British-made Starstreak air defense missiles ready to be deployed in Ukraine

British -made anti-aircraft missiles are about to be deployed by Ukraine in the conflict for the first time, Glen Owen reported on Daily Mail on 26 March 2022. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told The Mail that the Starstreak system – a MANPADS (man-portable missile) that travels at more than three times the speed of sound to take down low-flying enemy jets – was ready to be used imminently.
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The Starstreak HVM (High Velocity Missile) is designed to counter threats from very high performance, low-flying aircraft, and fast 'pop up' strikes by helicopter attacks. (Picture source: British MoD)

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the first Ukrainian troops had been trained and were now deployed with Starstreak, adding that the UK was ‘doing more than pretty much anyone else’ to help the war-torn country, Glen Owen reports. Mr Wallace said: ‘One of the biggest challenges is that the more you go up in sophistication of weapons systems, the more training you require to use them, which is why the real focus of effort has to be helping the Ukrainians either refurbish or locate Russian or Soviet equipment that is already in their inventory. Just providing British tanks wouldn’t really work.’

He also warned that Putin’s generals face a Nuremberg-style reckoning for war crimes in Ukraine, with Mikhail Mizintsev, the so-called ‘Butcher of Mariupol’, at the head of the list for his bombardment of civilians in the city. Ben Wallace said: ‘The systematic destruction of over 1,000 properties in Mariupol is against the Geneva Conventions. The type of weapons used and how they are delivered indicates deliberate targeting.’

Starstreak air defence system

Starstreak is a short-range man-portable air-defence system (MANPADS) manufactured by Thales Air Defence (formerly Shorts Missile Systems), in Belfast. It is also known as Starstreak HVM (High Velocity Missile). After launch, the missile accelerates to more than Mach 4,[3] making it the fastest short-range surface-to-air missile in existence. It then launches three laser beam-riding submunitions, increasing the likelihood of a successful hit on the target. Starstreak has been in service with the British Army since 1997. In 2012, Thales rebranded the system under the ForceSHIELD banner.

When used in the light or MANPADS role the Starstreak missile is transported in a sealed launch tube. This tube is attached to an aiming unit for firing. The operator tracks the target using the aiming unit's optically stabilized sight. The process of tracking the target allows the aiming unit to compute the right trajectory to bring the missile together with the target. The operator can indicate wind direction to the unit and, in the case of a long-range target, provide superelevation.[clarification needed] When the initial tracking is complete, the operator fires the missile by pressing a button.

The missile then fires the first-stage rocket motor, which launches the missile from the tube – but burns out before leaving the tube to protect the operator. Four metres (thirteen feet) away from the operator, when the missile is a safe distance away, the second stage fires, which rapidly accelerates the missile to a burn-out velocity of more than Mach 4. As the second stage burns out, three dart sub-munitions are released.

The dart housing is made from a tungsten alloy. The darts are each 396 millimetres (15.6 in) long with a diameter of 22 millimetres (0.87 in) and weigh about 900 grams (32 oz). Around half the weight of each dart, approximately 450 g (16 oz), is its explosive charge, detonated by a delayed-action, impact activated fuze. Each dart consists of a rotating fore-body with two canard fins attached to a non-rotating rear assembly which has four fins. The rear assembly of each dart also houses the electronics that guide the missile, including a rearwards facing sensor.

The darts do not home in on laser energy reflected from the target but instead, the aiming unit projects two laser beams which paint a two-dimensional matrix upon the target. The lasers are modulated and by examining these modulations the sub-munitions sensor can determine the dart's location within the matrix. The dart is then steered to keep it in the centre of the matrix. The sub-munitions steer by briefly decelerating the rotating fore-body with a clutch. The front wings then steer the missile in the appropriate direction. The three sub-munitions fly in a formation about 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in radius and have enough kinetic energy to manoeuvre to meet a target evading at 9 g at 7,000 metres (23,000 ft).

Earlier laser guidance systems used a single beam that had to be kept on the target at all times, the missile homing in on laser energy reflected off the target, if it moved off the target, the reflection would end and guidance would be lost until the target was regained. The problem could be reduced by making the laser's beam wider, but only at the cost of lowering accuracy and reducing the amount of energy being reflected. Starstreak's system allows for the beam area to be much larger than the target while retaining pinpoint accuracy.

On impact with the target, a delayed-action fuze is triggered. This gives time for the projectile to penetrate the target before the explosive warhead detonates. The tungsten housing is designed to fragment and produce maximum damage inside the target.

A demonstration was conducted in September 1999 that showed the missile being used against an FV432 armoured personnel carrier, showing the missile's effectiveness as a surface-to-surface weapon. Each sub-munition dart travelling at 4,500 kilometres per hour (2,800 mph) has comparable kinetic energy to a shell from a Bofors 40 mm gun.[citation needed] However, it lacks the armour penetration capabilities of a purpose-built anti-tank guided missile or of a dual purpose missile (such as the Air Defence Anti-Tank System).

Starstreak has a number of advantages over infrared homing guided, radar homing guided, and radio command guidance MCLOS/SACLOS (e.g. Blowpipe or Javelin) missiles:
* It cannot be jammed by infrared countermeasures or radar/radio countermeasures.
* It cannot be suppressed with anti-radar missiles.