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This handout photograph taken and released on January 11, 2020, by The National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, shows people standing and analyzing the fragments and remains of the Ukraine International Airlines plane that crashed outside Tehran.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

It was over in a matter of minutes.

The weapon that most likely brought down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, killing all passengers including at least 57 Canadians, is a Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missile system. Manufactured by a subsidiary of Moscow-based Almaz-Antey Corp., a state-owned arms-maker, it is also referred to as the Tor-M1 Air Defence Missile System.

Russia sold 29 of the Tor-M1 systems to Iran in the mid-2000s.

Story continues below advertisement

UIA Flight 752: What we know so far about how Iran shot it down and how Canada and the world are seeking answers

According to Michael Duitsman, a research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., the Tor-M1, a mobile weapon on tracked wheels, was originally meant to be used for defending armoured units while they are moving, or within enemy territory.

The combat vehicle carries eight missiles at a time, according to the manufacturers’ brochure, and its tracking system can simultaneously detect up to 48 targets.

Mr. Duitsman says the Tor’s missiles contain 15-kilogram warheads, which are much smaller than the 70-kg warhead that investigators believe brought down Malaysian Flight 17 in July, 2014, when it was attacked over Ukraine.

how the sa-15 gauntlet (tor-m1) system works

The Russian-built missile system is a mobile, integrated air-defence system designed for engaging aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, guided aerial bombs and remotely piloted vehicles. It is believed Iran has 29 of these systems.

COCKPIT

Reports say the missile detonated underneath the cockpit

When a target is engaged, a 9M330 or 9M331 missile is launched from the vehicle and is propelled at speeds approaching Mach 2.8

The missile detonates near the target, hitting it with shrapnel

MISSILE

RADAR

Target acquisition

TURRET

Unmanned, carries eight missiles

3.5 m

RADAR

Frontal tracking

5.1 m

7.5 m

CREW

3.3 m

Three

operators

One

driver

how the sa-15 gauntlet

(tor-m1) system works

The Russian-built missile system is a mobile, integrated air-defence system designed for engaging aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, guided aerial bombs and remotely piloted vehicles. It is believed Iran has 29 of these systems.

COCKPIT

Reports say the missile detonated underneath the cockpit

When a target is engaged, a 9M330 or 9M331 missile is launched from the vehicle and is propelled at speeds approaching Mach 2.8

The missile detonates near the target, hitting it with shrapnel

MISSILE

RADAR

Target acquisition

TURRET

Unmanned, carries eight missiles

3.5 m

RADAR

Frontal tracking

5.1 m

7.5 m

CREW

3.3 m

Three

operators

One

driver

how the sa-15 gauntlet (tor-m1) system works

The Russian-built missile system is a mobile, integrated air-defence system designed for engaging aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, guided aerial bombs and remotely piloted vehicles. It is believed Iran has 29 of these systems.

COCKPIT

Reports say the missile detonated underneath the cockpit

When a target is engaged, a 9M330 or 9M331 missile is launched from the vehicle and is propelled at speeds approaching Mach 2.8

The missile detonates near the target, hitting it with shrapnel

MISSILE

RADAR

Target acquisition

TURRET

Unmanned, carries eight missiles

3.5 m

5.1 m

RADAR

Frontal tracking

7.5 m

CREW

3.3 m

Three

operators

One

driver

The most likely type of warhead used against Ukraine Airlines Flight 752, he says, was a blast-fragmentation warhead. They are explosives surrounded by something such as steel balls or bits of steel rods.

“It’s sort of like a shotgun shell that explodes and sends shrapnel everywhere to cut wires or puncture fuel tanks or damage engines,” Mr. Duitsman said.

The Tor missile system automatically tracks targets and points them out to a human operator, who then must press a button to fire the missiles, he said.

Flight 752 departed Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6:12 a.m. local time, according to FlightRadar24.com, a global flight-tracking service.

Story continues below advertisement

FLIGHT 752’s estimated path

SA-15 engagement range

12 KM

SA-15 target detection range

25 KM

IRAN

Bid Kaneh

Military

area

Khalaj Abad

Crash site

Contact lost

6:14 a.m.

Flight 752’s

path

Previous day’s

route to Kyiv

Imam Khomeini

International Airport

FLIGHT 752’s estimated path

SA-15 engagement range

12 KM

SA-15 target detection range

25 KM

IRAN

Bid Kaneh

Military

area

Khalaj Abad

Crash site

Contact lost

6:14 a.m.

Flight 752’s

path

Previous day’s

route to Kyiv

Imam Khomeini

International Airport

FLIGHT 752’s estimated path

SA-15 engagement range

12 KM

SA-15 target detection range

25 KM

IRAN

Bid Kaneh

Military

area

Khalaj Abad

Crash site

Contact lost

6:14 a.m.

Imam Khomeini

International Airport

Flight 752’s

path

Previous day’s

route to Kyiv

Hours earlier, Iran had launched 22 missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq and was girding for possible retaliation. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, later told Iran’s state TV that air-defence units were on highest alert and an extra ring of defences had been set up around Tehran

The Guard Corps had requested that civilian flights be halted, he says, but the request was not acted upon.

