What Does It Tell You?

There’s a lot of bickering back and forth about the wisdom of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani and the implications of the Iranians’ having shot down a Ukrainian jet, as they now acknowledge they did.

I’ve already expressed my opinion of the former and now I’ll tell you what I think about the latter. The Iranian regime’s position, that it was a “mistake”, is a laughable understatement. If it were just a mistake, not merely the Iranians but we would be shooting down airliners taking off from our airports regularly. People make mistakes all of the time.

What it actually tells you is that the Iranian military is on a hair trigger and they have no effective command structures that could prevent such ghastly actions from being taken.

Now imagine a nuclear-armed Iran.


The Guardian’s editors make an observation very closely allied to mine:

These and other catastrophic shortcomings suggest a startling lack of military and technical proficiency on the part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, from whose base outside Tehran the fatal missile was launched. Few in Iran have hitherto dared to challenge the IRGC, which enjoys the patronage of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has large financial and commercial interests and operates independently of the armed forces and foreign ministry.

Recall that during the Iran-Iraq war Iran’s military doctrine was, essentially, a century behind the times. Maybe they’ve matured. This incident suggests they have not.

9 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    They were probably on hair trigger alert after the missiles were launched. Have they ever done this before? This has happened 5 or 6 times before to other countries, including the US. The tech may get better but you will always have the human factor.


  • Who has shot down a commercial plane taking off from their own soil?

  • steve Link

    You must know some people who have manned aircraft defense systems. I don’t. My guess is that it would be easier and more likely to make a mistake when a plane is close to the population center from which it left. The Vincennes mistook an airliner for a fight jet, but it was relatively close. I find it more surprising that planes have been shot down accidentally nowhere near a population center. Guess I am wrong and will defer to your expertise.


  • TarsTarkas Link

    Several planes had taken off from that airport prior to the shoot-down. Why this one and not earlier planes? Also there were supposedly several nuclear scientists on the passenger list. Almost all of the Canadian nationals were either Muslim and/or Iranian.

    The explanation of how the shoot-down happened was incoherent. The fact that the government even admitted that they shot the plane down was incredible, I would have expected them to deny it and blame American planes or ordnance until hell froze over. If it in fact was an intentional mass murder, as many in Iran believe, things could get very ugly very fast. When you couple it with the supposed arrests of many of Soleimani’s underlings and the fact they blamed the IRGC, not the military, for the deaths, makes it sound like at the very least something big is going down, most likely the IRGC, reminiscent of the night of the Long Knives in Germany in 1934 when Ernst Roehm and the Brownshirts were destroyed.

  • jan Link

    I was listening to a pilot saying the colored lighting on commercial versus military aircraft distinguishes the two from each other. If so, then it seems a more deliberate missile launch than merely a mistake.

  • Andy Link

    Air defense is a lot more difficult than it appears, especially with the increasing number of airplanes that fill our skies. It’s not uncommon for this to happen, especially for countries without a lot of experience with air deconfliction. We had our own hard lessons during the first gulf war when US Patriots shot down at least two allied planes. The aircrews that I briefed for Southern Watch missions during the mid 1990’s were always worried about the Patriots more than anything the Iraqi’s had.

    Added to this is that Iran’s command-and-control system is old and slow, and hasn’t tested recently in a wartime environment. I’d guess, like is the case with most countries, their operator training is sub-par. Plus their original system was designed for the US equipment we sold them in the 1970’s – they’ve gotten Russian upgrades since so there may be compatibility issues as well.

    So it’s hard to say what happened exactly in this case, but generally shoot orders come to individual batteries from up the chain at a regional or national headquarters. So I would guess that somehow this aircraft was misidentified as hostile by the regional or national air battle managers which gave the missile crew the authority to engage.

  • Added to this is that Iran’s command-and-control system is old and slow, and hasn’t tested recently in a wartime environment.

    I suspect that’s true.

    I did some consulting on the U. S. air traffic control system, quite a while ago when the equipment was being upgraded from the old vacuum tube system so I think I understand how our present system works. Interestingly, when I was doing my consulting nobody really understood how our system worked anymore. Everybody who had worked on it had retired.

    Air traffic control systems do not tend to be replaced very frequently. I don’t know how ours finally turned out but I argued rather vehemently for a much more modular system than the old one on the grounds that it could be upgraded piecemeal rather than all at once that way.

    I still don’t have much sympathy for the Iranians. The aircraft was under their air traffic control. They knew better. The aircraft was shot down due to a command and control problem.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    I think the error in the first was the failure to cancel or postpone commercial flights after firing 15 missiles at US positions. Clearly they were fearful of missile retaliation. But I too am surprised they admitted responsibility. Seems like true regret.

  • steve Link

    Andy- The Patriot crews members who needed medical care often came to us since we were close to where they lived. The guys claimed it was not that unusual to have most of the electronics go down and they would try to shoot down incoming by hand, just like a video game. So while sitting in the bunker that I helped build I would have images of some 20 something guy thinking he was playing advanced Space Invaders trying to shoot down Scuds. Wasn’t really all that reassuring, except for the fact that the SCUDS were pretty sucky so getting hit was gonna be accidental.


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