What it’s like to be sitting behind a radar screen of an SA-11 Buk SAM system

Jul 20 2014 - 29 Comments

If you thought Buk (SA-11) SAM operators had a clear view of the airspace around their vehicle you were wrong.

The images and video in this post show the inside of a Buk (SA-11) SAM (surface to air missile) system’s TELAR transporter erector launcher and radar like the one possibly involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight over Ukraine.

They give an idea of what it is like to be sitting behind the radar screen of the anti-aircraft sytem.

The Buk, known as SA-11 or SA-17 depending on the variant, is a self-propelled medium range, medium altitude anti-aircraft system with a maximum range of 13NM and a ceiling of 39,400 feet. It uses a semi-active radar homing guidance system: the missile listens to the signal emitted by the ground radar and reflected from the target and points itself towards it.

The difficult part of the engagement is obviously to distinguish between friendly and foe.

Basically, when sitting behind an old-fashioned radar screen, the system does not help too much to distinguish a military cargo plane from a Boeing 777 enroute at FL330 as both aircraft would appear to the operators as blips.

Inside_of_a_Buk-SAM-console_radar

But, Soviet-era air defense systems as the Buk are equipped with IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) systems meaning that they are able to detect if the system is targeting a civilian plane through its transponder code. Therefore, provided the operators are trained enough, they’ll be able to distinguish between a Ukrainian transport plane and a large airliner. If not, they will simply shoot.

Inside_of_a_Buk-SAM-console.jpg

Anyway, as suggested by a reader of this blog (“Phuzz”),  while it doesn’t include the Buk (SA-11), SAMSimulator will give you a pretty realistic view of what the operator of such a system would see.

Image credit: Wiki, SAMSimulator

 

  • Lawrence D. Wood

    Who cares? A commercial airliner at 33,000 ft is NOT a THREAT to those idiots.
    NATO should have leveled that province in retaliation and stood nose to nose with Putin and dared him to do something about it.

    • Jake2020

      If they can’t identify it, and last few months Ukrainians flew military aircraft on similar routes, it’s not out of the question to suspect that they thought it was a legit target. There is a war in there you know.
      Your ideas about NATO levelling the province are childlish comments that don’t deserve any further explanation.

      • Iain Colledge

        And a 20 euro ADS-B receiver plugged into a laptop would have told them all they needed to know.

    • Jason E.

      Isn’t 298 civilians killed enough? Seriously, killing another 2,000 or so civilians on the ground is going to prove what exactly? Anyways killing a bunch of Russians and then daring Putin to do something about is a bad idea when among his “doing something about it options” are thermonuclear equipped ICBMs that can hit American cities in minutes.

  • StumpedtheChump Again

    Just goes to prove you dont need fancy LCD display screens to be deadly.

  • Roger Roger

    Well that is true of almost any surface to air system . Only shoulder launched and some short range infrared guided but not one man portable SAM systems rely on a visual que. IFF is part of any SAM system even MANPADS. A civilian airliner is almost unmistakable to a trained radar operator. In case of the Vincennes mistakes were made. It should have been obvious to the ships crew it was an airliner. That still does not absolve Iran for flying over ships involved in combat operations. On the same token Malaysian Air Lines should have been using the up most caution and avoided Ukrainian airspace given their recent history and FAA warnings. None of this relieves Russia of any blame because they are the ones supporting the rebels in Ukraine and in all probability Russian soldiers, ex soldiers and paramilitary are actively involved on the ground in Ukraine. In the Vincennes incident the US never denied shooting down the Iranian Air 655.

    • Gary Sellars

      “That still does not absolve Iran for flying over ships involved in combat operations.”

      How are the Iranian civilian aircraft authority supposed to know captain Whacko and his Robo-Cruiser decides to enter Iranian waters to pursue fast attack boats? By your logic, the entire Persian Gulf would have been closed to all flights, and it most certainly was not.

      “In the Vincennes incident the US never denied shooting down the Iranian Air 655″

      That was only because they couldn’t as the facts were unchallangeable. They never accepted they were at fault, they never apologized, and they gave medals to the crew….

  • Jean Claude

    According to Janes the IFF does only warn, when a friend ist targeted at. It does not give a warning for civil aviation. It would be to easy in a war scenario to avoid AA with a civil transponder..

  • http://www.lonelyreload.blogspot.com/ Mr Lonely

    nice

  • ossie

    While the exact specifications, and abilities of the Buk SAM system are a military secret, there is some information available publicly.
    The Buk batallion is typically composed of “a command vehicle, target acquisition radar (TAR) vehicle, six transporter erector launcher and radar (TELAR) vehicles and three transporter erector launcher (TEL) vehicles”.
    The TAR is responsible for air space surveillance, target detection, most probably IFF, and transmits the target parameters to the TELARs. The TELAR has just a tracking, and guidance radar for the SARH missile, capable to engage one target. It’s improbable that the TELAR has any IFF capabilities.
    It also remains to be determined if a TELAR could be used independently of the CV, and/or TAR, to detect, track, and engage a target.

