From Great Britain with love! UK’s new ‘game-changing’ missiles to Ukraine have potential to turn the tide on belligerent Russia

Although Russia has expressed its intention to drastically reduce military operations in Ukraine, a ceasefire remains elusive. As the fighting continues, Ukraine prepares to deploy the deadly Starstreak missiles acquired from the UK.

The latest reports indicated that the Starstreak air defense systems are now in Ukrainian hands.

“In response to Ukrainian requests, the government has decided to consider the donation of Starstreak high-speed man-portable anti-aircraft missiles,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament on March 9, alluding to a fast supply.

He said the Russians are “changing tactics and the Ukrainians have to change too”, to help Ukrainian forces fight against the Russian air force. Responding to questions from MPs about the duration of the procurement decision, Wallace said: “We will in principle do it,” EurAsian Times had reported.

The UK has been instrumental in providing military aid to Ukraine, particularly man-portable air defense systems like the Javelins and NLAW. Its defense industry has benefited significantly from the war in Ukraine with booming stocks. The British government has bipartisan support to arm Ukraine with laser-guided Starstreak weapons.

The Starstreak high-speed missile system (via Twitter)

The Ukrainian army is believed to have received training on the more difficult Starstreak system via remote e-learning and possibly by British instructors based in Eastern Europe. That said, the Ukrainian military is about to introduce Starstreak MANPADS into combat.

Wallace recently acknowledged that the first Ukrainian troops had been trained on the system, which had now been handed over to them, and that the UK was “doing more than virtually anyone else” to help Ukraine defeat the invading forces.

Although the Starstreak missile can be launched from land, sea or air platforms, only land versions have been actively deployed on battlefields. On land, the missiles can be shoulder-launched in the typical MANPADS mode, or they can be combined into portable carrier-type lightweight multiple launchers (LMLs) that can be mounted on light vehicles and hold three rounds ready to fire .

While the British Army maintains that only the MANPAD variant was delivered to Ukraine, The Times claimed in one of its reports that the MANPAD and LML variants were delivered. Either way, both have lightweight and portable properties that make them suitable for use in urban settings.

The Ukrainian military has widely deployed man-portable anti-tank and air defense weapons like Javelins, Stringers, NLAWs and its own Stugna-P ATGMs to name a few. In light of this, the use of Starstreaks would be practical with the precursor that proper training has been provided.

Citing Ukrainian figures, Wallace said Russia had lost 285 tanks, 985 armored vehicles, 44 planes, 48 ​​helicopters and 109 artillery pieces.

How can Starstreaks change the game?

Starstreak is a man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) developed by Thales in Belfast, where the NLAW was also produced. According to the manufacturer, the missiles are “designed to provide close air defense against conventional airborne threats such as fixed-wing fighters and late-defeating helicopter targets.”

Starstreak’s guidance system is the first element of its ability. Most MANPADS fire heat-seeking missiles, which must first lock onto the target’s heat signature before being launched, then homing in on them autonomously in “fire and forget” mode.

The Starstreak, on the other hand, uses laser beam guidance, which means the missile is launched as soon as a target is recognized in the optically stabilized sight. Throughout the interaction phase, the line of sight is maintained. The aiming device fires two laser beams at the target and the missile’s sensors calculate relative locations up to impact. The strength of these laser beams is weak enough not to be detected by the targeted aircraft, according to the manufacturer.

File:Starstreak launcher on Dartmoor.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Starstreak launcher on Dartmoor (Wikimedia Commons)

Another aspect that sets the system apart is that the multiple launchers use three canister missiles with clip-on gear and a standard aiming mechanism. Three targets can be attacked in quick succession without reloading. This saves valuable time and improves rapid fire on target in a shoot-to-kill manner.

It is extraordinarily fast, reaching a top speed of three times the speed of sound, or Mach 4, which is far faster than the top speed of a Mach 2.5 Stinger anti-aircraft missile. It also has a range of seven kilometers and each missile carries three very heavy tungsten alloy darts.

Due to the medium-range SAM threat from Ukraine, Russian jets were forced to fly low and fast, making them vulnerable to the shoulder-launched weapon. Starstreak will be especially dangerous for helicopters because it will give pilots little time to react, according to National News.

The Starstreak, unlike infrared-guided MANPADS, cannot be fooled by flares or other heat sources. It is effectively impervious to countermeasures, unlike other air defense missiles, as the dual-laser approach is more resistant to moving targets.

Another advantage of Starstreaks over other MANPADS in Ukraine is that smaller targets can be engaged, including those with infrared fingerprints that a heat-seeking missile might not be able to track.

Overall, Starstreak’s capabilities set it apart from the plethora of MANPADS in use in Ukraine. Russian Aerospace Forces and their tanks have already taken a heavy toll from Ukrainian MANPADS. Adding Starstreak systems could further embolden defending troops.

Starstreak would allow Ukraine to defend its skies against low-flying aircraft and attack helicopters without forcing the UK or any other NATO member to send planes into theatre, impose a “zone of air exclusion” as requested by Ukraine or to risk an escalation with Russia.

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