Flight records published by FlightRadar24.com show that nine civilian flights took off from Tehran’s airport between 1:30 a.m. local time and when Flight 752 departed. None of these commercial planes attracted missile attacks.

The Guard Corps recently told Iran’s state TV that the Ukrainian aircraft was mistaken for a cruise missile.

Gen. Hajizadeh said the air-defence operator involved had 10 seconds to decide whether to shoot or not. “In this situation, unfortunately, he made this bad decision."

He also said the operator should have secured approval from a supervisor to launch his weapon but that his means of communication was down.

Video of the missile attack on Flight 752 obtained by The New York Times shows two missiles hitting or exploding close to the plane, one after the other. The first missile took about 20 seconds to reach its target. Then there was a pause before a second missile streaked toward Flight 752.

The plane’s transponder stopped broadcasting at 6:14 a.m., about two minutes after takeoff. The plane crashed at 6:18 a.m., according to FlightRadar24.com.

Mr. Duitsman says the Tor’s specifications indicate that the weapon has a maximum range of about 12 kilometres.

sa-15’s missile engagement zone

Often deployed in groups of four to increase

sector coverage and co-ordinated by a mobile

command centre, the SA-15 can track multiple

high-speed targets and launch its radar-guided

missiles in ten seconds upon confirmation by

the operator.

Ten targets can be

tracked at one time

Up to 48 targets

can be detected

Two targets can

be engaged at once

Missile

altitude:

6 km

SA-15 engages targets

within range

Engagement

range:

1.5 to 12 km

Detection

range:

25 km

Target acquisition

radar has 32-degree

sector view

Note: Not to scale

JOHN SOPINSKI AND MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE

AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CON-

TRIBUTORS; HIU; REUTERS; FLIGHTRADAR24; 3D

WAREHOUSE; ARMYRECOGNITION.COM; PIETRO

BATACCHI, RIVISTA ITALIANA difesa

sa-15’s missile engagement zone

Often deployed in groups of four to increase sector cover

age and co-ordinated by a mobile command centre, the

SA-15 can track multiple high-speed targets and launch

its radar-guided missiles in ten seconds upon confirma-

tion by the operator.

Ten targets can be

tracked at one time

Up to 48 targets

can be detected

Two targets can

be engaged at once

Missile

altitude:

6 km

SA-15 engages targets

within range

Engagement

range:

1.5 to 12 km

Target acquisition

radar has 32-degree

sector view

Detection

range:

25 km

Note: Not to scale

JOHN SOPINSKI AND MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU;

REUTERS; FLIGHTRADAR24; 3D WAREHOUSE; ARMYRECOG-

NITION.COM; PIETRO BATACCHI, RIVISTA ITALIANA difesa

sa-15’s missile engagement zone

Often deployed in groups of four to increase sector coverage and co-ordinated by

a mobile command centre, the SA-15 can track multiple high-speed targets and

launch its radar-guided missiles in ten seconds upon confirmation by the operator.

Up to 48 targets

can be detected

Ten targets can be

tracked at one time

Missile

altitude:

6 km

Two targets can

be engaged at once

SA-15 engages targets

within range

Engagement

range:

1.5 to 12 km

Target acquisition

radar has 32-degree

sector view

Detection

range:

25 km

Note: Not to scale

JOHN SOPINSKI AND MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; HIU; REUTERS; FLIGHTRADAR24; 3D WAREHOUSE; ARMYRECOGNITION.COM; PIETRO BATACCHI, RIVISTA ITALIANA difesa

It appears from the video clip of the missile strike that the Iranian missile operator decided one missile was not enough to bring down the target.

“You can actually see the process of the engagement," he said. "Because the first missile hits and then there is a 10-second pause and then the second missile is fired. So what they are doing is watching the first missile, seeing it impact and then they think ‘Okay, that missile didn’t eliminate the target.' So then they fire a second one. By the time the second missile impacts, the plane is already turning away, headed back to the airport.”

William Mackenzie, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, says air-crash investigators will have to determine why “Identification Friend or Foe” (IFF) technology failed. The Tor-M1 is normally fitted with an IFF system to discern whether a suggested target is a civilian aircraft or a military foe. A civilian aircraft’s transponder normally broadcasts a signal that can be read and processed by corresponding technology on the air-defence system. “If either wasn’t properly utilizing IFF, the chances of a mistake drastically increase,” Mr. Mackenzie said.

Story continues below advertisement

Another factor that air-crash investigators will have to weigh is whether the fact that Flight 752 departed one hour late contributed to the disaster.

Mr. Duitsman says it’s possible that the Revolutionary Guard had a projected schedule of commercial aircraft departures but didn’t take into account a one-hour delay in Flight 752′s schedule.

“It’s possible the Guard had the timetables of when aircraft were supposed to be taking off but for whatever reason they weren’t monitoring the air-traffic-control radio. … If they had only been looking at when aircraft were supposed to be taking off, they wouldn’t have known that this flight was taking off an hour late."

With reports from Reuters

Editor’s note: (Jan. 17, 2020): An earlier version of this article included an incorrect date in the photo caption.
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