Sakhalin: sense and nonsense, by James Oberg
Defence Attache No. 1/1985 (Jan-Feb), pp. 37-49
Editor’s note: The following is extracted from a diffuse thesis prepared for Defence Attaché by James E Oberg. It constituted his response to a request lodged by the editor in July last year
for a purely factual response to theories advanced by P Q Mann and others concerning the circumstances surrounding the fate of the Korean airliner shot down by the Soviet Air Force on 31st August, and published by this magazine last June (No.3/1984). The position of the editor of Defence Attaché and that of Defence Attaché itself is as set out in the Statement in Open Court,
printed on page 23 of this issue. James Oberg is a technician employed by a major American aerospace company, and is currently seconded to the US National Air and Space Administration (NASA). His past works include articles on space topics and on unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
Note: the page numbers in brackets refer to relevant passages in the original Mann article; not all the theses discussed here derive from Mann, however.
THE key to "Mann's" thesis lies in two observations, that a 1964 penetration of East German air space was coordinated with an American "Ferret" electronics eavesdropping satellite, and that the 1983 Korean airliner penetration followed a similar coordinated scenario with the Space Shuttle "Challenger," then orbiting Earth. I believe that careful, precise analysis can show that neither of these claims has any validity.
The alleged 1964 analogue: Mann refers (page 45) to the satellite launched on January 19, 1964 which "was recognized as having the orbital characteristics likely to be associated with Ferrets." Actually, the launching carried twin payloads into space, which were given the international identifiers "1964_02B" and "1964._02C," and Mann never makes clear which of the two he is referring to. (See Note 1.) Earlier Mann had cited an article in Spaceflight magazine by Anthony Kenden, in which Ferret satellites were described. Wrote Mann "the orbital characteristics of Ferret-type satellites are well understood" _ yet the orbits of l964_02B and 1964_02C (see below) are distinctively not of the type described by Kenden as Ferrets, and Kenden's published list of Ferrets, in the reference cited by Mann himself, does not list either object as a Ferret.
The orbits of 1964_02B and 1964_02C are in fact characteristic of quite another type of satellite. The published figures are 797 by 820 m with an inclination of 99 degrees (that is, retrograde with an inclination of 81 degrees). (See Note 2.) This is a special kind of orbit called "sun synchronous," in which precession (shift) of orbital plane matches precisely the movement of the Sun through the ecliptic, resulting in a constant orbital plane orientation relative to the Earth-Sun line; consequently this creates repeatable lighting conditions in the regions over which the satellite flies. Mann shows that he is familiar with this concept, but fails to mention that such an orbit is utilized almost invariably and exclusively by both Soviet and American satellites devoted to visual observation, such as photoreconnaissance, earth resources, or weather satellites. And in fact the l964_02B and 1964_02C satellites are clearly listed in reference books (such as the works of the late Charles Sheldon of the Congressional Research Service in Washington, DC) as military weather satellites. Kenden concurs, and wrote to me that "I have no reason to doubt that they were anything but P-43 weather satellites."
Indeed there were Ferret satellites in orbit in that era, but Kenden's article quite authoritatively describes them as orbiting Earth with inclinations of either 72 or 80 degrees. Sheldon denotes the
former as US Navy Ferrets and the latter as Air Force Ferrets. Mann may have attempted to produce matches between the real Ferrets and the aircraft penetrations. Having failed to do so, he
then possibly tried all other military satellites and found a random "hit". Given a dozen candidates, the odds are at least ten to one that ONE of them will he near any arbitrary point on Earth in any arbitrary time interval; this coincidence is relevant to the issue of the later Soviet "Ferret-D" claim as well, as we will see shortly.
Yet Mann claimed (page 45) that "the possibility of all this happening by sheer coincidence appeared calculably remote _ about 200 to 1 against in terms of the satellite being where it was by chance." This ex post facto computation has all the probative value of the old proverb about shooting an arrow into the side of the barn, and then going up and painting the bull's eye around it. Any satellite position is improbable a priori; but Mann did not define his criteria of a "hit" a priori and stated the odds wrongly. What he should have addressed was whether or not the odds were overwhelming that no satellite would be within range.
What then is the significance of Mann's assertion (which I have not checked, since I cannot determine which of the two satellites he is in fact referring to _ but which for the sake of argument I am willing to accept as accurate) that "it would have been in optimum position to record radar activity directed from the East towards the intruder" (page 45)? The answer is, nothing whatsoever. Weather satellites then and now do not monitor radar signals.
The alleged Space Shuffle connection: What then of Mann's second major claim that the range from the doomed airliner to Challenger was "amply close to involve the Shuttle in its command, control, and communications role in the conducting of the extended intelligence operation... (page 49).
The STS-8 mission was circling the Earth at an altitude of approximately 300km, in an orbit with an inclination of 28 degrees. Its position corresponded closely to the locations described by Mann (page 49). From the estimated route of KAL 007 reconstructed by the investigation board of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal, it is also possible to plot the closest points of approach between the airliner and the Shuttle. My calculations show a range of about 3600km on the shuttle pass while the aircraft was east of Kamchatka and 3220km on the next pass, an hour and a half later, when the aircraft was between Kamchatcha and Sakhalin.
Had the aircraft passed safely out of Soviet territory, the following pass would have provided a closest range of about 2900km.
Next, one must compute the maximum line-of-sight radio range for the Space Shuttle (all of its radio gear operates at S-Band and Ku-Band frequencies which propagate only in line-of-sight, as does all electro-magnetic radiation in space). The computation of range to horizon for an object at a given altitude is trivial, based on the Pythagorian Theorem; conversion to surface range is shown in the attached figure.
For an altitude of 300km, the Shuttle's maximum radio range is 1920km. If contact is postulated with an airborne target, altitude 10km, then a perfectly smooth Earth would allow an additional
356km of range. The total is about 2280km, significantly less than either 3600, or 3220, or 2900km. Line-of-sight communication can therefore be absolutely ruled out.
