Turkish authorities seem pretty sure that the jet was downed in international airspace, whereas how it was downed still remains a mystery.
Syrian authorities argued that the Turkish jet was downed by anti-aircraft weapons while the Turkish officials ruled out this possibility, given that communication with the aircraft was interrupted in international airspace and that the pilots tried to avoid an approaching object by a swift move.
Since the beginning, the Turkish government has insisted that the jet was hit by a missile. However, Turkey has also declared that the jet could not have been downed by a radar-controlled missile.
Considering that it was not hit by a radar-controlled missile, the type of the missile that downed the Turkish jet still remains unclear. Experts note that the only plausible option is an infrared (IR)-guided missile.
However, the criminal investigation carried out by the General Staff on the site and on the wreckage, as well as the autopsy reports of the pilots, rules out the possibility of IR-guided missiles because the impact of these missiles is no different than the impact of conventional missiles.
This means that if IR-guided missiles were used, both the remains of the aircraft and the bodies of the pilots should have borne traces of the hit.
Let us read the General Staff’s statement carefully: “The materials collected from the surface of the water have been analyzed by the Gendarmerie Criminal Department; the report the department issued states that there has been no trace on the materials of oil derivatives that could start or accelerate a fire, of organic or inorganic explosives, or of anything that could be associated with any equipment.”
Likewise, the autopsy report on the bodies of the pilots also rules out this possibility: “Autopsy reports indicate that no trace of explosives or burns have been found on the bodies of the two pilots of the F-4 reconnaissance aircraft.”
Further studies show that the pilots died of trauma associated with the downing of the aircraft at sea.
What is an IR-guided missile?
The only thing that is different in these weapons is that the control unit directing the missile to the target carries an IR head. There are two types of heads used on missiles: an IR head and a radar-guided head.
The control head of radar-guided weapons operates like a radar. This means that the radar sends a signal that hits the target and returns to its origin. Based on the information carried by the returning signal, the control head identifies the target and its location and subsequently sends the guided weapon to the target.
The IR head, however, works differently. No signal is sent and there is no returning signal. Instead, in case the target is an aircraft, this aircraft has sections, like the motor section, that create IR traces. The motor area leaves a strong IR trace because it is extremely hot.
The control section of an IR-guided missile has a system that senses this heat and directs the missile to its origin.
In both cases, the guided weapon holds equipment that destroys the target. In other words, both eliminate the target at the time of impact. The only difference is visible in the control head that guides the missile along its way to the target.
In other words, based on the information from the General Staff and the autopsy reports, it could be said that the aircraft could not have been hit by an IR-guided missile.
But there is one additional possibility that suggests that an IR-guided missile may not have hit the Turkish aircraft and that it was downed while the pilot was trying to escape. The critical question at that point is this: When was radar communication interrupted? Was it interrupted before or at the time of the downing?
If the communication was interrupted at the time when the aircraft was downed, this possibility is strong. However, if it was interrupted before the downing, we need to look for another type of missile. One possibility to consider is the electromagnetic missile. It is no secret that Russia has been working on these systems for a long time.
*Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative reporter based in New York.