    • rx

      The TELAR can work alone, and using a special radar search mode. Solo 120 º. The IFF system would be very limited and would be useless to consider a 777 as a friend. IFF Mode 5 could be detected at 777, no problem… But I think that this system is not available in TELAR.

      • ossie

        Thanks for the information.
        See also http://www.ausairpower.net/APA-9K37-Buk.html
        It certainly would need a highly trained crew to manage it with just a TELAR.

        “The 9S35 Fire Dome provides a limited search and acquisition capability, a tracking capability and CW illumination for terminal guidance of the semi-active homing SAM seekers. It incorporates an IFF interrogator, optical tracker, datalink, and is powered by the TELAR’s gas turbine generator. A shared antenna is employed for two X-band transmit/receive channels. These respectively provide a pulsed mode for search and track functions, with linear chirp for compression, and a CW mode for illumination. Monopulse angle tracking is employed for jam resistance. For target tracking the antenna and feed system provide a mainlobe with 2.5° width in azimuth and 1.3° in elevation. For CW illumination the antenna and feed system provide a mainlobe with 1.4° width in azimuth and 2.65° in elevation.
        Operating autonomously, the 9S35 will take 4 seconds to sweep a 120° sector, with an elevation of 6° to 7°. When cued to acquire and track, with will take 2 seconds to sweep a 10° x 7° az/elev solid angle. Average power output in pulsed tracking modes varies between 0.5 and 1 kiloWatt, with CW illumination at 2 kiloWatts. The search and monopulse angle tracking receivers are both rated at a Noise Figure of NF=10 dB. The range error is cited at 175 metres, the angular error at less than 1°. The radar can switch from standby mode to combat operation in twenty seconds.”

        IFF is a closely guarded military secret, particular to the country/alliance using it. US/NATO mode 5 is still being deployed – an ’80ies SU SAM system wouldn’t have it.
        Doubtful that even the acquisition radar would have the equipment to send and interpret civilian transponder squawks. That would be reserved for higher echelons, which would also give the order to fire.

        • rx

          Ok. Good information!

  • http://www.davaidavai.com/ Gerald Hensel

    Great choice of music in the video

  • http://serendipity.ruwenzori.net/ Jean-Marc Liotier

    The SAMSimulator is wonderful, but don’t take the vintage stuff for granted : Soviet engineering philosophy is constant incremental upgrades and then third-party retrofit… Systems such as the S-125 family take that to extremes in heterogeneity but the Buk too has quite a few variants with very different performance and ergonomics.

    That said, I believe that the main issue in this incident is the operation of the TELAR with its own radar in autonomous mode : no target acquisition radar and no command post have been spotted. That has to degrade target recognition performance – I doubt that the integrated system has the same NCTR capabilities as the full one. C.J. Chivers argued that the crew must have had to decide whether to shoot or not in a shorter engagement windows – thus adding to the likelihood of a mistake.

  • VL123

    Warning….that video has the WORST crappy rap music from the 80’s.

  • Some Rabbit

    Clearly the system is too complex for some untrained insurgent to operate. Whoever launched that missile was a Russian soldier on loan to the Ukrainian separatists.

    • Ezra Pound

      Or it was the Ukrainian junta. The Ukrainians have reaped immeasurable rewards from the downing of MH17: their disastrous failure in the border region in which the US-installed “authorities” in Kiev lost over 5,000 troops has been totally papered over and no one is reporting their huge defeat in “the Cauldron.” Also, the pro-federalization forces (what the state media in America calls “pro-russian separatists”) had to stop their offensive when the jet crashed. Also, using the crash as cover, the Kiev regime has gone back to using GRAD salvos on civilians in Donetsk and Lughansk. Before the plane crash, the Europeans were turning away from the Poroshenko regime because of its inhuman attacks on civilians; now Europe is right back in line behind the US-controlled Poroshenko government. It is clear from the military and political situation that only the Kiev regime and its backers in Washington benefited from the attack on MH17. The Kiev junta needed a BIG distraction, so they shot down the jet. Enough said. No one believes anything the US government says anymore anyway.

    • phuzz

      Don’t forget that the BUK system is in use by both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries, and the Soviet military back when the USSR was still around. This means that there’s probably quite a few (ex-)soldiers in Ukraine on both sides of the fighting who have been trained to use this system.

