Anatomy of a killer: Russia’s BUK 9M38 missile that destroyed MH17 is old but lethal tech

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Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, before the reassembled cockpit of MH17; Russian 9M38M1 missiles
Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, before the reassembled cockpit of MH17; Russian 9M38M1 missiles on a BUK launcher Reuters/Wikipedia

In its own perverse but monstrous way, the destruction of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by a Russian-made 9M38 surface-to-air missile (SAM) once again proved the Russians are second to none in killer missile technology.

The recently released final report by the Dutch Safety Board outlined in chilling detail how a single Russian-made 9M38 SAM destroyed MH17, killing all 298 innocent civilians on board. According to the report, the missile exploded less than a metre above and to the left of cockpit, shredding all three crewmen with shrapnel and instantly ripping-off the cockpit from the rest of the Boeing 777 airliner.

The destruction of MH17 was caused by "the detonation of a warhead", said Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, as quoted by NBC. He said the warhead, identified as a 9N314M warhead, was fired by a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile system.

BUK (the Russian word for beech) is a mobile missile system made only by Russia. It consists of six transporter erector launchers to launch the SAMs; a target acquisition radar vehicle; a command vehicle; radar vehicles and three transporter erector launcher vehicles that carry the missiles.

There are two versions of the BUK missile system: the older SA-11 (NATO reporting name, Gadfly) and the newer SA-17 (NATO reporting name, Grizzly). The fact the Dutch said the warhead was an 9N314M means it could have only come from a 9M38 series SAM that arms the SA-11 Gadfly.

The 9M38 missile is 5.55 meters long, weighs 690 kilograms and carries a massive 70 kilogram warhead triggered by a radar proximity fuze that detonates a short distance from its target.

This missile series has only two models: the 9M38M introduced in 1979 with a range of 46,000 feet and the newer 9M38M1 introduced in 1984 with a range of 72,000 feet.

Both models are armed with the 9N314M fragmentation warhead that hurls some 7,600 oddly shaped pre-formed fragments or pieces of shrapnel into a target aircraft. These types of pre-formed fragments are only carried by the 9N314M warhead arming a 9M38-type missile.

Because hundreds of bow-tie shaped fragments were found in the bodies of the three crewmen on the flight deck and embedded in other parts of the aircraft, it’s certain a 9M38 missile was responsible for the shoot down.

The shrapnel in the 9N314M warhead are of two different types: large fragments that do the most damage and smaller sizes fragments that inflict more damage. The lethal radius of the 9N314M warhead is about 17 meters. A 9N314M warhead launches the fragments in a fan-shaped pattern outward from the center of the missile where the warhead is housed.

The shoot down was achieved at an altitude of 33,000 feet. Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists supported by Russian military technicians are widely held to have shot down MH17. The Dutch report called for these men to be brought to justice.

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