A Russian-made surface-to-air missile is the most likely cause of the suspected downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, analysts said on Friday, as claim and counter-claim swirled over who launched the weapon.
The truck-mounted “Buk” missile is capable of soaring to the height of a civilian airliner like Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, unlike lighter and more widely available shoulder-launched weapons, defence experts said.
Developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s to shoot down aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and drones, it is still widely used by both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries.
But pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine had just hours before the disaster announced that they had seized a number of Buks themselves.
“Who has shot it down? There is lots of evidence which shows these were pro-Russian separatists who have done that,” Russian defence expert Igor Sutyagin of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told AFP.
He cited a Twitter post on Thursday by separatists, later deleted, “when they reported that they had captured precisely that piece of hardware known as Buk”.
The radar-guided missile can hit targets flying as high as 72,000 feet (22 kilometres) — more than twice the 33,000 feet MH17 was cruising at — and have a range of 32km, said IHS Jane’s Missiles and Rockets editor Doug Richardson.
The missiles travel at three times the speed of sound and have an explosive warhead weighing 70kg 154 pounds).
There are two variants: the Buk-M1 and Buk M2, codenamed by NATO as the SA-11 Gadfly and the SA-17 Grizzly.
The US envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said on Friday it was likely that an SA-11 was responsible.
The missile is produced by the Russian arms firm Almaz-Antey, recently targeted by US sanctions, at a factory in Ulyanovsk.