      Also, properly trained Russian troops would be less likely to shoot at a civilian airliner, than some ex-soldier turned freedom fighter who’s not used one for ten years or so but can still remember which sequence of buttons you need to press.

  • Cale

    Why is the possibility ignored that this could be done by the Ukraine army. They have 27, no typo, 27 BUK systems in that region.

    • phuzz

      It’s possible, but unlikely.
      For one, the separatists have no aircraft, so air defence isn’t a priority for the Kiev government. This doesn’t rule out a deliberate attack, but it’s much less likely to be an accident.

      The US say they observed the radar and the launch within the eastern part of the country. Of course the US aren’t exactly a neutral party, but there’s no evidence against it.
      The Kiev government has produced recordings they claim to be the separatists admitting that they have shot down a civilian aircraft. Again, not a neutral source, but no evidence the other way.
      The crash site is well into Eastern Ukraine. Depending on the exact performance of the SA-11 it’s unlikely that a missile launched from anywhere outside that area would cause it to crash where it did. This could be a key bit of evidence because it’s not relying on a non-neutral party’s word, it just depends on how far horizontally the missile from an SA-11 can travel before intercepting a target at 33,000 feet. However, this sort of data is closely guarded, and complicated by the fact that several different versions of the missiles used by the BUK system are in circulation.

      Certainly though if it was launched from the western side of the border it would have to be close to the front line, within 10km or so.

    • Grey

      Possibility is ignored because seperatists in social networks and russian TV channels immediately after crash joyfully reported that they downed another Ukrainian transport plane. After they realised the truth, all posts and videos from TV archives where deleted and they started to tell different story.

  • Ezra Pound

    The Ukrainians have reaped immeasurable rewards from the downing of MH17: their disastrous failure in the border region in which the US-installed “authorities” in Kiev lost over 5,000 troops has been totally papered over and no one is reporting their huge defeat in “the Cauldron.” Also, the pro-federalization forces (what the state media in America calls “pro-russian separatists”) had to stop their offensive when the jet crashed. Also, using the crash as cover, the Kiev regime has gone back to using GRAD salvos on civilians in Donetsk and Lughansk. Before the plane crash, the Europeans were turning away from the Poroshenko regime because of its inhuman attacks on civilians; now Europe is right back in line behind the US-controlled Poroshenko government. It is clear from the military and political situation that only the Kiev regime and its backers in Washington benefited from the attack on MH17. The Kiev junta needed a BIG distraction, so they shot down the jet. Enough said. No one believes anything the US government says anymore anyway. The illegitimate regime in Washington DC has no respect or support among Americans or the world because everyone is so sick of Washington’s obvious lies. Americans need regime change in Washington, the sooner the better.

    • Greg

      Exactly. The only people benefiting from this incident are the American regime and the neofascist regime that it installed in Kiev.

      Finally, someone addresses the obvious question of who benefits.

  • Greg

    In other words, Roger Roger doesn’t have any. He’s just doing what the rest of the Russia-hating people and western, corporate, mainstream media are. Shamelessly making accusations without any proof.

  • thirstydc

    These systems would be present because the group that the separatists are fighting – the Ukrainian military – does have airplanes, and those airplanes would be considered military threats that the separatists would want to counter.

  • Hanzie

    Because the Ukrain is guarding against a possible Russian invasion.

  • noname
  • Shamael

    I do not think that MH17 was downed by SA11 but by SA-17. To my opinion the rocket was directed by optoelectronic control system, not by radar. SA17 carriers can operate as single units while SA11 have to be flanked by radar trucks to control the missiles. This optoelectronic guidance that keeps plane in sight a telescope and makes the operator guide the missile by keeping the plane in the line of fire is easier to operate and needs no major knowledge in radar systems. Also, it just requires one single carrier to operate a shot, no additional trucks are needed. This opens once more the perspective that possibly Putin’s airplane was targeted since both are very similar in colors. On the end, if we analyze the whole situation, only US can profit of this shoot down, even if they shot down the wrong plane.

    Putin and his BRICS is ringing the bell for the existence of the United States, and if they crash the dollar, US is on it’s end and Europe and many other nation will plunge with it. unfortunately, states like India, Russia, and China, are not as easy to overrun and flatten down as the near east states that the US have destroyed when, in 1996, Putin made agreements with them to replace the dollar as a currency for oil by a new currency. At that time, Libya’s Gadafi even proposed to create new gold currency to replace the valueless dollar by something that has a real value again.

    Last days news report that Erdogan in Turkey is making approach to Russia and Putin to join the BRICS, and if this happens, more states will join this union against America. This for sure will end by 2 possibilities, one being the end of America, the second being total destruction by a new WW. Anyway, Putin told US and EU that they play boomerang games, and I think that here he is right in every point.