phone with such capabilities.
As many eyewitness appeared in Russian media like Russia Today, it is safe to conclude these eyewitness were instructed or stimulated to tell about fighter aircraft. Some of the eyewitness probably saw the missile or saw debris and believed this was an aircraft.
Ukraine always stated they did not fly with fighterjets at July 17. One of the reasons said was due to the weather conditions. While it seems unlikely to not operate while on July 16 several sorties were flown, based on the Russian radar recordings we have to conclude that indeed no Ukraine military fighterjets were flying in the area MH17 crashed.