#ZapadWatch: Luzhsky Missile Misfire

A Russian attack helicopter accidentally fired on observers at Zapad 2017

One day before the end of Zapad 2017, Russian media reported an attack helicopter accidentally fired on people observing the joint military exercise with Belarus. The media outlet, 66.ru, reported a Kamov Ka-52 “Alligator” (NATO reporting name Hokum-B) opened fire at the Luzhsky training ground near Luga, Leningrad Oblast, Russia. The report contained video footage showing the accident and a quote from an anonymous informant.

(Source: YouTube user 66.RU)

The quote reads:

They flew to the target. There were 500 meters left. On a combat mission, the weapon systems are usually switched on. They switched on, but something went wrong, and the missiles launched. Splinters flew widely, at least two cars burnt, two people were seriously injured, now they are in the hospital. It was training before some kind of demonstration. Those who suffered, most likely, were journalists.

The report noted that it remained unclear when the video was shot. According to the anonymous source the accident occurred on September 17 or September 18.

Russian news media RIA Novosti later published a comment from the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation (MoD), which rejected the claim that the accident happened on Monday, September 18, calling reports to that effect “either deliberate provocation or someone’s personal supidity.” The statement said that the video reported a different incident, which occurred while the helicopters were practicing striking ground targets.

The quote from the Russian MoD reads:

The targeting system of one of the helicopters locked onto the wrong target by mistake. As a result of a strike by an unguided rocket, one of the trucks, without people (on board), was damaged.

On September 17, the Russian MoD published a separate report about part of the Zapad 2017 exercise in which crews of Mil Mi-28H (NATO reporting name Havoc) and Ka-52 attack helicopters practiced striking ground targets. The report made no mention of any accidents.

Russian media outlet Life got in touch with a source from the Zapad 2017 command center, who clarified details about the accident. According to the source, on September 16 at 14:47 Moscow time, while performing the third approach of the combat course with an altitude of 50 meters and a speed of 200 km/h an error happened, and a missile engaged an incorrect target.

The Twitter account of open source investigation project Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) published an image of a report on the accident dated September 16. No other source confirms the evidence.

(Source: Twitter / @CITeam_ru)

Instagram user denis_vladimir0vich posted another video, which captured the moment of the accident.

(Source: Instagram / denis_vladimir0vich)

Though the vantage point of both videos is similar, the slight difference in video angles is useful in the moment the strike takes place.

Left (Source: YouTube / 66.RU); Right (Source: Instagram / denis_vladimir0vich)

The slight difference in videos and exact visual comparison of the event proves that there are, in fact, two primary source videos that captured the accident.

The truck and the white car in the video were seen on another video published by CIT on Facebook. The position of the two vehicles matches previously mentioned footage from the strike.

The cars behind the area isolated with red-white tape do not match, suggesting that some time passed between the moment of the accident and the moment the video that examined the place of the accident was taken.

Left (Source: YouTube / 66.RU); Right (Source: Facebook / Conflict Intelligence Team)

Later, CIT published a video from the Ka-52 helicopter cabin, originally shared on the “Mash” Telegram channel.

(Source: Twitter / @CITeam_ru)

The VK page Военный Осведомитель published the video from the Ka-52 cabin in HD resolution.

The videos examined above and the footage from the cabin have some matching visual references, confirming that the video is from the Ka-52 cabin.

A military truck, the white car, and the line of the road are positioned in the same locations in both videos.

Both videos show a white object positioned in the same place.

Left (Source: YouTube user Aleksandr); Right (Source: VK user Военный Осведомитель)

Finally, a tank was captured in the background of the area where the exercise spectators were standing. A tank in the same position was visible on the footage from the helicopter right after the misfire.

Conclusion

The Russian media outlet 66.ru published a video showing an accident where a misfired missile from a Ka-52 struck a possible Zapad 2017 observation site. The video was submitted by an anonymous source.

The Russian MoD denied that it happened on September 18, which was the day Russian president Vladimir Putin visited the exercise. However, the Russian MoD did confirm the accident happened. The most likely time the accident happened is September 16 during the attack helicopter exercise. Though Russian MoD reported about the part of the exercise on September 17 it did not mention the accident captured on the video.

Regardless of timing of the misfire, comparison of open-source video footage confirms that the same accident did, in fact, occur and was captured by several witnesses, reinforcing the amount of information available.


Nika Aleksejeva is a Digital Forensic Research Associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

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