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

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.


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.


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


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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.

  2. Because military deployment of certain scale requires air defense. It’s their SOP.
    Military don’t necessarily follow logic, they follow rules.

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