The Ukrainian interior ministry claims the Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 295 people was shot down today (17 July) by a Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM). The Ukrainian government is blaming the shoot down on separatist rebels equipped with advanced weapons by Russia. Rebels deny the claim.

Body parts are reported spread over a large area, suggesting that the aircraft came apart at altitude. The airliner was flying at an altitude of six miles, which is well beyond the capabilities of any man-portable air defense system (MANPADS). The rebels have succeeded in knocking down multiple Ukrainian aircraft and the Russians have been documented supplying the rebels with advanced weapons, to include T72 tanks and mobile multiple rocket launchers. On Monday, 14 July, a Ukraine Antonov AN-26 military transport was shot down while flying at over 20,000 feet (again, beyond MANPADS capability), supposedly by a missile fired from within Russia.

The likely culprit was the Russian-designed Buk missile system, designated the Gadfly or SA-11 by NATO. Improved systems equipped with better missiles are called the Grizzly or SA-17. Each mobile tracked launcher carries multiple missiles and a complex radar originally designed in 1979 to shoot down fixed wing, rotary aircraft and missiles. The system has a range of about 25 miles and can down targets flying at 72,000 feet.

During the 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia, Georgia was able to down three Russian SU-25’s (Russian version of the A-10) and a Tuplolev Tu-22 strategic bomber, an impressive record for Georgia. Israel deemed these missiles as a significant threat and has repeatedly struck Syrian stocks to keep them from being used by Syria or transferred to Hezbollah.

On the other hand, Reuters reported that Ukraine alleged Russia conducted an airstrike on Tuesday, July 15, on a Snizhne residential area, 12 miles from the Russian border. If the Russians conducted the strike that killed 11 people, it is conceivable that Ukrainian troops, fearing another strike, may have acted prematurely.

At this point it’s too early to tell, but the repeated shoot down of a dozen Ukrainian aircraft makes the airline shoot down an act more likely of the separatists. Shepard Smith of Fox reported a rebel separatist deleted a tweet today claiming the shoot down of another AN-26. There were 25 Americans on the Malaysian airliner. Presidents Obama and Putin have spoken. This incident is ghostly similar to Russia’s shoot down of Korea’s KAL 007 in 1983, which killed 269.

(Featured Image Courtesy: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters)