Malaysia Airlines crash debris reveal forensic clues


It is my understanding that SAM and AA missiles usually explode in proximity and not on impact.


Yes, the article concurs.

Modern SAMs do not hit aircraft. They chase an aircraft, then position themselves under the aircraft and explode. This way the most damage is done by the blast and and the most expensive piece of the system - the pilot - is killed by shrapnel.

Legacy heat-seeking SAMs followed the heat source and often flew right into engines of fighter jets. The engines shielded pilots from shrapnel, limited damage from the blast, and could even damage the missiles before they exploded. There are accounts of pilots successfully ejecting after SAM hits or not even noticing SAMs exploded in their engines until after landing.

I wonder if the NRA has a stated position on civilian use of SAMs?


Um. Maybe half-right. Modern SAMs have continuous rod warheads, not the ancient frag style that produce the patterns cited in this article. The sa-11 is a fairly old system. Frag is not as effective in bringing down aircraft because punching small holes in planes is not as effective as sawing them in half. That said, larger missiles also rely on blast. Because lightly-built long-range transports at cruise are fairly close to the edge of their performance/control envelope, blast is very effective at disrupting the airframe as well as causing all kinds of divergent aerodynamic effects.

Proximity fusing is a WW2 innovation used to increase the likelihood of an effective hit, not to “kill pilots”, though that may be a happy result, anecdotally. Early missiles may not have had enough room for the still-bulky proximity fuses alongside the optics or semi-active antenna, but I doubt they would have used WW2-style contact fuses. Maybe the problem was that they end up in the rear and needed a shaped charge for shooting fragmentation forward. They certainly didn’t have the onboard logic in the 60s to use the tactic you allude to, pulling alongside the target before detonating. Which again is used to ensure an immediate kill rather than non-fatal damage to the tail and one of possibly several engines. Current heat-seekers (as well as radar-seeking) use proximity and continuous rod warheads as well as sophisticated logic for fusing and very sophisticated aerodynamics to outfly any pilot-carrying fighter. Anyway, that’s beside the point for what seems likely to have happened here: radar-guided sa-11s with middling 70s logic and proximity-fused fragmentation warheads, intercepting the aircraft at a high angle from the side, not flying up their tailpipe.

“possible forensic evidence”

Because forensic science is real science now?

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