Air Defense: Starstreak Goes East


April 4, 2022: Britain donated an undisclosed number of Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine. Britain has already sent nearly 4,000 anti-tank weapons. Starstreak was designed at the end of Cold War and finally entered service in 1998. Britain has purchased 7,000 of these anti-aircraft missiles since then plus several hundred fire control units. Starstreak is expected to remain in service until at least 2030. In 2009, Britain upgraded the electronics and guidance system and called it Starstreak II. Both versions of Starstreak are 16.8 kg (37 pound) missiles fired from a sealed container, which is usually mounted on a vehicle, ship, or helicopter. There is also a shoulder launched version. The missile rapidly accelerates to supersonic speed (nearly one kilometer a second) and releases 3 warheads. Each of these weighs nearly a kilogram (2 pounds) and contains about 450 gr (a pound) of explosives and a guidance system. The maximum range of the system is 7 kilometers, so the target only has a few seconds to react. The warheads are meant to make a direct hit. At high speed, and with a tungsten front end, the warheads are devastating, even against most armored vehicles, but not tanks.

What really makes Starstreak unique among lightweight anti-aircraft missiles is its guidance system. That’s because Starstreak is laser guided and requires a trained operator to keep the missile on target until it hits. The upgraded Starstreak II has automatic target tracking, which makes it easier for a less skilled operator to score a hit. Most other portable anti-aircraft missiles (like SA-7 and Stinger) are “fire and forget” heat seekers but move more slowly and are vulnerable to countermeasures. Starstreak is largely immune to countermeasures so it gives the target much less time to react and the only thing a pilot can do is try to turn quickly enough so the Starstreak operator cannot keep the target in the cross hairs. This is hard to do against an experienced operator.

Starstreak was originally mounted on about 280 vehicles but that had been reduced to 210. Now the British Army has decided to add Starstreak to more vehicles. Armored vehicles carry an 8-missile launcher, while unarmored (pickup truck or hummer) vehicles carry a 3-missile launcher, which can also be used separately from the vehicle via a portable pedestal. There is also shoulder fired version that requires some practice because the guidance system requires the user to keep the launcher and the guidance system facing in the same direction as the target for a few seconds. At max range of 7 kilometers total flight time is about five seconds. Britain sent instructors to Poland, where the missiles were delivered and Ukrainian troops received training and then escorted the trucks carrying the missiles to a distribution center. Some of the training was using a remote user simulation that can also be used in Ukraine. This apparently worked because Ukraine reports that a Starstreak has already shot down a Russian helicopter.




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