Probably the top story of the day, unfortunately, is Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, a Boeing 777 aircraft, is down in the border area of Russia and Ukraine with 295 souls aboard. There are unlikely to be any survivors. According to sources quoted by AP, the aircraft was allegedly shot down. Both the Ukrainian government and a spokesperson for the Russian-backed separatists have denied responsibility. The Independent (UK) reports 6 Britons, 23 US citizens and as many as 80 children were aboard. The plane was enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
According to Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, the aircraft was flying at 33,000 feet when hit by a Buk missile. The Buk (NATO reporting name SA-11 Gadfly and later versions the SA-17 Grizzly) missile system entered former Soviet service in 1979 and is a successor to the SA-6 Gainful family. A medium ranged, high altitude system, the missiles have a maximum range of 20 miles and can strike targets as high as 72,000 feet. A Buk missile battery consists of three vehicles, two with fire control radars and one launcher only, and carries 12 missiles between them. Additionally, the battery (3 per battalion) is supported at battalion level by an area surveillance/target acquisition radar vehicle which detects the targets and hands them off to the missile control radars at the battery level; and maybe additionally supported by one or more battalion level missile reload vehicles carrying 8 missiles each. The system can respond in 22 seconds from target track to missile launch. The system is currently in front line Russian and Ukrainian service, plus 10 other countries, and is on order but not yet delivered to Vietnam and Venezuela.
Ok, so nobody actually knows much yet, or rather the ones who do aren’t yet talking. No doubt fuller details will be forthcoming. They always seem to, somehow. I don’t care to speculate, and I don’t know whom to blame. One question leaping to mind, however, is if the Russia-backed separatists did it, where did they get the equipment? This was not, as I said above, a shoulder fired heat-seeking MANPADS. Most of those only range up to about 3 or 4 miles anyway. This was a sophisticated self-propelled radar-guided system, normally deployed in battalion sized units as part of an integrated air defense system.
While I do not care to speculate, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to observe this was no spur-of-the-moment hothead in action. It would have taken an already emplaced system to do it. Further, this will undoubtedly make the Ukrainian mess still messier. Similarly, it’s hard not to see it probably wouldn’t have happened if the border troubles in Ukraine had been headed off at the pass. It also seems impossible to ignore there’s a price for leading from behind.