September 9, 2014: Strategy Page
It turns out that very detailed, and workable, “how to” instructions on how to operate a Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile system are available on the Internet. This discovery came about because on July 17th pro-Russian rebels shot down a Malaysian airliner that was passing over Ukraine. The official Russian line was that the destruction of the Malaysian airliner was all a CIA plot to discredit Russia and justify NATO expansion and that the rebels did not have people competent to operate the Buk. But satellite photos showed a BUK vehicle hastily moving towards the Russian border after the 17th, with two of its four missiles missing. Ukraine also captured radio traffic featuring rebels talking about shooting down a Ukrainian transport on the 17th.
There was no evidence that Russia ordered the airliner shot down. The rebels who fired the missiles appear to have believed they were firing at another Ukrainian military aircraft. One of those (an An-26) had been shot down in June by the rebels using Buk. Ukraine did later record some rebel radio chatter of the “oops” variety when the rebels realized that an airliner carrying 298 people had been brought down rather than another An-26. That was obvious when the wreckage, which fell into a rebel controlled area of Donbas, was examined by rebel gunmen.
Russia claimed a Ukrainian fighter shot down the airliner, which may be why the rebels kept international investigators away from the crash site for so long. Russian aviation experts knew that when the wreckage was carefully examined parts of the missile that brought down the airliner would be found and identified. Photos of the wreckage soon appeared showing damage characteristic of what a 9&<052;38 BUK missile warhead would inflict. The 9&<052;38 has 1 70 kg (154 kg) warhead and a proximity fuze that detonates the warhead close to the target and sprays the target with a unique form of metal fragments
Western intelligence services believe the Buk M1 anti-aircraft vehicle that fired the two missiles was one of the 60 BUK self-propelled systems Ukraine was known to own. It was believed that some of these were captured by the rebels in Donbas and put to use with the help of Russian experts. Later it was found that instructions could be downloaded from the Internet. The catch here was that while these instructions allowed anyone with access to the equipment, and willing to spend a few hours learning the drill (what buttons to push and when) could actually use the radar and fire control system to fire the missile so that it would bring down an aircraft within range. Normally it takes over two months of formal training for a Buk operator. But the formal course also teaches useful things like how to tell a civilian airliner from a military transport. Faster isn’t always cheaper.