The missile system blamed for bringing down the Malaysia Airlines plane had its origins in the Cold War era of the 1970s.
Experts told _The Weekend West _that the Buk radar-guided surface-to-air missile was designed to attack high-flying US military aircraft.
It had since been redeveloped and remodelled, and had been in widespread use in Eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union.
It can fire up to an altitude of about 70,000 feet and a range of 30-50km, depending on the model.
This would give it a destructive capability well beyond shoulder-launched weapons that have been blamed for the downing of several Ukrainian aircraft in recent days.
The Buk carries 70kg warheads that are activated by radar and designed to explode within metres of the target.
One defence expert told _The Weekend West _ that a blast near the centre of a passenger plane would "blow the aircraft into little pieces".
Doug Richardson, missiles and rockets editor of IHS Janes' International Defence Review, told the Daily Telegraph, London, that a mobile Buk missile battery was usually composed of three separate track-mounted units, made up of a radar, a launcher and a command post. Under normal circumstances, it was able to acquire a sophisticated picture of the air traffic above, enabling it to differentiate between military and civilian aircraft.
But the launcher could also be used on its own, with far reduced radar sensitivity.
Had a rebel group been using one in such a fashion, it was possible that they might have been unable to distinguish between a military aircraft and a civilian airliner, the Telegraph reported.
Defence analyst Ben Rich, a PhD candidate at Monash University, said later models had combined the different components into one tracked vehicle.
He said it was "not a system you just point and click" and would need "trained technicians".
John Blaxland, senior fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, said it did not require significant training to operate the system on a rudimentary basis, but operators would need additional training to use the system for more sophisticated requirements.
Western defence experts told Agence France-Presse that Ukrainian and Russian armed forces had SA-17s, a more modern form of the Buk class, and pro-Moscow insurgents might have obtained surface-to-air missiles when Ukrainian forces retreated.