Update January 27, 2017: The Dutch Public Prosecution Service wrote a letter to the next of kin stating Russian Federation submitted radar data to the Netherlands in an unusual format. This format does not comply to ICAO policies. Read more here.
This blog post will explain the Russian Federation lied about the detection capabilities of the Russian radar of which recordings were all of sudden found two years after the shot down of MH17.
At two events Russia made claims about the radar capabilities and the possibility to detect a BUK missile. The first statements were done at the September 26 press conference by the Russian Ministry of Defense. At this event for the first time the raw primary radar recordings were shown. The radar recordings which were found just a few days before the JIT press conference.
While Russia stated the primary radar recordings would be handed over to JIT, at October 5 the recordings were not received by JIT.
The second event during which Russia made claims about the radar was at the Almaz Antey press conference at September 28 just a few hours after the JIT press conference had ended. Victor Mescheryakov, chief designer of the Utes-T radar explained the radar capabilities.
Russia claims the Ust-Donetsk located radar did not detect a missile launched from Snizhne. It also did not detect a launch from Zarochenskoe but according to Russia that is because radar had so called blind speeds.
Russia forgets to mention another Russian radar must have been capable of detection a launch from Zarochenskoe. Russia did not show radar recordings of this radar.
This is a very long post with technical details about radar.
Russia claims the Ust-Donetsk radar is capable of detecting a missile when launched from Snizhne area. It did not so there was no missile launched from Snizhne according Russia Ministry of Defense. Due to radar filtering a missile launched from Zarochenskoe could not be detected as the distance from the radar hardly changed during the route of the missile. The radial speed as a result is such low that radar filters the signal out.
All experts agree the radar must have detected a missile when launched from south of Snizhne. As the radar does not show a missile, and JIT is certain about Snizhne as launch location, Russia modified the radar recording it showed.
Additionally, the radar located in Baturinskaya (south of Rostov in Russia) which Russia confirmed was able to detect MH17 debris, had an even better view on a missile launched from Zarochenskoe. This radar does for sure not have blind speeds. However Russia did not show primary radar recordings of this radar and avoided mentioning this radar in both press conferences.
Russia on September 26 2016 made public during a press conference recordings of a primary radar station. Ever since July 17 2014 Russia had stated to DSB as well as to JIT it did not have any raw primary radar recordings available. Recordings were deleted as MH17 was not shot down over Russian territory, according Russia.
Russia handed over to DSB only a video recording of what the air traffic controler saw on his screen. This ‘at the glass’ recording does not show all the objects which are detected by radar. Weather and small objects like a missile are filtered out by the software of the air traffic control center.
At a press conference on September 26 2016 Russia all of a sudden did have raw primary radar. Russia stated an operating company part of the Almaz Antey group discovered the recording in an archive. It is remarkable the recordings were found two years after the shot down and presented two days before the JIT press conference.
The recording of the Russian Ministry of Defense press conference of September 26 covered by RT is here below. Russia 24 coverage can be seen here.
The recording of the part about radar of the Almaz Antey press conference at September 28 is shown below. Talk about radar starts at 34:35. The talk is done by the deputy chief designer Viktor Meshcheryakov of the air route radar complex “Utes-T”. Utes-T is the type of radar of which the recordings were shown in the Russia MoD press conference at July 21, 2014 and the press conference at September 26 2016.
Russia claimed there is no detection on radar of a missile which could have been launched from a field south of Snizhne. At September 28 2016 Joint Investigation Team made public a field south of Snizhne was the launch location.
Russia claims that a BUK missile must have launched from an area near Zarochenskoe. Russia claims due to low radial speed of the missile (blind speed) the Ust-Donetsk located radar did not detect the missile.
Lets us have a closer look at the radar capabilities the Russians have.
Two primary radars but Russia only shows recordings of one!
At the July 21 2014 press conference by the Russian Ministry of Defense it was said that Russia detected objects from two radar stations located in Ust-Donetsk and Buturinskoe (Buturinskaya). (source)
“At 17:21’35, with [the Boeing’s] velocity having dropped to 200 kilometers per hour, a new mark detecting an airborne object appears at the spot of the Boeing’s destruction. This new airborne object was continuously detected for the duration of four minutes by the radar stations Ust-Donetsk and Buturinskaya.
We can conclude from the own words of the Russian Ministry of Defense that Buturinskaya has also primary radar capabilities as it detected debris of MH17 after the transponder response was lost. We can also conclude the range of Buturinskaya radar is long enough. As this is an Utes-T radar as well this is logical. The range is 360 km while distance between radar antenna and missile is less than 270 km.
At the press conference at September 26 2016 Russia showed the primary radar recordings of just one radar station, the one in Ust-Donetsk. Russia never mentioned the Baturinskoe radar station in the press conferences.
