Buk missile launcher: the weapon that may have shot down flight MH17

Experts say Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is likely to have been downed by a Buk missile launcher. But who fired it?

Buk missile launchers
(Image credit: Wkimedia Commons)

The Buk surface-to-air missile launcher – which many believe was used to shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as it cruised at 33,000 feet – is a Soviet-era weapon built for anti-aircraft operations.

The missiles are still "widely used in eastern European states, including Ukraine", the Daily Mail says.

Witnesses of the flight MH17 crash reported debris falling from the sky, which some experts say indicates that the plane either exploded or was blown up in mid-air.

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Buk missile launchers lock onto their targets with radar guidance systems and are effective up to an altitude of 75,000 feet.

Shoulder-mounted MANPAD missile systems, popular with guerilla groups, would be ineffective against an aircraft flying as high as 33,000 feet.

The identity of those responsible for the crash is still unknown, but the Daily Mail reports that a launcher "similar to the Buk missile system" was seen yesterday by journalists near the eastern town of Snizhne, which is said to be held by pro-Russia rebels.

However, the pro-Moscow broadcaster RT notes that the Ukrainian military is in possession of several batteries of Buk surface-to-air missile systems in the Donetsk region where the plane went down, and suggested that it may have been responsible for the crash.

According to a statement from the Russian Defence Ministry "units of the armed forces of Ukraine located in the crash-site are equipped with anti-aircraft missile systems of Buk-M1 ... (which) are capable of detecting air targets at ranges of up to 160 kilometres and hit them at full altitude range at a distance of over 30 kilometres".

In a separate statement, Donetsk separatist leader Andrei Purgin said that he did not know of any Buk missile systems in his fighters' possession.

Contrary to this claim however, two weeks ago rebel forces bragged about having seized the A-1402 military base, which according to separatists was "an anti-aircraft missile forces facility equipped with Buk mobile surface-to-air missile systems", Voice of Russia reported.

Yesterday separatist leader Igor Strelkov bragged that he had downed an aircraft just after MH17 was targeted, "though he thought it was a Ukrainian transport aircraft", the Daily Telegraph says.

Strelkov reportedly wrote: "In the district of Torez an An-26 was just shot down. It crashed somewhere near the Progress mine. We warned them not to fly in our skies".

Earlier this week rebels also claimed responsibility for bringing down two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets with surface-to-air missiles.

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