A network of high-tech eavesdropping and early-warning satellites operated by the Pentagon most likely played a key role in determining that the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile over the Ukraine.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, intelligence officials almost certainly relied on a technical discipline known as measurement and signature intelligence, also known as MASINT, to obtain key bits of information about the missile launch.
The sophisticated system of satellites at the Pentagon’s disposal could have pinpointed the location from which the missile was fired and plotted out its trajectory as it shot up into the sky on a collision course with the MH17 Flight.
Riki Ellison, founder and chairman of Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, an industry lobby, told the paper that intelligence analysts would have become aware the missile launch because of its heat signature.
U.S. Air Force-operated satellites orbiting the Earth are equipped with hyper-sensitive sensors that pick up on heat from missile and booster plumes. In fact, the detectors are so fine-tuned that they even spot forest fires.
The system of satellites, run as part of the Defense Support Program, sends back early warnings each time it detects an intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
Also, American radars scattered around Europe have the capacity to provide data on the exact launch site, the missile’s destination and its speed.
The other vital intelligence tool is a fleet of U.S. listening satellites that collect electronic signals from foreign defense systems.
Armed with this data, U.S. analysts would be able to determine the source of the signals and the weapon used.
The Russian-made Buk missiles, like the one that downed the jet Thursday with 298 people on board, are equipped with a radar system that gives off unique signals, making it possible to triangulate the launch site and trace its route.
Source: LA Times