This is a Utes-T type radar station. This is not a radar station used only for air traffic control of commercial aviation. The radars of type Utes-T in Ust-Donetsk and Baturinskoe are part of Russian Radar Early Warning system operated by the Russian Department of Defense. Utes-T is based on the Almaz Antey produced P-90 Pamir radar.
Russia explained in the press conference the Ust-Donetsk radar has three components. A primary radar, a secondary radar and a Friend or Foe detector. This facts indicates the radar is used for military as well as civil purposes.
Below images of the Ust-Donetsk radar. The pole on the left above has the secondary radar antenna. The radome on the right below has the primary radar antenna.
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. The screenshot shows a distance of 171,733 meters.
The maximum range of the radar is 360 km. The radar antenna does a full rotation in 10 seconds. This was all confirmed in the September 26 press conference.
The Utes-T has a so called clutter map (Russia calls this Adoptive Grid Doppler filtration) or area-mti. This is basically is a kind of database which describes the locations of grond objects which can give unwanted reflections. For example large towers, high buildings, mountains etc. The returns of these static objects inside the clutter map are filtered out by radar. More details here. Only in areas defined in a clutter map blind speeds can occur. Blind speeds means that certain objects cannot be detected by radar if the radial speed is low enough.
The distance from radar antenna at Ust-Donetsk to the launch location south of Snizhne is 150 km. So less than half of the maximum distance the radar can cover.
This website explains the various ranges of the Pamir P-90 radar system. The image below shows the maximum distance the radar can cover. It is very clear the radar can detect objects flying over Eastern Ukraine.
Detection of objects by radar is based on the Doppler effect. Doppler effect is what we hear when an abulance drives with a sirene on. From the sound you can hear if the ambulance is moving towards or away from you.
Radar transmits a radio signal. The radio signal is bounced by an object. The time the signal needs to travel from antenna to object and back to the radar antenna is a reference time. Now when the next radar signal transmission required a longer or shorter time to travel, the radar software detects an object as it moved relative to the antenna.
The detection of an object depends on the radial speed. The radial speed is not the actual speed of the object relative to the groud, but the speed relative to the position of the radar antenna. The actual speed of an object relative to the ground is called the vector speed. The vector speed of a BUK missile is somewhere near 1000 meters/second.
If an object flies in an perfect circle around the radar antenna always keeping the distance to the antenna the same, the radial speed will be 0. The object will not be detected depending on the mode the radar operates on.
Calculation of radial speed
The calculation of radial speed = vector speed x sin (angle of object – 90)
Radial speed is explained here in more detail.
A BUK missile has various speeds during its flight. Soon after launch the speed is at its highest. At impact with MH17 when the rocket engine had stopped the speed was at its lowest. Even then the radial speed is well above 70 meters/second. At the most the radial speed of the missile is about 270 meters/second.
A radar does Doppler filtration. That means objects which have a radial speed lower than a certain value are filtered out and not displayed at a radar screen. The radial speed of the missile is such high it cannot have been filtered out by the Russian radars.
A drone flying with a radial speed lower than 42 meters/second was detected by Russian radar. So a missile with a much higher radial speed must have been detected.
Almaz Antey calculated that the radial speed of a missile lanched from Zarochenskoe would be between 15 to 30 meters/second. And sometimes it can reach 60 m/s. Almaz Antey stated that the radar could not detect the missile because of the low speed it was filtered out.
So Almaz does states the missile could not be detected because it flew constantly with the same distance to the radar. (the route was like an arc)
A bit further in the presentation Almaz Antey states the radar detected a drone. This drone operates at a cruising speed of 30 meters/second. The radial speed is probably less.
I spoke to an radar expert and he stated:
In worse case situation objects with a radial speed of less than 10 m/s are not detected by this type of radar. This is when the radar is operating in an non-standard mode and the complete area covered by radar is included in area-mti.
In a standard opersting mode, with cluttermap enabled (Russia calls this Adaptive Grid Doppler filtration) , Doplerfiltering is disabled. The radial speed is not important. All objects will be detected.
The vector speed of the missile was at its highest 1000 meters/second. The smallest deviation from the route folling the arc would result in a radial speed over 10 meters/sec.
So it seems extremely unlikely a missile launched from Zarochenskoe would not be detected.
Missile flight time
The missile flight time is about 31 seconds (Russia stated in Almaz Antey press conference even 32 to 36 seconds) when launched from south of Snizhne. When launched from an area near Zarochenskoe the flighttime is a few seconds shorter (around 26 seconds).
Assuming the radar horizon of the radar is about 2 km, which takes the missile 4 seconds to reach (confirmed by Almaz Antey press conference at September 28) , the duration of the missile flight which could be detected by the radar is 27 seconds or 22 seconds. As the antenna of the radar does a full rotation in 10 seconds, the missile must have been detected at least twice.