Some radio transmissions do not propagate in a straight line within Earth's atmosphere, and some (eg, short wave) can circle the planet. However, they do so by virtue of repeated ricocheting between the surface and the ionosphere. Since the Challenger was above the ionosphere, such hypothesized signals would pass below it and would never be received.
Relay satellites can act as electronic go-betweens for communications links, and in fact the STS-8 mission was testing exactly that technology, involving the new TDRSS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System). Only one was in orbit, and it was positioned over the equator at 67 degrees West longitude. It was thus not visible from the region of the Korean airliner's flight (140 to 160 degrees E, or about 110_ 130 degrees of longitude around Earth). There are no other operating satellites with sufficient power and antenna size to transmit/receive with the Space Shuttle's small Ku-band dish antenna or any other equipment (such as omni S-band) aboard the spaceship.
Perhaps the alleged American Ferret satellite (designated "Ferret-D" by the Soviets) and Challenger talked with each other? But the times provided in Mann's article reveal that they were nearest to the airliner at times sufficiently divergent to preclude any line of sight links when one was nearby, the other was on the opposite side of the planet). In fact, during this interval they were never anywhere around Earth within line of sight of each other.
The unavoidable conclusion is that the second part of the Mann spy scenario utterly collapses due not merely to policy but to the basic laws of nature.
What were the astronauts doing? During the course of the airliner intrusion, Mann and others assert that the STS-8 crew-members were performing espionage activities. One must ask how
such activities appeared to Mission Control in Houston, and the place to look is in the air-to-ground voice transcripts.
Mann refers to three Shuttle passes south of the airliner's flight path, at about 15:44, 17:16, and 18:51. Each pass took the Challenger within range of the Guam tracking station for several minutes.
The first pass saw acquisition of signal (AOS) at about 15:45. The communications consisted entirely of crew-member Guy Bluford's report on the completion of the drug electrophoresis experiment. The rest of the crew was preparing for a live telecast over Hawaii, during which President Reagan would relay his customary goodwill message to the spaceship. Apart from an exchange of pleasantries, Reagan noted that "I caught you on your way to your bunks for some well deserved sleep, so I better cut this short." The crew had been up since 01:30 GMT, and had
completed the satellite deployment, the electrophoresis run, and numerous other tests.
Over Ascension Island, Houston told the astronauts, "Our general plan is not to talk to you anymore so that you can go to sleep unless you want to say something to us at Guam." Replied Challenger, "We're just getting ready to sit down and have supper ... If you see anything at Guam that's out of configuration for the evening, give us a holler. Otherwise we'll just see you in the morning, I reckon."
However, various problems with a water dump and with a leaking hydraulic pressure unit kept the astronauts in conversation with Houston. At the Guam pass (which began about 17:20), a series of corrective actions were discussed. This kept the astronauts up for another half an hour, until a final discussion over the Santiago, Chile tracking station. “You guys really did great -- have a good night's sleep," radioed Houston; replied the spaceship, "Okay _ see you later."
There were no further conversations with the crew. During the third pass (about 18:55), the air-to-ground channel was silent. By the time they got to sleep, they had been awake nearly seventeen hours.
At approximately 00:40 6MT the following morning, about an hour before crew wake-up, Houston called Dick Truly to reconfigure the spaceship's telemetry link. Software problems at the White Sands site had frustrated attempts to use the still-experimental TDRSS link, and Mission Control wanted time to send up the next day's activities via the ship's teleprinter, before the crew woke up.
The communications and configurations during this period were typical for Space Shuttle missions. There is no indication the exhausted spacemen stayed up a few more hours to participate in a top secret spy mission. Nor can recourse be made by spy-plane theorists that "secret channels" were actually being employed -- there are none.
"It must have been a strangely empty moment," wrote Mann, describing his version of the spaceship's third pass across the Guam area. "The focus of (the astronauts') attention was no longer there." Empty, indeed – the astronauts were all asleep! Their involvement is a fantasy.
Why was the Shuttle launched at night? Conspiracy theorists frequently draw attention to the unusual night launch of STS-8 on August 30, 1983, so as to emphasize its out-of-the-ordinariness and thence suggest its tie-in with a coordinated spy mission. But there were excellent reasons for NASA to want to fly a night shuttle mission, and STS-8 happened to be the first opportunity.
Originally, STS-8 was to have carried the second tracking and data relay satellite, TDRS-2. The first such satellite had been aboard STS-6, which blasted off at 1:30pm local time (18:3OGMT) on April 4. The plan was for the two satellites to be placed opposite each other in the sky (so as to provide almost complete global coverage). The easiest way to do that was to let Earth rotate halfway, and then launch on a profile similar to STS-6. And in fact, the STS-8 mission was scheduled for launch at 2:15am EDT (06:15GMT) on August 30, almost precisely twelve hours out of phase with the launch of its sister payload on STS-6 five months earlier.
The TDRS payload was removed from the mission when the new Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) misfired in April. The dummy payload for exercising the robot arm was moved up from its manifested slot on STS- 11, and a previously manifested Indian communications satellite remained aboard. A night launch made the Indian satellite deployment schedule easier, because in this unique case the Indian space agency wanted to control the satellite after deployment (usually a site in the United States does this), but it was possible to re-schedule the entire mission to allow this and still get a daylight launch. However, NASA decided to press ahead because extensive training had already occurred and because the verification of night landing procedures would (and in fact did) allow significant relaxation of mission planning constraints related to lighting conditions at abort landing sites and on "extension days" which could be added on to the end of pre-planned flights.
