Multiple reports have emerged that a Malaysian MH-17 passenger jet carrying 295 people was shot down over Eastern Ukraine Thursday morning. Early reports point to pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, or Russian forces stationed on the Russia-Ukraine border shooting down the passenger jet. However, Ukraine, Russia and the pro-Russian separatists have all denied shooting down the passenger plane.
Records show the passenger jet was cruising at about 33,000 feet at about 500 miles per hour. In order to shoot down a jet at this altitude, it requires an advanced surface-to-air missile, or an air-to-air missile. Early indications show it was likely a radar guided surface-to-air missiles (SAM).
Below are four Russian SAM systems that could knock down a passenger jet flying at 33,000 feet:
Reports in Ukraine indicate that pro-Russian separatists have a Buk missile system in eastern Ukraine. NATO refers to the system as the SA-11 GADFLY and the advanced model as the SA-17 GRIZZLY. The systems was developed by the Soviet Union to succeed the SA-6 GAINFUL.
The Buk is a mobile missile system that includes a target acquisition radar vehicle, command vehicle, six transporter erector launcher and radar vehicles and three transporter erector launcher vehicles. The Buk missile batter includes two TELAR and one TEL vehicles.
A standard Buk battalion consists of a command vehicle, target acquisition radar (TAR) vehicle, six transporter erector launcher and radar (TELAR) vehicles and three transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles. A Buk missile battery consists of two TELAR and one TEL vehicle.
The medium range SAM system has received iterative upgrades over the years since it was first introduced in 1979. The range and capability of the system depends on the missile in use. The SA-11 was introduced in 1979 using the 9M38 missile that features a range of 3–19 miles and an altitude of 100–46,000 feet. In 1984, the SA-11 received the upgraded 9M38M1 missile which expanded the range to 22 miles and the altitude up to 72,000 feet.
The system was upgraded to the NATO designation SA-17 in 1998 when the 9M317 missile was introduced. The missile features an engagement envelope of 100–82,000 feet and 2–31 miles. The GRIZZLY also receive the third version of the target acquisition radar, which can engage 24 simultaneous targets.
This is the most advanced surface-to-air missile system in the world. It was introduced in 2004 by Russia. The long to medium range system features three different missiles — the long range 40N6 and 48N6 missiles as well as the medium range 9M96 missile. Depending on the missile the engagement envelope extends to 98,000 feet and 248 miles.
What sets this system apart is how many targets it can track simultaneously. The S-400’s target acquisition radar can track 36 aerodynamic targets and 72 missiles. For comparison’s sake, the Buk can track 24 targets. Right now, only Russia operates the S-400 although there have been threats it would export it to Iran. There are five S-400 systems deployed across Russia — two in Moscow, one in Russia’s Southern Military District, one in the Pacific Fleet and one near the Baltic Sea.
This is Russia’s medium range surface-to-air mssile system predecessor to the SA-11 and SA-17. It was an original part of the Buk missile system but it has since been phased out in favor of its successors. However, there are a few 2K12 Kub’s still in existence in Russia, according to reports. It was designed in 1959 by the Soviet Union and was produced from 1964 to 1985.
It’s frankly a simpler version of the SA-11 and SA-17. The mobile SAM system has a range of 2–15 miles and can hit targets traveling up to 36,000 feet.
Russia’s early high altitude surface-to-air missile system was designed to knock down U.S. bombers and spy planes. It was made famous when the system shot down U.S. pilot Gary Powers flying a U-2. The SAM system features a radar and missile system that can hit targets flying up to 114,000 feet and up to 41 miles away depending on the variant of the system.
The Russians have exported the system across Asia and even Africa. Notable countries who use the system include Libya, North Korea and Syria. The SA-2 also knocked down U.S. pilots during the Vietnam War.