No one has admitted responsibility for firing the sophisticated missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 people over Ukraine on July 17. But untrained rebels could probably have done it with a little practice. There are even instructions online, making it possible for nearly anyone who comes into possession of one of these systems — anywhere in the world — to use it.
Washington and Kiev both blame Russian-backed separatists from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic for attacking the plane with a 9k37 BUK missile system. These rebels had bragged about possessing the weapon before the attack.
The BUK is in the upper tier of the world’s antiaircraft weapons. It’s considerably more advanced and has more complicated procedures to fire than point-and-shoot, shoulder-fired missiles. Its missiles can climb to an altitude of 46,000 feet at Mach 3 speeds, packing more than a 154-pound high-explosive warhead.
Separatists in eastern Ukraine have already proved adept at using less-sophisticated missiles to shoot down Ukrainian fighter jets and helicopters. This achievement alone, however, would not automatically give them the know-how to operate a BUK.
But the basics of operating even advanced surface-to-air weapons are relatively easy to learn — they need to be so that operators can use them even in the heat of battle — and instructions are available online. Training manuals featuring intuitive, detailed guidance on using such weapons are on the Web. The manuals include instructions on how to do most tasks, including turning the systems on, activating the radar antenna, understanding radar data and firing the missile.