A night launch/landing demonstration had been a highly desired item since very early in the shuttle programme. However, it required special cockpit display gear which was not installed on the first orbiter, Columbia. It was built into the Challenger, and after two flights whose missions required sunlight over North America, the third Challenger mission allowed (and, while TDRS-2 was aboard, required) a night launch/landing. That was STS-8, and that is the straightforward, non-espionage rationale for the peculiar launch time.
Later missions were scheduled so as not to require such tricky night flying on nominal profiles, but these same missions included contingency plans which took advantage of the proven ability of the shuttle to land in darkness. In 1985, when the second and third TDRS satellites are finally launched, the timing will reflect the same rationale as for STS-8; TDRS-2 will be launched at 12:44) GMT and TDRS-3 at 06:26 GMT (another night launch). Another mission, the third Syncom (STS-S1D, scheduled for March), must also place its satellite in a different part of the sky from the first two Syncoms launched in 1984. So it, too, will have a night launch.
illustration: The "as flown" timeljne produced a few weeks after the flight of STS-8, shows actual crew activities. Two big arrows show Mann's first and second passes; short arrow shows moment of shootdown. Note "conf' with President Reagan at 1600 GMT, Aug31
illustration: Map of Sakhalin area, showing that Shuttle passes were much too far south to receive any radio signals from the vicinity of the Korean airliner (dotted line)
False issues: Mann draws attention to several non-issues, such as the aircraft's allegedly incomplete passenger manifest (page 54). A full list has in fact been available for a long time, and it identifies by name and profession the controversial "extra personnel" as dead-heading crewmen from the Seoul-New York leg of the flight (reportedly, and reasonably, two of those listed as passengers were KAL sky marshals).
Reference is often made in the conspiracy accounts to the delayed take-off of the airliner, allegedly to enhance split-second coordination with space satellites. The ICAO's report concluded that this was a routine practice, based on expected winds, to prevent the aircraft from arriving at Seoul before 6am, when the airport opened.
The claims about the aircraft flying over strategic regions of the Soviet Union are of zero evidence value. This is because the Soviet Far East is crawling with strategic military points, most of them right up against the border. Any aircraft straying just across the border is going to come near these points (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in particular), purely as an accident of geography. It would have required deliberate flying to avoid passing near such targets.
The question of "extra fuel" is also raised, as some sort of indicator that the pilot intended to perform an unannounced, secret mission. Again, the ICAO report accounts for this "extra" 10,000 lb (about 4%), which brought the aircraft's fuel weight to 263,000lb, by listing average fuel loads for other 747s on that leg. The list shows that the "extra" fuel (called "grandmother fuel" by FAA experts) is in fact quite common as prudent insurance; KAL 007's loading of the fuel was by no means extraordinary.
Ogarkov's press conference claims: On several occasions Mann accepts blindly the assertions made by Marshal Ogarkov, the Soviet Chief of Staff, at the September 9 news conference in Moscow. This disregards documented falsification by Ogarkov: witness the case in which he rejected a question about why the Soviets had refused to admit shooting the plane down for six days; he commanded the Western journalist to go back and read the original press statements again, claiming they had told the whole truth from the start.
Ogarkov, a former commander of the Chief Directorate for Strategic Deception, lied about the weather conditions in the area and the time of the missile attack.
Soviet lies about KAL 007: A confusing swarm of claims deal with other American spy platforms allegedly coordinated with the airliner. In August 1984 the US State Department issued a "white paper" which chronicled the shifting stories: "The evolution of Soviet charges actually results in outright contradictions," noted the report. "For instance, Chief of Staff Marshal Ogarkov, in his authoritative press conference, never charged that there were `additional' intelligence units in the area. His wall map did not refer to any US planes except for the RC-135 which the US government had already acknowledged was off the Kamchatka Peninsula. Eleven days later, Marshal of Aviation Kirsanov announced `additional facts' had been uncovered and asserted that KAL 007 was coordinated with a Ferret-D satellite, that another RC- 135 was operating along the Kurile Islands, that two P-3 Orion planes – US Navy anti-submarine aircraft – were over the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan respectively, that an E-3A AWACS plane was `somewhere' in the area, and that a US frigate was on duty near Vladivostok. To support his charges a new map was produced which depicted the coordination between these units and KAL 007. The chart did not show where the alleged E-3A AWACS was supposed to be operating and gave the wrong location for the RC-l35 operating east of Kamchatka. Later versions of both Ogarkov's original map and Kirsanov's accompanying chart were prepared for the ICAO report. Now, however, another P-3 was added in the north Bering Sea, the RC-135 which was previously depicted as north of the Kurile Islands was now shown as operating off the west coast of Japan, and the AWACS charge was dropped altogether." This suggests that the Soviets had no real data but were just making it up as they went along.
Some official Soviet charts used the very same symbol, identical in outline and size, for both the RC-135s and the Boeing 747.
The Soviets insisted that their aircraft over the Kamchatka Peninsula successfully rendezvoused with the airliner and flew along side, trying to signal it (R. W. Johnson writing in The Guardian accepted this claim, but David Pearson [The Nation] disputed it). American sources insist that ex post facto analysis of intercepted radar signals show that the Soviet fighters never got closer than about thirty kilometers. This was known, say official US sources, "from reflected radar data – they broadcast the radar, the return scatters, and is recorded...” At the United Nations, an American diplomat explained: "We did not track the plane, but we tracked you tracking it" – without at the time realizing it was an off-course airliner.
Ogarkov described the interception as having occured under "difficult meteorological conditions." ICAO checks with aircraft reports and with weather satellite photographs showed that the weather was CAVU – ceiling and visibility unlimited, with underlying clouds a few thousand meters below. Yet one American journalist went so far as to suggest that the Soviet pilot failed to recognize the airliner because "the moon went behind a cloud."
The Soviets claim that the airliner transmitted bursts of coded radio signals consisting of "spy data." But Moscow has never played these tapes or even identified the frequencies, leading analysts to conclude that the signals – if they exist at all – were from the airliner's transponder or were "selective call-up" blips used to alert receivers of incoming voice transmissions.
Map submitted by the Soviet Union to ICAO uses same aircraft - L
007, and P3 Orion. Note also the very subdued flight curve indicated over Sakhalin, much
more gentle than on Ogarkov's press conference map
Was the airliner flying without lights?: The claim has been made that the Korean airliner was flying without lights, just as a spy aircraft would be expected to be. Yet the Soviet pilot's taped transmissions can be interpreted to indicate that he clearly saw the airliner's anti-collision light (it is a red rotating light; the aircraft did not carry a "strobe," but rotating lights flash just as brightly). References are made to "flashing lights" and at one point explicitly to "the target's lights."
Ogarkov explains away the reports of the lights by claiming the Russian pilot was confused by the lights of another Soviet aircraft – yet the remark came from the same pilot who later fired the missiles, presumably the closest to the airliner. Pearson explains that the flashing lights were actually on board the Soviet jet, as part of an attempt to signal the airliner (Ogarkov and the pilot also claim such attempts were made); however, at that point it appears that the Soviet jet was well behind the airliner, while ICAO standards are for the intercepting aircraft to be abeam (preferably on the left, where the pilot can see) of the intruder. Pearson (and others) then explain the references to the target's lights as indicating the Koreans turned their lights on after seeing the Soviet jet's signals (which contradicts Ogarkov's account).
Earlier in the intercept, the Soviet pilot had explicitly reported, "I see it." If the airliner's lights had been off at this point – as Ogarkov and Pearson claim – the plane would not have been visible. Somebody, either the pilot or later Ogarkov, is lying. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the airliner's lights were on for the entire period and that later Soviet accounts are fabrications to support the spy-plane scenario.
Did the Soviets follow proper contact procedures?: Mann asserts (page 52) that over Sakhalin the airliner had "a sizeable escort repeatedly attempting to contact it on the international emergency frequency of 121.5MHz." Pearson agrees. Rudolf Braunberg, a West German pilot, wrote that the Soviet requests "most certainly (were) made." In general, the apologistic accounts make such assertions purely on the word of Moscow, when in fact there is no evidence that any such calls were ever made and considerable evidence they were not. Numerous civilian airliners were within range of KAL 007 in those final moments, as were sites on Hokkaido. None of them have any record of hearing calls on that frequency. The defector Viktor Belenko, who flew an Mig-25 interceptor from Sakhalin several years ago, reported that Soviet aircraft are not equipped to communicate on that frequency, so as to dissuade attempts at defection – the fact that the Soviets later showed Western newsmen in Moscow a fighter (SU-l5) which did have such gear should hardly be rated as relevant evidence.
illustration: Part of the Soviet Union overflown by KAL 007 prior to its destruction. Avachinskaya Bay, on which-is located major Soviet nuclear missile submarine base, is about 20km across and is seen here in a photograph taken in December 1983 by Spacelab-l
When an earlier Korean airliner (flight 902) was shot down near Murmansk on April 21, 1978, the panicked pilot repeatedly called out to the attacking jets on 121.5MHz, but no reply was ever made – and a Finnish air traffic control tower at Rovaniemi recorded those calls and the absence of any ground or air Soviet responses (apologists have asserted that in 1978, such calls were in fact made but were ignored by the Korean pilot then "as well"). In that case, the Soviet jet demonstrably did not follow ICAO standard procedures.
The 1978 incident should be discussed briefly in the light of claims that it too represented a planned spy flight. But it can be asserted with some certainty that the aircraft had no spy gear on board, since the Soviets tore the plane apart and never returned it.
Yet analysts such as Pearson, Braunberg, and Johnson insist that proper radio calls were made in 1978, as they supposedly were in 1983. They do not explain the absence of such calls on the Rovaniemi tapes.
The pilot of flight 902, Captain Kim Chang Ky, reported that when he caught sight of a Soviet interceptor – off the right side, not the left as specified by ICAO standards – he reduced speed, lowered his landing gear, and flashed his navigation lights on and off, all specified in procedures as signifying willingness to follow the Soviet fighter. His calls on 121.5MHz were recorded. But Ogarkov in 1983, referring to flight 902, declared that "The Soviet Union did everything possible to land it at an airfield but it would not comply." Pearson accepts Ogarkov's assertions, writing: "The pilot apparently defied the orders of Soviet interceptors."
At that point, the Soviet jet fired a missile which blew off part of a wing and showered the fuselage with shrapnel, killing two passengers. Pravda called it a "warning shot."
Failure to cooperate with investigators in 1978, and refusal to turn over the flight recorder, laid groundwork for later tragedy. Commentators at that time warned about precisely such a danger: "If even deadlier incidents are to be avoided," wrote Anthony Paul in Readers Digest, "the Russians owe it to the world to make the (flight) recorder available, and to publish a full, factual account of what they believe happened." Soviet failure to comply with ICAO standards in investigating the 1978 incident was a direct contributory precursor to the 1983 tragedy.
Some apologists have asserted that the worsening of US/USSR diplomatic relations would help explain the Soviet trigger-happy behaviour in 1983. But five years earlier, the glow of detente still lingered, and the Soviet pilots shot to kill anyway. Ogarkov lied about it and Western apologists accepted the Soviet version. Such behaviour, repeating itself in 1983, becomes more understandable.
A dispute arising from the 1983 event is the correct translation of the pilot's phrase. "Tsel na zapros ne otvechayet" at 18:13:26. The term zapros means "query", to which the target is not answering. Soviet flight terminology uses the word zapros for an automatic electronic query of another aircraft's coded transponder. Whether the pilot was using standard pilot's jargon (referring to the IFF) or speaking street Russian (referring to a voice call by radio) is uncertain. However, such calls are required to be made in English, the international air traffic control language, and there never has been any Soviet claim that "pilot 805" spoke any English at all.
