The Buk surface-to-air missile system has received much scrutiny after Dutch investigators determined the self-propelled weapon was behind the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 in 2014.
The civilian airliner had been traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur but was shot down over eastern Ukraine during the height of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers.
Investigators last week announced the Buk missile came from Russia.
“It may be concluded MH17 was shot down by a 9M38 missile launched by a Buk, brought in from the territory of the Russian Federation, and that after launch was subsequently returned to the Russian Federation,” said Wilbert Paulissen, the chief Dutch investigator into flight’s demise near Hrabove, Ukraine. All 298 passengers and crew were killed.
But how does the Buk and its equipment work?
“The chances of hitting a target like a plane with one missile is 99 percent,” Ukrainian air force Lt. Col. Sergey Leshchuk recently told BBC News in a video special, “How does a Buk missile system work?”
“This anti-aircraft system includes six self-propelled missile launchers,” Leshchuk said. The six launchers can fire at six different targets in a span of a minute and a half, and then prepare to fire six more.
However, the system Dutch researchers believe was smuggled into Ukraine on July 17, 2014, was thought to have carried only four missiles, consistent with previous investigation reports that it was a “Buk-M1” system, known by NATO and the U.S. Defense Department as the SA-11 Gadfly.
The system uses radar to track a target’s altitude and speed. The surface-to-air missile system is designed to fire at targets such as aircraft, cruise missiles and drones that can move at more than 1,000 miles per hour. Launched from the Buk’s transporter erector launcher and radar battery, or TELAR, the system elevates and rotates the missiles while incorporating data from the radar screening to effectively shoot a target.
The BBC and other international media quoted Paulissen on Sept. 28 as saying a 9M83 missile from the Buk detonated above the aircraft; however, other news outlets quoted him as saying it was an 9M38 variant.
Both missile types use a semi-active radar homing system for guidance. Both use warheads. The difference? The 9M38 is placed on a Buk system, while a 9M83 is commonly used in the S-300V Long-Range Air Defense Missile System.
According to Military-today.com, the 9M38 has a hit probability of 70-93 percent. The missile, roughly 18 feet long and weighing more than 1,000 pounds, is legitimized by its warhead, triggered by a proximity fuze — detonating as distance to the target decreases — and weighing roughly 150 pounds.
The Dutch safety board in 2015 first concluded that destruction of MH17 was caused by “the detonation of a warhead” roughly three feet from the cockpit. The board identified it as a 9N314M warhead, commonly used on the 9M38 series SAM.
Tjibbe Joustra, the DSB chairman at the time said this was confirmed by shrapnel found in the bodies of the crewmen and the pilots. Reconstruction of the Boeing 777 confirmed the warhead exploded near the cockpit, causing the aircraft to go down.