Buk is powerful, flawed weapon
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)