MOSCOW — Russia's largest defense firm, the air-defense concern Almaz-Antey, blew up a decommissioned Ilyushin Il-86 passenger jet earlier this month in a bid to show that one of its Buk missiles could not have been responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last year.
At a press conference held at a convention center outside Moscow on Oct. 13, Almaz-Antey shared with reporters the results of two static experiments that company officials said were designed to validate or discredit the results of a preliminary report issued by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) on the nature of MH17's demise.
The presentation was curiously timed, held just hours before the DSB held its own conference to present its final report on the destruction of MH17: that the airplane was downed by a Russian-made Buk 9M38M1 missile armed with a 9N314M warhead.
DSB Chairman Tjibbe Joustra said at the Dutch press conference that the missile exploded to the upper-left of the plane's cockpit, and riddled both the airframe and the flight crew's bodies with hourglass-shaped shrapnel characteristic of the 9N314M.
"This fits the kind of warhead installed in the Buk surface-to-air missile system," Joustra said, without going into detail about who the commission suspected operated the missile that destroyed the MH17 Boeing 777 aircraft on July 17, 2014.
Both Ukraine and Russia use Buk missile systems, though Russia claims to operate only newer systems using the 9M317 missile, having retired the older 9M38-series weapons in 2011, according to Almaz-Antey chief Yan Novikov.
Despite Novikov claiming at his company's MH17 investigation press conference in June that the company had determined only an old Buk 9M38M1 armed with a 9N314M warhead could have created the damage patterns seen on photos of the MH17 wreckage, Almaz-Antey on Tuesday fingered the even older 9M38 missile with an old 9N314 warhead.
The key difference between the two missiles and their respective warheads is the presence of the distinctive butterfly-shaped, or "I-beam," shrapnel fragments. Almaz-Antey in June said these fragments were present in the wreckage, only to deny their existence last week. on Tuesday.
Almaz-Antey sought to prove that MH17 could only have been shot down by the older 9M38 without I-beam fragments by cutting the forward section off an old Ilyushin Il-86 transport plane and positioning a Buk 9M38-M1 missile nearby in a static explosive test.
The position of the Buk corresponded nt with the DSB's conclusion that the missile was fired from the Ukrainian town of Snizhne, which was under rebel control the day MH17 was shot down. When the static missile was detonated, Almaz-Antey recorded the blast pattern.
Almaz-Antey in June promised to procure a decommissioned Boeing 777 to destroy with a Buk 9M38-M1 — a missile that in June the company said was not in Russian stockpiles, but last week on Tuesday said was provided by the Defense Ministry — but said it couldn't find one, and used an Il-86 instead. The two planes have similar shapes and structures, Novikov said.
According to Mikhail Malyshevsky, an adviser to Almaz-Antey's chief designer tasked with presenting the company's experiment and findings, the pattern seen on the Il-86 during the static test does not correspond with the patterns seen on MH17.
This, in Malyshevsky's argument, discredits the Dutch finding that the missile was fired from Snizhne — directly in the flight path of MH17 — and the shrapnel trajectories in the wreckage did not correspond with that scenario.
Almaz-Antey instead offered up a different version of events, one they claim was based on the geometry of the shrapnel patterns, in which the missile was fired from south of MH17's flight path. This places the launch site in the township of Zaroshchenskoye, a town that may or may not have been under rebel control at the time, but Russia insists was under Ukrainian control.
"We have proved beyond doubt that the missile fired over Ukraine was a 9M38 from a Buk launched from the south near the village of Zaroshchenskoye," Novikov said. The company did not thoroughly explain the change in its narrative.