Perhaps the ICAO's observation is germane (referring to the required precise radio characteristics): "the stability characteristics of the equipment being used have a direct relationship to the ability to communicate via the VHF equipment carried aboard the B747 aircraft which is designed for 25KHz spacing. Experience has been that the introduction of 25KHz channel spacing has required specific stability characteristics in transmitters and receivers at both ends of the communication link. If the stability of airborne equipment carried aboard military aircraft is not compatible with that on civil aircraft so equipped, the ability to communicate can be affected."
The Soviets claimed that they fired cannon bursts to warn the aircraft with tracers, but the transcripts only indicate that the pilot was firing his cannon, possibly in an attempt to hit the aircraft before using much more expensive missiles (his subsequent words, "Now I will try rockets," can certainly be interpreted in this manner). In any case, international practices call for firing tracers when the interceptor is abeam of the intruder aircraft, and apologists have spread the story that the plane never got up that close, where the Boeing 747's distinctive hump would have been impossible to miss in the clear pre-dawn air (there was also a quarter moon). If the cannon had been fired from far behind the airliner, there is no way the pilots could have noticed the tracers _ since the defector Belenko has pointed out that Soviet air-to-air cannon has a range of less than two kilometers.
Thus we are faced with a paradox, an internal contradiction of the apologistic accounts of these final moments, If the interceptor was where it should have been to fire the tracers – that is, abeam of the cockpit – the aircraft's identity would have been obvious. But if the Soviets are innocent of knowing the aircraft was a 747 (and not an RC-135), and made their signals (and later their attack) from behind and below the aircraft, there was no way the Korean pilots could have seen the warning shots and the Soviets were in outright violation of the accepted laws of international civil aviation.
The Ferret-D spy in the sky: Coordination with the alleged "Ferret-D" proves nothing. There are enough possible "hits" with DoD satellites that the odds were about ten to one that some military satellite would have been in view at any random time.
The published Soviet ground track map is physically impossible. It has the orbit going in the wrong direction (east of south vice the real west of south), then changing direction (a physical impossibility), curving in the wrong direction (concave west versus the actual concave east), with groundtracks too closely spaced and viewing range off by a factor of two.
The "Ferret- D" terminology is unknown to Western analysts, and no satellite of that designation is listed in space vehicle catalogues.
Nevertheless, examination of tracking data routinely released by the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) has allowed competent analysts (Anthony Kenden was first, within a few weeks of the incident) to produce a match of sorts with the Soviet claim. A satellite, identified as 1982-41C, was indeed following a roughly north to south orbit in the area, and it is clearly the vehicle referred to by the Soviets as "Ferret-D".
Comparing the purported Soviet track with the actual track, in fact, shows the Soviet claim in error by up to 800km which oddly enough is far more than the airliner's deviation. Soviet annoyance at aircraft course deviation is ironic when their propagandists cannot even draw a line on a map with any better accuracy.
The ferret 1982-4lC may have been occasionally in line-of-sight of the incident, but was it “optimally placed" to observe Soviet radar activity? Mann provided a formula for such placement, in his 1964 scenario: the ferret should he placed exactly behind the aircraft, as viewed from the target radar sites, so that maximum signals would he intercepted from the often highly directional radar beams. That is, any beam that illuminates the exciting aircraft will also illuminate the ferret, and register on its instruments.
But this criterion was manifestly not satisfied in the situation under consideration: the Soviet radar sites were located between the aircraft and the ferret, and were presumably sending their directional beams directly away from the satellite's path. The aircraft was east of the radar sites, the satellite was passing in the low western sky. Certainly, some signals might "leak" backwards (and 360 degree search radars would be visible), but the allegedly coordinated satellite path was far from optimum -- it was awkward and inefficient at best, for the alleged purpose.
This is what one would expect from a random coincidence. It is not what should be expected for a carefully coordinated espionage probe.
Illustration: ICAO studies found scenarios which approximated aircraft course as claimed by Soviet Union. Map shows how aircraft was out of nominal range of any land-based radars which could have detected initial deviation, including those at Shemya and St. Paul
Illustration: Soviets were correct in asserting a ferret-type American satellite was nearby during the airliner's intrusion, but their propaganda blitz relied on sloppy, inaccurate portrayal of ground track (dotted line). Black lines show 1981-41C actual ground track.
Illustration: Cobra Judy phased array radar looks skyward from aft end of USNS Observation Island. A shipborne platform such as this would be needed to overcome line- of-sight limitations of land-based radars in the category of Cobra Dane at Shemya
The westward progression of passes is a law of nature, with Earth’s eastward rotation matched by the aircraft’s westward flying speed, almost precisely, and entirely by chance. The three passes were not intentionally guided, they were its natural flight path. Any apparent synchronization is an illusion, an artifact of the eastwards rotation of Earth and the westwards flight of the airliner. The satellite’s orbital path actually remained steady in space, while Earth rotated eastwards beneath the orbit, at a speed of about 1600km per satellite’s orbit (at the latitude in question); the airliner was flying in the opposite direction at a speed of about 1400km per orbit. Because of the approximate equality of these values, each satellite pass did in fact closely repeat its orientation with respect to the airliner. But it was a coincidence.
Mann claims “Obviously, critical timings throughout the operation are geared to the Ferret orbit. This determines key approaches within a minute or less.” This is nonsense: Mann is painting the bull’s-eye around the shot arrow a posteriori. A catalogue of events throughout the intrusion show things happening continuously: detection, tracking, entering air defence zone, crossing territorial waters, entering air space, crossing coast, air defence signals, interceptor scrambles, and so forth. Whichever event happened to coincide with the satellite’s passage would be, in Mann’s logic, the one originally intended. With dozens of targets to shoot for, no wonder one is hit at random.
