US officials reportedly believe that Malaysia Airlines MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.
The unsourced reports suggest, however, that they are unclear about who launched the attack. The Eastern Ukraine has been the site of a low level military conflict in recent months between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian guerrilla forces.
The Ukraine, for its part, has been quick to finger separatists for the incident.
Social media speculation points to the SA-11/SA-17 missile as the possible weapon used – if, indeed, it is formally confirmed that the aircraft was downed by a missile.
According to published reports, this system involves two to three vehicles. One vehicle carries the weapons, while the other carries the radar system to identify, track, and guide the weapon to the target. A third vehicle can carry spare rounds.
The ill-fated Boeing 777-200ER aircraft would have been well within the envelope of this system, which can reportedly engage small and large targets from 100 feet to over 70,000 feet. A total of 298 lives were lost in the crash.
If a missile downed the aircraft, it would not be without precedent.
On 1 September 1983, a Soviet Su-15 fighter shot down a Korean Airlines 747-200 that mistakenly flew through Russian air space, killing all 269 aboard. Soviet forces believed the aircraft, operating as flight KAL007, was a USAF surveillance aircraft.
Five years later, on 3 July 1988, the US navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air A300 on the Bandar Abbas-Dubai route with a pair of SM-2MR long range missiles, killing 290 passengers. The crew of the warship mistook the passenger aircraft for a Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter, dozens of which had been sold to Iran in 1970s.
On 28 November 2002, terrorists using man portable infrared-homing missiles attempted, and failed, to shoot down a Boeing 757 operated by Israel’s Arkia Airlines on the Mombasa-Tel Aviv route.