Surface to air missile likely took plane down, experts say - WDAM.COM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Surface to air missile likely took plane down, experts say

Posted: Updated:
Villagers watch as a jetliner breaks apart in eastern Ukraine and falls to the ground. (Source: EuroMaidan/CNN) Villagers watch as a jetliner breaks apart in eastern Ukraine and falls to the ground. (Source: EuroMaidan/CNN)
  • InternationalMore>>

  • US: Russia 'created the conditions' for shoot-down

    US: Russia 'created the conditions' for shoot-down

    Wednesday, July 23 2014 12:33 AM EDT2014-07-23 04:33:53 GMT
    The Obama administration said Tuesday it would present data from the U.S. intelligence community laying out what's known about the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down in Ukraine.More >>
    Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian...More >>
  • UN chief believes Gaza fighting will end soon

    UN chief believes Gaza fighting will end soon

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 8:03 PM EDT2014-07-23 00:03:27 GMT
    The Palestinian U.N. envoy says a draft U.N. resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip will be formally circulated to the Security Council.More >>
    The U.N. secretary-general said Tuesday it is his "hope and belief" that his emergency mission to the Middle East will lead to an end to the fighting between Hamas and Israel "in the very near future."More >>
  • Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

    Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 7:42 PM EDT2014-07-22 23:42:54 GMT
    Israel bombed five mosques, a sports stadium and the home of the late Hamas military chief across the Gaza Strip early Tuesday, a Gaza police official said, as the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state...More >>
    A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel's main airport, prompting a ban on flights from the U.S. and many from Europe and Canada as aviation authorities responded to the shock of seeing a civilian jetliner shot...More >>

EASTERN UKRAINE (CNN) – While smoke rises from the distance, videographers and onlookers discuss the Malaysian plane breaking apart before it fell from the sky on Thursday.

What kind of weapon can shoot down a fully loaded passenger jet flying at nearly 33,000 feet?

That could be a key question in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash investigation as officials try to determine what was responsible for Thursday's plane crash in volatile eastern Ukraine.

A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, a senior U.S. official said. And a second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit. The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to pinpoint where the attack came from, the official said.

Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said in a Facebook post that "terrorists" fired on the plane operating a Buk surface-to-air missile system.

A Ukrainian official also said on Thursday that separatists claimed to have brought down another plane around the same time Flight 17 went missing.

But what could have shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight?

Shoulder-fired missiles sometimes in the arsenals of rebel and separatists groups would be ruled out, experts said.

"At normal cruising altitude a civilian passenger aircraft would be out of the range of the sort of manned portable air (defense) systems that we have seen proliferate in rebel hands in east Ukraine," IHS Jane's Defense Weekly's Nick de Larrinaga said in an e-mail.

Such shoulder-mounted weapons at best can reach 15,000 feet, said military analyst Rick Francona, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

"This would indicate a surface-to-air missile or an air-to-air missile, and I think a surface-to-air missile is probably the best guess right now," he said.

One candidate is the Buk missile system, developed during the Soviet era and operated by Russian and Ukrainian forces.

The missile system, known as the SA-11 among NATO forces, is operated by both Russian and Ukrainian forces, according to retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, director of the Defense and Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

And it's more than capable of taking down an airliner flying at that altitude, he said.

Such weapons travel with Russian troops at the division level, Francona said.

"So the Russians on the other side of the Ukrainian border will have all of this weaponry available to them," he said.

Other possibilities include Russian-made S-200 missiles that are operated by the Ukrainian military as well as the Russian S-300 and S-400 missiles. The latter weapons are the Russian equivalent of U.S. Patriot missile defense batteries.

What seems unlikely is that pro-Russia separatists might have gained control of such a sophisticated piece of weaponry and used it to shoot down an airliner, Ryan said.

"It takes a lot of training and a lot of coordination to fire one of these and hit something," he said.

Typically, a surface-to-air battery missile consists of a command post vehicle, a radar vehicle, several self-propelled launchers, loader vehicles and even more vehicles to carry new missiles to the batteries as necessary, according to Dan Wasserbly, Americas editor for IHS Jane's.

Ryan concludes then that if the plane really was shot down, a professional military force - either on purpose or by accident - was responsible.

"This is not the kind of weapon a couple of guys are going to pull out of a garage and fire," he said.

Copyright 2014 CNN. All rights reserved.

 

  • Crisis in UkraineMore>>

  • Asia stocks bolstered by US earnings, home sales

    Asia stocks bolstered by US earnings, home sales

    Wednesday, July 23 2014 12:50 AM EDT2014-07-23 04:50:42 GMT
    Asian stock markets were mostly higher Monday as anxiety over the downing of a Malaysian jetliner over Ukraine eased and investors shifted their focus to U.S. corporate earnings.More >>
    Asian stock markets posted moderate gains Wednesday, bolstered by solid U.S. earnings and home sales. Indonesian stocks advanced after the official vote count showed Joko Widodo the clear winner of a bitterly contested...More >>
  • Flight bans show skittishness over trouble spots

    Flight bans show skittishness over trouble spots

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 11:12 PM EDT2014-07-23 03:12:16 GMT
    By The Associated Press Delta Air Lines is canceling all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.More >>
    By The Associated Press When U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel Tuesday, they showed both a skittishness and a new sense of urgency in dealing with global trouble spots...More >>
  • US: Russia 'created the conditions' for shoot-down

    US: Russia 'created the conditions' for shoot-down

    Tuesday, July 22 2014 8:40 PM EDT2014-07-23 00:40:47 GMT
    The Obama administration said Tuesday it would present data from the U.S. intelligence community laying out what's known about the Malaysia Airlines plane that was shot down in Ukraine.More >>
    Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian...More >>