Why wasn’t the airliner warned: This has emerged as the key issue in implicating US authorities in the planning of the so-called “spy mission.” The Soviets first raised the question almost immediately, and it has been echoing ever since.
“As to the air traffic control authorities which monitored the flight,” wrote Mann (page 56), “whether civilian or military, nothing has ever been published to refute the argument that they were in grave dereliction of their duties, either by failing to appreciate the danger to the aircraft, or by reacting lethargically when the danger was realized. This is one of many points that attempted explanations based on genuine navigational error frankly fail to account for.”
Wrote The Nation, in an unprecedented full-page advertisement in the New York Times on October 25 (evidently an attempt to make KAL 007 an issue in the presidential campaign), “That the US did not know KAL 007 was off-course defies belief. Why didn’t we warn it?”
It is the key question used and abused by Soviet commentators, right from the start.
To attempt an answer to this question, one most catalogue the available US sensors and determine what they might have seen, and what it would have looked like to them.
There seems little dispute that the civil air traffic control authorities in Alaska behaved properly. Noted the ICAO report: “Within the coverage of the Kenai radar, the fact that KEOO7 was tracking slightly north of ATS route J501 gave no rise to concern, as the aircraft had been cleared direct to Bethel and was not required to be on route J50l.” After this point, only military radars were in range.
According to The Nation, “It is normal for the military to inform civilian aircraft and air controllers when a commercial flight is off course. This time they did nothing. Why?” Pearson refers to a 1982 agreement between the US Defense Department and the FAA, by which
“Alaska-based military radar with extended range is supposed to verify that airliners are on course when they begin their long flights west from Alaska. If they deviate, military radar operators are to notify the FAA.”
Pearson is referring to a May 18, 1982, agreement, which marked the implementation of a setup called the “North Pacific Composite Route System.” While the system was beginning operations (and in consideration of the late-1981 air traffic controller walkout which left American control towers seriously understaffed for almost a year), the US Air Force agreed to monitor outbound flights. But the agreement specified this was a temporary measure, to last at least 90 days, but not much longer. By the end of 1982 the FAA had verified the effectiveness of the new system, and the agreement lapsed.
In 1983, no agreements were in force. According to the FAA, the only time the Air Force ever called the FAA that year was when incoming aircraft penetrated the ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone). Since November 1983, however, a permanent agreement has been implemented which calls upon military air traffic controllers to notify civil ATC when outbound aircraft deviate more than ten miles. So these assertions by Pearson and by The Nation’s editors are false. Military radars which noticed the course deviation (and whose data were used in the investigation) had no reason to suspect that the plane was in trouble.
The Cobra Dane radar on the island of Shemya, at the west end of the Aleutians, is powerful enough “to track a baseball thousands of miles in Space.” According to Pearson, the airliner’s overflights of Kamchatka and Sakhalin were “well within Cobra Dane’s exceptional range, and a radar blip in an unexpected position is precisely the kind of unusual event that Cobra Dane is designed to detect.” He continues ‘Cobra Dane... would have been actively monitoring KAL 007 for practically the entire length of the flight. For (it) not to have detected an anomaly such as KAL 007’s flight deviation would have been a scandal and a failure of a high order.”
The only scandal and failure is on Pearson’s part, since he has so grievously misunderstood the technology involved. Cobra Dane is a missile tracking radar operating in line-of-sight, and an aircraft at 10,000m would he out of range of Cobra Dane’s line-of-sight at about 450km. Even had it been in range (which it never was), the airliner would not have been detected because Cobra Dane’s acquisition and tracking software is designed to reject aircraft returns, so as not to overload and confuse its tracking function.
So Cobra Dane could not have seen the airliner, both because of laws of physics and because of deliberate design features, neither of which were evidently known to Pearson. It is precisely because of the line-of-sight constraints that other missile tracking systems were developed: Cobra Judy is installed on the ship Observation Island, and Cobra Ball is installed on a specially equipped RC-135.
This passed within 75 miles of the airliner while on its mission. Pearson writes, “It is certain that the RC-135 had identified the airliner and knew where it was and where it was heading.”
The source of Pearson’s certainty is unknown. The aircraft was on station to monitor a Soviet ICBM test (at first designated the PL-5, the missile soon was renamed SS-X-25 after sufficient data had been collected). Its attention was directed high into space. It was not an AWACS
(Airborne Warning and Control System) vehicle, loudly and actively painting the surrounding skies with radar beams. Most probably, it was under radio silence.
It is standard procedure on such missions for the RC-135 not to operate search radar, which would only succeed in allowing its position to be precisely plotted by the Soviets. Attack alert would come from a careful monitoring of known Soviet air-to-air radar signals; their detection would give plenty of warning, especially when and if the signals changed from search mode to easily distinguishable track mode. Besides, since the aircraft was a clearly-designated unit of the “national technical means of verification,” it was protected by the SALT 1 treaty — and the Soviets had never before attacked aircraft involved in such activities.
Supposing that the RC- 135 did see the airliner (as there is no reason to suppose), there would be no way of determining its identity short of calling it on the radio, or activating its transponder with a radar pulse — both practices forbidden by operational rules. Knowing an aircraft was passing by, on a route headed for Petropavlovsk, would lead to an obviously justified assumption that it was an incoming Soviet aircraft of some sort.
In conclusion, there seems no reasonable way that the RC-135 would have detected the airliner, or even if that, would have identified it and discovered it was a candidate for a warning.
Support for the suggestion that the RC-135 was insuring its safety purely through passive monitoring of (and recording of) Soviet airborne radar frequencies is the revelation that analysis of such tapes (without the source being identified) showed US analysts that the Soviet jets never came close to KAL 007 over Kamchatka. That phase of the airliner’s flight occurred while the RC-l35 was still on its missile-monitoring mission orbit. That RC-13S is the only reasonable candidate for the sensor platform which obtained such recordings, since no other known facilities were in close range, and the data was almost certainly being collected (but not analyzed in real time).
