Air Defense: And Now For Something Quite Different

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October 26, 2013: Britain has ordered another 200 of its Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles. This will keep Starstreak in service until at least 2025. In 2009, Britain upgraded the electronics and guidance system for this missile, which became 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 2 pounds and contains about 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 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 entered service in 1998, and 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 vehicles carry a 3 missile launcher (which can also be used separately from the vehicle).

 


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