Almaz Antey stated that the radar could even have detected the missile 4 times. Almaz states the possibility that only 2 marks were detected is low. The probabilty that at least one time a detection was made is over 95%.
Almaz Antey clearly stated : if the radar did not detect the missile when launched from south of Snizhne, it was not there.
Radar cross section
Radar cross-section (RCS) is a measure of how detectable an object is with a radar. A larger RCS indicates that an object is more easily detected.
RCS is expressed in a number. The value of an object’s RCS is determined by parameters like the size, shape, paint, and material composition of the object, frequency of the radar signal and the direction of the radar beam relative to the object.
If you like to know more about how RCS is calculated, this is an interesting paper to read.
Mind while RCS is expressed in m2, it is not related to the size of the object.
The image below explains the RCS of a missile. You can see peaks at 90 and 270 degrees. This mean the missile is most detectable when the radar antenna is located in an angle of 90 or 270 degrees relative to the flight path of the missile.
The RCS of a BUK missile when launched from Zarochenskoe is about 3,2 square meters. The radar antenna angle to the missile is roughly 90 degrees.
The RCS of a BUK missile when launched from south of Snizhne is about 3 m2. The RCS of a BUK missile when flying towards the radar is 0,3 m2 according Almaz Antey.
However Almaz Antey stated in a pressconference the RCS of a BUK missile when launched from south of Snizhne would be 3.2 sq meters. The radar detected a drone with RCS of 1.0 meter or better so the radar should have detected a BUK missile when launched from Snizhne.
Published specifications state that an objects with a RCS of 0.25m2 at a distance of 170km can be detected with a probablity of 80%.
The exhaust of the missile is easy to be detected by radar.
Baturinskoe radar station
As explained above, detection is all about the radial speed. The speed of an object relative to the radar antenna. While the distance between a missile launched from Zarochenskoe related to the Ust-Donetsk has little change, the increase in distance of a missile as seen from the radar station in Baturinskoe is increasing. Baturinskoe is located far more to the south than Ust-Donetsk. A missile launched from Zarochenskoe would easily be detected from Baturinskoe.
Baturinskoe / Baturinskaja is located here.
Distance from the radar to the point where the missile exploded is about 265 km. That is well under the maximum range of 360 km as confirmed by Russia in the press conference.
The radar horizon is around 4000 meters. As the missile reaches this in a few seconds, it means very likely the Baturinskaja recorded once or twice the route of the missile.
So you have to wonder why Russia did not use radar recordings from the Baturinskoe radar station.
You can answer the question yourself: it does not show a missile launched from Zarochenskoe either.
A primary radar has blind speeds depending on the mode it operates. If the distance from the radar antenna to the objects remains the same, the radar will not detect the object if the radial speed is below 10m/s and depending on the operating mode of the radar. If the radar has Moving Target Indication (MTI) enabled, objects with a radial speed of lower than 10 m/s are not displayed.
MTI is only enabled in areas where there is clutter; mainly mountains or high buildings. As in the area of Zarochenskoe the radar cannot detect objects flying lower than 2 km, MTI is not enabled in that area. So this means no blind speeds. All objects are detected.
Almaz Antey states that radial speed of a BUK missile from Zarochenskoe would have a bigger radial speed than 10 m/s.
Detection of drone
Russia showed the radar in Ust-Donetsk detected a drone. This is a Orlan-10 (Russian: Орлан-10) which is an unmanned aerial vehicle . The drone is made of components which are difficult to detect for radar. It is a lightweight frame not made of metal like a BUK missile.
The route of the drone is shown in the image below. It flew a pattern close to the Ukraine border (in yellow)
An Orlan-10 was reported by Ukrainian officials to have been shot down in Ukraine in 2014.
Russia Today reported about the drone here.
Gen. Andrey Koban, the head of the Russian Air Forces’ radar troops, said the Russian civilian radar easily located an Orlan-10 surveillance drone circling closer to the Russian-Ukrainian border over Russian territory at the time of the incident. A Buk missile would have been easier to detect than the drone, he said.
The Orlan-10 has a length of 1,80 meter while the BUK missile has a length of 5,55 meters. The Orlan-18 weights 18 kg while the BUK weights 860 kilo.The cruising speed is 110 km/h which is 30 meters/second.
The RCS of a Orlan-10 is about 1 sq meter from the front. (according Almaz Antey).
So if the Russian radar was able to detect a drone with a much smaller surface, made of harder to detect material, lower radial speed and lower altitude, the radar for sure has to detect the BUK missile. The Russian Federation agrees but denies the radar could detect a missile launched from Zarochenskoe.
Russia and experts agree a missile must have been detected when launched from a field south of Snizhne.
However, Russia and experts disagree on the capabilities of radar when a missile is launched from Zarochenskoe. Under standard operating mode the radar must be able to detect the missile as there are no blind speeds.
Russia forgot to mention it had a radar in Baturinskoe which could detect the missile as well.by