In real time, the strengths, Doppler shifts, source angular rates, and tracking modes of all radar signals monitored would have characterized these signals as not being of any immediate security concern to the RC-135, so they could be ignored. The existence of the signals would hardly have been judged unusual, since the Soviets routinely fly night manoeuvres and operate their radars against nearby targets. Only later could it have been determined that this time the distant pulses and echoes represented a this-is-no-drill chase of an intruder, and not a Soviet aircraft.
As the airliner approached Japan, it should have been doing its own navigating — and one of the simplest methods is to run the weather radar in ground mapping mode. Although it is considered prudent to keep the radar on for the entire journey, it is optional and is not universally done; however, pilots for KAL and other airlines have testified that “everybody watches the weather radar at landfall.”
But what would the crew have seen on their view of the coastline in front of them? They would he expecting the coastline of northern Honshu, stretching from left to right across their path, with Hokkaido’s Cape Erimo jutting in from the right (‘north). What they saw — if, as is likely, they were watching on the radar — is a coastline stretching from left to right across their path, with a cape jutting in from the right. However by a grim coincidence of geography, this essentially identical configuration involved the coast of Sakhalin and Cape Terpeniya. If they wondered if the landfall really were Honshu, the most likely alternative would have been the northern coast of Hokkaido, stretching from left to right across their course, with a cape jutting in from the right — Cape Aniva on Sakhalin. In that case, they would be a bit off course but over Japan.
That is, glancing at their weather radar as they made landfall at Sakhalin would quite probably not have given them sufficient reason to suspect they were off course, even at this point.
There has also been some attention paid to the preposterous claim that Soviet radar was being deliberately jammed. This first appeared in the rabidly anti-CIA journal Counterspy in its Winter 1984 issue. Pearson picked it up as part of his study. However it founders on the simple question: why did the Soviets not make such a claim themselves, since it would so obviously support their spy scenario? It is too late for them to do so now (“Oh, by the way, we forgot to mention…”)
In conclusion, a careful catalogue of actual US assets in the area shows that no indications would have been available in real time that the Soviets were chasing a lost airliner. To ask “What if it had been a Soviet cruise missile” is nonsensical; the US assets would have recognized such a vehicle when it showed up inbound within range of defence radars. But they were not suited — or intended — to see off-course airliners. No failure or deliberate silence is needed to explain the lack of warning. Further analysis of the Mann article reveals more evidence of the pseudonymous author’s unfamiliarity with basic rules of spaceflight.
To suggest, as Mann does (page 52), that the Space Shuttle might be able to operate with “more manageable propellants” instead of cryogenic fluids (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen) is to reveal astronomical ignorance of principles of rocket propulsion. The Shuttle’s tanks and engines were designed for precisely this mix of propellants; any non-cryogenic chemicals currently known (or theoretically feasible) would not possess sufficient energy to carry the vehicle into orbit. In qualitative terms, the best non-cryogenic propellants possess only two thirds of the specific impulse of liquid hydrogen fuel, and no feasible modification to the Space Shuttle could make it reach orbital speed and altitude under such conditions.
Nor is his knowledge of Washington politics any better. The departure of national security advisor William Clark, which Mann seems to attribute to disgrace over the spy operation, was no surprise, with hints appearing long before. And his move to replace the resigned James Watt, controversial Secretary of the Interior, can hardly be considered a shameful demotion.
Has the Western press ignored the story? For proponents of the spy conspiracy, the failure of mainstream news organizations to reach similar conclusions is presented as evidence for incompetence, bias, and intellectual enslavement. Noted Mann (page 54), “If there has been a failure in the West, it is on the part of investigative journalism which has not pursued the enquiry with anything like the vigour that might be expected . . . It is in the US itself that the free press should take up the challenge.” Noted John Keppel, Pearson’s mentor: “The press has mainly ignored the story.” In its full page advertisement in the New York Times late last October, The Nation: “We have a national scandal. Why is Congress not probing this? And where is the American press? . . . No mainstream medium has published results of its own investigation. As far as we know, none has undertaken an investigation.”
This is nonsense. A wide array of professional newsmen, many hardly considered friends of the Reagan Administration, have dug into the story for more than a year. They made no secret of their results: no spy conspiracy. During television special reports marking the first anniversary, all major US TV network news departments covered the story in depth and concluded that the spy scenario did not hold water. When the Baltimore Sun (practically a Washington DC, newspaper, and widely regarded as “world class”) reprinted a shortened version of the Mann article on July 8, it assigned its experienced Pentagon correspondent, Charles W. Corddry, to evaluate the article’s claims. Corddry’s investigation rebutted the accuracy of the article’s factual assertions.
The managing editor of the Washington Post, hardly a newspaper to sit on verified stories damaging to government officials, told the New York Times in late October: “[We] investigated the flight of KAL 007 within an inch of its life. We were very open-minded and sceptical about what happened. We tracked down an amazing number of tips, including the kind mentioned in the Nation article, and they just didn’t check out.”
According to Bill Kovach, Washington editor of the New York Times, his paper assigned six reporters to look into the incident full time. Special attention was devoted to a possible spy mission, or to the possibility that the US knew the plane was off course but did not warn it. “‘The reporters found no evidence to support assertions that US authorities were in a position to warn the South Korean plane,” the newspaper concluded.
Frederic Golden, science editor of Time, commented on the spy theories in an article in Discover magazine in December. After listing a series of technological impossibilities claimed in Pearson’s article in The Nation (such as ignoring the curvature of the Earth in making exaggerated claims for radar tracking range), Golden concluded: “If the conspiracy theorists want to be believed, they will have to do better than rely on flat-earth physics.”
