WATCH: The investigation is quickly zeroing in on the Buk missile believed to have brought down the Malaysian Airlines jetliner and who fired it. Eric Sorensen explains.
TORONTO – Military experts and analysts have named the Buk/SA-11 missile system as the weapon that shot down Malaysian Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on Thursday.
A shoulder-powered missile system with a range of just 3,000 metres is out of the question: MH17 was flying far outside that range, at an altitude of about 10,000 metres.
Though the Ukrainian government, rebel forces and Russian authorities have all denied culpability, whatever missile was used had to belong to a powerful, high-tech system that would require intensive training, experts say.
The Russian-designed Buk system, typically known as an SA-11 “Gadfly” in the west, carries surface-to-air missiles that can reach an altitude of 22,000 metres. The system is usually comprised of three components: radar, a command post and one or more launchers, all mounted on vehicles.
But it’s possible for the launcher to operate as a mobile stand-alone system.
VIDEO GALLERY: The loss of Flight MH17
“Its built-in radar is normally used to track the target being engaged, but can be operated in a target-detection mode, allowing it to autonomously engage targets that were present in the radar’s forward field of view,” Doug Richardson wrote in a press release from the global information company IHS. Richardson is the editor of IHS Jane’s, a company specializing in military, aerospace and transportation issues.
BUK/SA-11 by the numbers:
- Simultaneous targets (when used with radar and command post)
- Slant range
- Speed of rockets launched
Konrad Muzyka, an analyst who specializes in Europe and former Soviet states, said using a system like the Buk/SA-11 would be no easy task. Even if the missile-launcher is used on its own, it’s a complicated piece of machinery that would require extensive training.
“The question is if it was the separatists – and a lot of circumstantial evidence points that it could have been them – was it from the Ukraine or Russian government?” Muzyka said.
The Russian-made Buk/SA-11 was designed in the 1970s and came into use the following decade. Each of the four missiles in the mobile system carries a highly explosive warhead. Muzyka says it’s unlikely the MH17’s pilot would have seen the missile coming: It travels at roughly 850 metres a second.
Several videos have emerged of what many are calling proof that the Buk/SA-11 systems were being moved in the region where the plane crashed. Muzyka said he’s seen the videos and confirmed the missile systems shown are indeed the SA-11. But he couldn’t say where they were.
Some Associated Press journalists saw a system similar to the SA-11 moving through rebel-held territory on Thursday.
Some have suggested the missile in question could have been the SA-20. Muzyka said that’s unlikely due the complexity of such a system.
“There had been discussion about a year ago about the SA-20 being deployed to Syria, but that would have been a game-changer,” Muzyka said. “It is such a complex and deadly system.”