A Shootdown

Iran shot down a Ukrainian civilian airliner as it departed a Tehran airport, with the loss of all aboard.  The shootdown occurred shortly (a few hours) after Iran had launched some missiles at Iraqi facilities on which were based a number of American soldiers.

Stipulate the shootdown was accidental.

It also was an example of monumental incompetence: ill- to nonexistent discipline on the part of the antiaircraft missile crew and breathtaking lack of situation awareness by every single individual in the crew’s chain of command from the operational commander all the way to the top in the Iranian military establishment.


Iran, expecting a kinetic response (to coin a phrase) to the missile launches it’s about to execute, put its air defense units on alert. That would include the units defending that Tehran airport: Iran would cavalierly attack civilian airports, so of course everyone else would.

One of those alerted units detected an aircraft climbing and flying away from the airport-as-target, assumed it was hostile, and fired on it.  Never mind that no ordnance had been expended against that target, no damage had been inflicted on that target.  That’s the ill-discipline.

Meanwhile, not one unit, not one sensor, in the entire Iranian military establishment had detected any inbound hostile aircraft in any direction.  Our, and our allied nations’, aircraft are capable of remarkable stealth, but they’re not invisible, not proof against detection.  From that total lack of detection of a single inbound hostile aircraft, there was no reason to believe that the Ukrainian airliner might, by any stretch of imagination, be hostile.  Yet no one in the firing unit’s chain of command, not a single officer at any level of the command hierarchy from the junior officer in charge of the firing unit on up, thought about that.  The loss of control over the unit was the command hierarchy’s own lack of discipline.  The lack of understanding of the situation and of the likelihood of the aircraft’s hostility is that utter absence of situation awareness.

That’s incompetence.

Further to this:

He [Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s Aerospace Force] said missile-system operators were told to fire at U.S. or other enemy warplanes without seeking permission from senior commanders.

The missile system operator in this case was a junior officer at the missile site that fired on the airliner. This degree of decentralization (which by itself is normal in wartime, such as the war Iran is prosecuting against the US) puts a premium on the juniors being able to think for themselves and on their having SA. The decentralization is not indicative of loss of control or ill-discipline. The lack of information being pushed down to junior levels to facilitate their SA and the lack of training in the use of coordination facilities is illustrative of ill-discipline.

Further to that SA–both the junior officer’s and that of the officers in his chain of command–are things like the airliner’s IFF/SIF signals, electronic signals that identify the aircraft to air tracking systems including anti-aircraft missile sites, and coordination with civil air traffic control, another of those air tracking systems–neither of which seems to have been used by the Iranians or to have been effected by the Iranians.

That obvious lack illustrates the incompetence.

The US Army’s anti-aircraft missile site operators have some aphorisms, things like “if it flies, it dies,” and “shoot ’em all down, and let God sort ’em out.” For us it’s black humor; for Iran, it’s just black.

2 thoughts on “A Shootdown

    • From your cite: The complete package is known as a TLAR, transporter, launcher and radar.
      TLAR has another venerable USAF meaning, ironic in the context: “That Looks About Right.” Which wasn’t in the Iranian shootdown.
      I’ll put my 14 years’ experience in weapons control up front for the following commentary on the Asia Times article.
      It takes at least a full minute, sometimes a minute and a half or more, to ready the missile for firing. At a minimum, the target information has to be connected to one or more air defense missiles and the gyros of the missiles have to be spun up.
      This is a mind boggling claim, and if accurate, would make the antiaircraft missile useless in the role. At the very least, were this actually true of Russian systems, the battery would have brought the missiles online at the start of Iran’s own missile launches against Saudi Arabia. The missiles would have gone as soon as lock-on was achieved and the launch command given.
      Furthermore, a missile operator is not authorized to fire a missile unless he gets permission from his commander who usually is not physically located in the TLAR.
      Per the IRGC’s Aerospace Force CC, execution had been fully decentralized: the battery commander had authorization to fire on his own authority. That battery commander would have been the missile operator or would have been sitting right behind the operator in the battery shelter.
      …the 737 was at 8,000 feet – nowhere near the normal operating altitude of a cruise missile.
      This is just foolish. The “normal operating altitude of a cruise missile” depends on the type of missile, the missile’s flight profile–designed to avoid detection–and by where the missile was in that profile. More to the point, though, there’s no indication the missileer though he was shooting at a cruise missile. The published information simply suggests (also without evidence) that he thought he was shooting as at some aircraft of some type.
      The author’s error rate being so high, I stopped taking his piece seriously at this point.
      Eric Hines

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *