Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was reportedly shot down on Thursday over Ukraine carrying 295 people. Investigators now will have to grapple with two questions: who took it down — and how?
The plane was reportedly flying at an altitude of 10 kilometers (roughly 33,000 feet) near the Ukrainian-Russian border when it went down. While it's unclear who shot the missile, it's likely that the plane was indeed taken down, experts say.
Considering the altitude and location, however, "there are a lot of different systems deployed in that area, both in Ukraine and Russia, that could potentially have taken it down," Sim Tack, a security analyst at Stratfor, told Mashable.
Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have been known to use the surface-to-air Buk missile system, also known as SA-11 or SA-17 and the next-generation S-300 and S-400 missiles. And despite the fact that there is no confirmation of the exact locations of these systems, considering the current situation between Ukraine and Russia, it's "very likely that high-end air defense systems are located in that area," Tack said.
A Ukrainian government adviser, Anton Gerashenko, also said the plane was taken down by a missile fired from a Buk launcher, a system developed by the former Soviet Union.
Nick de Larrinaga, a defense analyst at London-based think tank IHS Jane's , echoed that point, saying that medium-altitude SAM missile systems such as the 9K37 Buk (also known as the SA-11 'Gadfly') or the S-300 (aka SA-10 ‘Grumble) "could all have been used in this scenario."
“Russia and Ukraine have such SAM systems in their inventories,” de Larrinaga said.
A launcher that looked like a Buk missile system was spotted by Associated Press reporters on Thursday near the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne, according to an AP report.
Given that these systems could conceivably hit a plane at that altitude, the bigger question remains: who fired the missile?
Both the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russia separatist rebels denied shooting down the commercial plane. And it remains unclear whether the rebels had access to one of these complex system. Moreover, the system entails significant training, Tack said.
In the past few weeks, there have been numerous reports of rebels shooting airplanes down in Ukraine using so-called manpads or portable surface-to-air missile systems. These, however, don't have the capability of reaching a plane flying at 10 kilometer, Tack said.
A Twitter account associated with pro-Russian rebels apparently posted a picture of a Buk system before the tweet was deleted — leading some to suspect the rebels might have gotten their hands on one of these systems.nam-
While it is hard to establish whether Russia provided the systems to the pro-Russian rebels, the militants could have found Buk systems in Ukrainian stockpiles, Sam Brannen, the deputy director of the CSIS International Security Program, told Mashable.
UPDATE, 5:04 p.m. ET: U.S. intelligence officials believe the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, according to a The Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources.
Here's a video of a Buk in action:
Tags: MALAYSIA AIRLINES, U.S., Ukraine, US & World, WORLD