What is the Buk Missile System That Downed Flight MH17?

By Aatif Sulleyman on at

The Dutch Safety Board this week revealed the findings of its investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which crashed in July 2014. It’s declared that the plane was taken down by Russian-made weaponry as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kula Lumpur. All 298 people on board were killed.

So how did they come to this conclusion? It all comes down to the Buk missile.

What does the report say?

"The crash of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 was caused by the detonation of a 9N314M-type warhead launched from the eastern part of Ukraine using a Buk missile system," reads the Dutch Safety Board report. It says that the missile in question was fired from a region in Eastern Ukraine, hitting Flight MH17 in the early afternoon (UK time).

What is the Buk system?

The first Buk missile system went into development in the USSR back in 1972, and plenty of variations of the launcher have come and gone. It’s what’s known as a mobile, radar-guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) system.

It comprises four main components: acquisition and targeting radars, a command element, missile launchers and a logistics element. All of these elements can be mounted on the backs of vehicles and carried around.

Buk missile system

How deadly is it?

It’s capable of tracking, pursuing and eventually destroying selected targets, making it a formidable piece of weaponry. Its maximum range of over 70,000 feet means the plane, which is said to have been flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet, was well within reach.

The warhead launched by the Buk contains an explosive core and two mantles packed with fragments of iron. When the missile hit the front of Flight MH17, from the left-hand side, it detonated, leaving the plane without a hope.

The aircraft’s cockpit is believed to have quickly split from the Business Class section, and the disintegration of much of the rest of the body followed. The plane reportedly took around a minute and a half to hit the ground.

Who fired it?

As tends to be the case in such dire circumstances, we’re looking at a blame game. While the official line states that the culpable weapon was Russian-made, the investigators have no way of proving that it was fired by Russian forces.

The Ukrainian government is adamant that pro-Russia rebels pulled the trigger. However, missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey claims that the missile used was an old model no longer used by the Russians.

What we can conclude is that the air space above Ukraine should have been closed. Hindsight is a lovely thing, but the authorities should surely have done more to prevent a potential disaster by doing more than simply restricting the lower levels of Ukrainian airspace.

Image credit: steiney via Flickr