Britain to send world’s most advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Ukraine

Designed to destroy fighter jets and helicopters, Starstreak is the fastest short-range surface-to-air missile developed

DEFENCE AND SECURITY EDITOR. 9March 2022 •

The Starstreak missile uses three dart-like projectiles allowing multiple hits on the target
The Starstreak missile uses three dart-like projectiles allowing multiple hits on the target CREDIT: Eddie Mulholland

Britain is set to send the world’s most advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Ukraine, the Defence Secretary has announced.

Ben Wallace on Wednesday told MPs he is looking at providing the Starstreak High-Velocity Missile systems to the Ukrainians, stepping up the UK’s military assistance to Kyiv.

Designed to destroy fighter jets and helicopters, Starstreak is the fastest short-range surface-to-air missile in the world, travelling at over Mach 3.

The missile uses three dart-like projectiles allowing multiple hits on the target. It can be fired from the shoulder, from a lightweight multiple launcher or from armoured vehicles.

The missile can be fired from the shoulder, from a lightweight multiple launcher or from armoured vehicles
The missile can be fired from the shoulder, from a lightweight multiple launcher or from armoured vehicles CREDIT: PA

Earlier versions of the system, which is made by defence firm Thales in Belfast, were deployed on top of tower blocks for the 2012 London Olympics, a move which caused some concern among residents.

As it was, no missiles were fired during the Olympic games.

The system relies on its immense speed to defeat aircraft manoeuvring around a battlefield.

‘Defensive’ lethal aid

Military officials hope the missile, described as “defensive” lethal aid by Mr Wallace, will help Ukraine gain control of the skies and further erode Russia’s fighter jet and helicopter fleets.

Placeholder image for youtube video: OrSee_t12X0

Once fired, the missile carrying the three darts uses a small charge to blast it clear of the launch tube. This motor cuts out before the missile has left the tube to prevent injury to the operator.

At about four metres from the soldier firing the weapon, a second booster fires to accelerate the missile rapidly to over Mach 3.

The missile homes in on the target aiming for two laser beams “painted” on the aircraft by the launch unit. All the soldier firing the weapon has to do is keep the target in the sights.

Three times the speed of sound

The target aircraft has no time to hide behind buildings or outrun the missile, which travels at more than three times the speed of sound. 

Approaching the target, the three darts, known as “hitiles”, separate from the missile and coast towards the aircraft.

The kinetic energy generated by travelling at such speed will destroy most targets, but to ensure complete destruction each dart contains a delayed initiation 0.9kg blast fragmentation warhead that explodes inside the aircraft.

Military officials hope the missile will help Ukraine gain control of the skies
Military officials hope the missile will help Ukraine gain control of the skiesCREDIT: PA

Addressing the Commons, Mr Wallace explained the rationale for the potential donation of such missiles. “As the conflict intensifies, the Russians are changing their tactics, so the Ukrainians need to, too,” he said.

“We can all see the horrific devastation inflicted on civilian areas by Russian artillery and airstrikes, which have been indiscriminate and murderous. It is therefore vital that Ukraine maintains its ability to fly and to suppress Russian air attack,” he added.

Highlighting that the international community has already given man-portable air defence missiles, he said the Ukrainian forces’ capability “needs strengthening”.

Following requests for further help from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Wallace said providing Starstreak will “allow the Ukrainian forces to better defend their skies”.

He sought to characterise the weapon supplies as defensive and tactical in nature, so as to avoid handing Vladimir Putin an excuse to refer again to the potential use of nuclear weapons.

“Everything we do is bound by the decision to supply defensive systems and [is] calibrated not to escalate to a strategic level,” the Defence Secretary said.

However, in another sign that London is stepping up the level of support it is prepared to give, he announced that Britain is about to dispatch a “small consignment” of Javelin missiles to Ukraine.

The US and Estonia have already been supplying Kyiv with the infrared-guided anti-tank munitions. Ukraine has been sent a variety of arms that target tanks by the West, including Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank weapons from the Netherlands, and AT4 anti-missile launchers from Sweden.

Mr Wallace updated the Commons on other lethal assistance the UK has provided to the Ukrainians in the 14 days since the Russian assault commenced.

This includes 1,615 next-generation light anti-weapons known as “NLAWs”, on top of 2,000 of the missiles that were sent before Moscow invaded.

The Defence Secretary highlighted that body armour, helmets, boots, ear defenders, ration packs, range-finders and communications equipment had also been donated to Ukraine.

“We shall also be increasing supplies of rations, medical equipment, and other non-lethal military aid,” he said.

Britain was the first European nation to supply lethal aid to Kyiv, he said, adding that the UK has also “invested in building Ukrainian military capacity since 2015”, alongside the US, Canada and Sweden.

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