Putin Directly Blames US Patriot Missiles For Shootdown Of IL-76 Aircraft Transporting Ukrainian POWs

An examination of Il-76 military aircraft reveals that the plane was shot down by a Western-made anti-aircraft missile system, a representative of the emergency services told RIA Novosti.

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“A preliminary examination of the destructive elements found on the aircraft shows that the missile belongs to a Western-made air defense system,” the agency’s interlocutor said. However, he did not specify other details. 

Now, Russian investigators have concluded that a U.S. Patriot air defense system was used to shoot down an Il-76 plane that crashed near the border with Ukraine last week, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident a crime (by Ukraine) against its citizens. According to Putin, the Ukrainian side knew that there were Ukrainian Armed Forces prisoners of war on board the Il-76 and nevertheless struck – either through negligence or on purpose.

The Ilyushin Il-76 crashed in the Belgorod region when it was ferrying 65 Ukrainians for a prisoners’ exchange. Six crew members also perished in the incident. President Putin said last week it was “obvious” Ukraine had shot down the aircraft.

 “The data from the black boxes exclude all [other] possible versions of the Il-76 crash and confirm that the plane was subjected to external impact,” a source was quoted by TASS.

Putin also noted that judging by the evidence, the plane appears to have been shot down by an air defense system made in France or the USA. This is the first time the head of the state directly attributed the crash to Western air defense systems.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, there were speculations on the Russian telegram channels that said that the attack on Il-76 was launched from the Kharkiv area and that “judging by the range, suspicion falls more on the American Patriot.”

Earlier, a Russian lawmaker and retired general, Andrei Kartapolov, claimed that the aircraft was either shot down by American Patriots or a German-made IRIS-T missile. The lawmaker claimed that Kyiv was informed about the flight route in advance.

A video on the Russian telegram channel Military Informant showed the photo of the aircraft wreckage riddled with holes, which is consistent with being hit by “an anti-aircraft missile.” All the missiles carry a proximity fuse that makes the warhead detonate when the target comes within its lethal range.

You can read a detailed EurAsian Times report on the claims about American Patriot and German IRIS-T air defense systems being alleged to be responsible for the Il-76 shootdown here. The Patriots, for one, have shot down a few other aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), triggering suspicion that the latest shootout is also its doing.

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian Air Force shot down a Russian A-50 early warning and control aircraft capable of detecting targets up to 650 kilometers away, as well as a vital Il-22 command center aircraft that provides information to ground forces. There were conjectures that the vital A-50 aircraft was taken down by the S-300 and Patriot missiles’ ingenious team-up.

However, it is the first time the highest Russian authorities have floated the likelihood of French air defense systems being responsible. France has supplied Ukraine with two air defense systems, including the SAMP/T and Crotale.

French AD Systems Were Suspects

French President Emmanuel Macron announced in June 2023 that Ukraine has received the French-Italian SAMP/T Mamba surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, which is “operational (while) protecting key facilities and lives.”

The SAMP/T is believed to be an analog of the US-made Patriot missile defense system. It can destroy aircraft at a distance of 3 kilometers to 100 kilometers and ballistic missiles at a distance of 3 kilometers to 25 kilometers. French media reports said it was the first medium-range anti-missile system developed in Europe.

The delivery of this air defense platform was seen as a major boost to Ukraine’s strategy of air denial, which aims to impede Russian military aircraft from flying over the combat zone and its cities without restriction in Ukrainian airspace. If the Russian suspicion comes true, the SAMP/T may have accomplished that task.

It is produced by Eurosam, a 50:50 joint venture between Thales and MBDA, and is designed to fend off airborne threats such as tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and manned and unmanned aircraft. It is compatible with existing NATO air defense systems and can operate in environments with intense electronic countermeasures and extreme clutter.

It consists of the Arabel multipurpose radar and the Aster 30 interceptor missile. The Aster 30 missile can intercept targets between 50 meters and 20 kilometers above the ground at a speed of 1.4 kilometers per second. It is a two-stage missile, with the booster guiding it in the direction of its target and separating it shortly after launch.

Furthermore, the SAMP/T system is compatible with many long-range radars, including the 300–400 kilometer detection range of the Thales GM400 long-range radar. So, the role of this air defense system could not theoretically be ruled out, as far as the shooting down of the IL-76 is concerned.

France and Italy are also reportedly close to finalizing the technical details to supply a SAMP/T air defense system to Ukraine, according to recent reports. In November, Kyiv requested the SAMP/T, also known as Mamba, from its Western partners.

Another air defense system supplied by France to Ukraine is the Crotale, which was part of the military aid package announced by Paris in November 2022 following the incident of a stray S-300 missile striking Poland and killing two people. These complexes are used in France on fleet ships and ground-based self-propelled units, and several upgraded variants have been produced over the years.

Crotale NG, potentially the variant transferred to Kyiv, has the new VT-1 missile, which has a speed of up to Mach 3.5, a flight range of up to 11 kilometers, and is equipped with a warhead weighing 13 kilograms.

Crotale Air Defense System FRANCE
File Image: Crotale Air Defense System

The system includes a new S-band pulsed Doppler radar with a 20-kilometer range, a 30-kilometer-range Ku-band tracking radar, a thermal imaging camera, and a day camera for precision. The Crotale is a point defense system developed to safeguard high-value targets like airports, military installations, ammo storage facilities, and other locations.

Crotale was initially intended to engage supersonic low-flying aircraft. So, when Ukraine received them, military commentators said that Russian warplanes flying low would have to be extra careful when Crotale becomes operational in Ukraine.