Friday, November 27, 2015

The odd reporting on the Turkish downing of the Russian bomber

Among the "odd reporting" of 2015 in the main five to six German media outfits the blogster reads each day, the downing of the Russian war plane in Syria is one of the highlights.

To be very clear: This criticism does not apply to the initial several hours after the event was first reported. The blogster considers the RT German claim that a reports around noon of a "shootdown in the border area" are misinformation to be overblown.

However, the initial headline of tabloid saying "Putin attacks Turkey" was so far out of the ballpark that even the famously grumpy K-Landnews TheEditor fell silent.

After a while, it* said: "I know this sounds harsh but the only comparison that comes to my feeble mind is the Nazis reporting their invasion of Poland with the announcement 'Since 5:45 this morning, we are firing back' when not a shot had been fired by the Poles and everything had been staged by the Germans."

A short time later, BILD changed the headline to "Putin threatens Turkey", still untrue but at least not such a bellicose brain dead lie.

Alarm bells should have been going off in every newsroom when the Turkish justification map shown below was published. This link to the Unian website lead to a page timestamped 14:07 on 24 November.

The map was disseminated widely as proof that the Russian Su-24 violated Turkish airspace, and the blogster accepted this claim without any ifs and buts. The first smart Twitter users had asked immediately after the first reports how many seconds of incursion we were talking about, and a brief glance at a larger map with a scale obviated any doubt: it could only have been seconds.

This article in the New York Times in the afternoon of the 24th tries to make sense of the claims and shows this detailed map.

If we extrapolate the "known" time of 17 seconds and the "known" distance between entry and exit of the Russian plane and assume a near constant speed, we have a potential issue with the warnings given by the Turkish military. As reported by the German FAZ and elsewhere, 10 warnings were given within 5 minutes would seem odd. Measuring out the Russian flight paths seems to indicate that the first plane heading north comes in at no earlier than about three minutes (more like 2.5 actually) before the shootdown.

Did Turkey start the warnings about 2 minutes before the Russian planes veered north? That would be odd because the call to change heading wouldn't make sense. Or did Turkish forces continues to broadcast warnings until a couple of minutes after the incident?

Maybe a more comprehensive radar map would explain this, but the map above doesn't.

Then there is the complete silence regarding the "grey" plane path. The article in the Times and in German media focuses on the "red", the Russian planes and makes no mention of the grey and the green tracks, which would be the Turkish F-16s. The grey track is in Syrian airspace (since the blue line is the border) for about twice the distance covered by the Russians inside Turkish airspace, then heads down straight to the border where it abruptly stops, which indicates that the plane went into Syrian airspace for a second time.

RT has a new article, last edited at 16:57 on Nov 27, with details and a timeline by Russian personnel.

The basic sequence of events is very similar to our interpretation above, which was based solely on the Turkish radar image.

It is unclear why the German media, or the NYT for that matter, did not have a pilot or an expert interpret the Turkish radar image.

[Update 11/28/2015] Just checked the Bellingcat website to see if they had anything to say about the Turkish radar image. They don't, which is in line with our expectations.

[Update 11/29] Just found this Motherboard article, which deals with both the Turkish and the Russian graphics. The Russian one was obviously a dud, and what they say about the Turkish one is in line with our radar map-only interpretation. They got a very plausible actual plane speed of 980 km/h using information in addition to the map. The real relief to the blogster is the calculation of the plane speed based on the 17 seconds as 420 km/h because the blogster had that at 430 km/h and was sure there was no way this was true.

* TheEditor is a gender neutral personality.

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