Editor’s Note 1: The Mann data was drawn from the Table of Earth Satellites. Volume I: 1957—1968, published by the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), Farnborough, in January 1970. This British Government organisation listed a total of three, not two, components of 1964—02 A/B/C). Component 1964—02A was identified as an Agena D rocket, while B and C were tentattvely characterized as ‘polyhedral cylinders,” each 0.5m long and lm in diameter.
Editor’s Note 2: The RAE Table gave the perigee/apogee heights as 792/850km (for 1964-02A), 801/ 830km (for -02B), and 811/825km (for -02C). Orbital inclination was approximately 99 degrees. Though no component of 1964-02 is included, such characteristics appear to fall within the criteria of Kenden’s table (No.7) on Ferret Subsatellites, published in the July 1978 issue of Spaceflight (inclinations 64.52—109.94 degrees).
Illustration: Space shuttle Discovery was launched on January 24th this year to carry out first official mission for US Department of Defense, deploying a new-generation ferret satellite
Defence Attache, No. 1/1985, p. 23
In proceedings taken on behalf of Korean Airlines against the publishers and editor of Defence Attaché, the following statement was read in court on November 19 1984 by Counsel for the Plaintiffs:
My Lord, I appear for the Plaintiffs Korean Airlines Company Limited. My learned friend Mr. James Price appears for the First and Second Defendants. The Plaintiffs are a well known international civil airline and the flag-carrier of South Korea. Their business is to carry civilian passengers on scheduled routes in safety world-wide. The First Defendants are the publishers and the Second Defendant is the editor of a bi-monthly magazine published in this country called Defence Attaché, which is sub-titled “The International Review of Defence”, and is a technical journal concerned with international defence and security, circulating throughout the world.
As is well known, one of Korean Airlines’ passenger planes, a Standard Boeing 747, was shot down by Russian military aircraft on 31st August, 1983, near Sakhalin Island off the Soviet Pacific coast. The aircraft was on a scheduled flight from Anchorage in Alaska to Seoul in Southern Korea. Tragically, 269 lives were lost. Despite massive search operations the flight recorder carried by the aircraft, which might have revealed conclusive evidence as to what went wrong, has never been recovered.
This dreadful tragedy led to much political controversy and accusation and counter-accusation at the highest level. Not surprisingly, the Soviet authorities sought to make excuses for what in the
West was regarded as a callous and ruthless disregard for the lives of the civilians. The complete story will alas never be known since the crew all lost their lives and since nothing which would help investigation has ever been recovered. What is equally clear is that no civilian pilot, no civilian navigator and no Western civilian airline would deliberately seek to penetrate Soviet air-space. The first and foremost consideration in the minds of any flight personnel and any airline, my clients included, is and must always be the safe accomplishment of the flight upon which they and their passengers have set out. My clients rightly pride themselves on their reputation for the care of their passengers. This is their goodwill. Neither they nor their crews would ever do anything calculated to put their passengers at risk. They certainly did no such thing on this occasion. The loss of this aircraft was to them a totally unwanted and unlooked-for disaster.
In this issue No.3 of 1984 of Defence Attaché the Defendants published an article written under the cloak of a pseudonym entitled “Reassessing the Sakhalin incident”. On the front cover of the magazine this article was publicized by the grossly tendentious description “Korean ‘Spy’ Plane: The new Evidence”. The article itself was described in an editorial note as “a dispassionate analysis of the horrific incident” adducing “fresh material”. The effect of the article was that my clients’ aircraft was on a spy mission carefully and deliberately co-ordinated with United States Intelligence Authorities. It is hardly possible to imagine a more damaging libel upon any civil airline. The implication must necessarily be that my clients permitted the use of their aircraft for such a purpose and consciously and intentionally took part in an adventure likely to result in disaster and that they were willing to disregard the welfare and safety of their passengers and staff in the course of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. The matter was made worse because, as was clearly foreseeable, the contents of the article were widely quoted and reproduced the world over.
Moreover, the Second Defendant subsequently sought to defend publication of the article in a letter written for publication and published in the Daily Telegraph on the ground that it contained “new and hitherto unpublished perspectives.”
It is hardly necessary to state that there is not a word of truth in the suggestion that my clients’ aircraft was on a spy or any other intelligence mission or that my clients in any way took part in any intelligence operation. Theirs was an ordinary commercial flight. Whatever may have been the cause of the unfortunate deviation by this aircraft from its intended route, there is no foundation whatsoever for the suggestions made in the offending article. The Defendants fully accept that there could be no question of my clients agreeing to take part in any intelligence operation, and that Korean Airlines would never allow the safety of their passengers or crew to be put at risk. They are here by their Counsel publicly to state their position, which is that my clients’ aircraft was not on a spy or other intelligence mission, and to make it publicly clear that they accept that my clients would never have agreed to such a mission. They have agreed not only to publish what is being said today hut also to set the record straight and to apologize for any misunderstanding which their article may have given rise to and to pay substantial damages and my clients’ costs.
In reply, Counsel for the defendants read the following:
My Lord, On behalf of the publishers and editor of Defence Attaché, I am instructed to state that there is no foundation for any suggestion that either Korean Airlines or any of its staff on the aircraft concerned took part in a spy mission or that the Plaintiffs thus chose to put at risk the safety of their passengers and crew. My clients stated in an editorial introduction to the article that they did not necessarily agree with the author’s views and that their editorial position was that they did not believe KAL 007 had a spy mission and they are happy to reiterate that. However, if the article has given rise to any misunderstandings, or in particular has been taken to suggest that Korean Airlines would consider putting at risk the safety of their passengers and crew, that is a matter sincerely regretted by my clients and one for which they are pleased to have this opportunity of expressing their apologies.
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