Buk is pow­er­ful, flawed weapon

Kyiv Post - - News - BY EUAN MAC­DON­ALD [email protected]­MAIL.COM

The so­phis­ti­cated, Sovi­et­de­signed Buk air-de­fense sys­tem is so pow­er­ful that it re­mains to this day one of the most deadly in its class.

A typ­i­cal Buk bat­tery con­sists of sev­eral mod­ules: A com­mand post ve­hi­cle, a tar­get ac­qui­si­tion radar (TAR) ve­hi­cle, six trans­porter erec­tor launcher and radar (TELAR) ve­hi­cles, and a mis­sile loader ve­hi­cle equipped with a crane.

Al­though the TAR ve­hi­cle can be used in com­bi­na­tion with the TELAR ve­hi­cles to track and at­tack mul­ti­ple tar­gets, each TELAR is also equipped with its own radar sys­tem and is ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing in­de­pen­dently. A TELAR can be­gin track­ing a tar­get once it comes within the max­i­mum range of its mis­siles (around 32 kilo­me­ters, or 20 miles) and can track air­craft fly­ing as low as 15 me­ters (50 feet) or as high as 22 kilo­me­ters (72,000 feet).

Al­though so­phis­ti­cated in terms of de­sign, the Buk TELAR sys­tem, in the hands of a well-trained crew (of four) has a rel­a­tively sim­ple user in­ter­face, ac­cord­ing to avi­a­tion ex­pert Michael Pi­etrucha, in­ter­viewed by MIT Tech­nol­ogy Re­view on July 18, 2014. It takes only five min­utes to set up the sys­tem in a fir­ing po­si­tion, or to stand the sys­tem down for move­ment to an­other po­si­tion.

But be­cause of a se­ri­ous flaw in the tar­get­ing sys­tem, a sin­gle Buk TELAR work­ing with­out backup – even with a fully trained-up crew – could still down a com­mer­cial air­liner by mis­take, Pi­etrucha told the Re­view.

If op­er­at­ing alone, as the TELAR ve­hi­cle that prob­a­bly downed flight MH17 is sus­pected to have been, its crew would have been un­able to iden­tify a com­mer­cial air­liner by its transpon­der sig­nal alone, Pi­etrucha said. Since both mil­i­tary and com­mer­cial air­craft of­ten use the same transpon­der modes, these sig­nals are not used by the Buk’s tar­get­ing sys­tem for air­craft iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. In fact, the sys­tem would have to be hooked in to a na­tional air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem to be able to dis­crim­i­nate be­tween a com­mer­cial air­craft and a po­ten­tial mil­i­tary threat.

Op­er­at­ing covertly and alone from a field south of Snizhne in east Ukraine on July 17 last year, the sin­gle Buk TELAR, even with its pow­er­ful on­board radar, was al­most cer­tainly blind to the iden­tity of the air­craft at which it launched a mis­sile.

Kyiv Post ed­i­tor Euan Mac­Don­ald can be reached at [email protected]­mail.com.

A Buk sur­face-to-air mis­sile sys­tem fires a rocket into the air. (Cour­tesy)

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