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The missile system that shot down Malaysian plane

July 18, 2014 15:01 IST

The missile system that shot down Malaysian plane

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The BUK surface-to-air missile system is believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 298 people aboard.

The missile system is an old Soviet-built weapon designed to engage aircraft, cruise missiles and drones that is still widely used in eastern European states, including Ukraine.

The Buk, also called SA-11, is a large ground-to-air missile that can reach a maximum altitude between 11,000 and 25,000 metres depending on the version.

Guided by a radar station on the ground, it would be powerful enough to bring down a large aircraft with a single hit, but not accurate enough to discern between a civilian airliner and a military transport aircraft, experts say.

Doug Richardson, missiles and rockets editor of IHS Janes' International Defence Review, told The Telegraph that a mobile BUK missile battery was usually composed of three separate track-mounted units, made up of a radar, a launcher and a command post. 

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Under normal circumstances, it is able to acquire a sophisticated picture of the air traffic above, enabling it to differentiate between enemy and civilian aircraft.

However, the launcher can also function on its own, but with far reduced radar sensitivity.

Had a rebel group been using one in such a fashion, it is possible that they might have been unable to distinguish between an enemy aircraft and a civilian airliner.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA official with counterterrorism experience, told Associated Press that if the Ukrainian rebels had a Buk system it was entirely possible that they could have mistaken the civilian airliner for a military transport aircraft before they fired a missile.

"The Buk uses a radar acquisition system for targeting," he said. "These aren't highly trained FAA air traffic controllers. You're tracking something on radar, you see a dot, you get confused. I don't think it was deliberate. I think it was mistaken identity."

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Justin Bronk, with the Royal United Services Institute, told AP he believes that if a Buk SA-11 system was used, he is "almost certain" it was supplied by Russia.

"My personal hunch is that given the military setbacks that the separatists have suffered of late, and the Ukrainian military's increasingly confident use of airpower, Russian authorities decided to send a few SA-11 systems across into the Donetsk area," he said.

"However, I also highly suspect that the separatists did not intend to shoot down an airliner, but probably thought they were targeting a Ukrainian transport at high altitude, he said.




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