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THE DEADLY GADFLY, A Russian Missile

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Russia’s Buk Missile System
By Harold Hutchison

17 July a civilian Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 crashed near the village of Torez in Donetsk, an oblast of the Ukraine currently controlled by pro-Russian separatist rebels. 295 died as the plane crashed and burned. Officials fear that Americans may have been on board along with Europeans and some Malaysians. Ukraine accused Russia of being behind the shooting of the plane, downed with a missile, a charge Russia denies. Until now, a lot of surface-to-air missiles did not get much press. That has changed for one in particular, the Russian Buk missile system, also known as the SA-11/SA-N-7 Gadfly and SA-17/SA-N-12 Grizzly.

The Buk missile system is far more capable than the SA-2 Guideline missiles (S-75 Dvina) that were widely used by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. The Buk itself is an improved version of the Kub, a radar-guided surface-to-air missile that made its mark in the 1973 Yom Kippur War after being in introduced in 1966.

The Buk entered service in 1980, and first hit popular consciousness when it was mentioned in Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. The system used semi-active radar guidance, which means that a radar must “paint” the target while the missile is in flight. The system was not only used by the ground forces of the Soviet Union, but it also was used on naval vessels, notably the Sovremennyy-class guided-missiles destroyer, as the SA-N-7. It has a range of 19 miles.

SA-N-7 missile launcher on a Sovremenny-class destroyer at the center of the photo.
(U.S. Navy photo)

In 1998, the SA-17 Grizzly was introduced, a further improved Buk. One notable improvement on the system was an increase of 50% in range. Like the SA-11, a naval version, the SA-N-12, has been used.

The system has been exported to a number of countries, including Syria, North Korea, Communist China, Venezuela, India, Vietnam, Finland, and Egypt.