Last month, the United Kingdom (UK) transferred its sophisticated weapon system called the Starstreak to Ukraine. At a time when it is mulling the option of sending more military aid to Kyiv, its Starstreak missiles have proved their mettle against Russia.
In its first usage on the Ukrainian battlefield, Britain’s most advanced portable missile system reportedly shot down a Russian helicopter and split it almost into two halves.
Starstreak, a high-velocity weapon with three kinetic darts that destroy targets, was seen slicing the plane in half above the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine, The Times reported.
After Ukrainians using British techniques opened fire, the tungsten spears broke the tail off the Mi-28N, according to footage from the battle.
The video, according to a Ministry of Defense source, showed Starstreak in action above Ukraine. The anti-aircraft system has been deployed in the country since the last week of March. The video emerged even as Russia has intensified its attack on Southern and Eastern Ukraine with an objective to take down the strategic city of Mariupol.
The Times is reporting that this shootdown of a Russian Mi-28 was by a British Starstreak SAM pic.twitter.com/zsQb1DkQ74
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) April 2, 2022
UK’s War Against Russia
While the British system wreaked havoc on the Russian chopper, Russia has issued a stern warning to the UK regarding its transfer of weapons.
Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrey Kelin warned in an interview with state news agency TASS that if British far-range artillery and anti-ship weaponry are supplied to Kyiv, they will become acceptable targets for the Russian military.
While the chopper was shot down using the Starstreak missile, the Ukrainian forces also downed a Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker by a Soviet-era air defense system, the S-125 Neva.
It was the first-ever kill of the aircraft ever since it entered combat. In many instances, Russian helicopters and fighter jets have been reportedly shot down using man-portable missiles by the Ukrainian troops and volunteer forces.
The UK has played a key role in providing military supplies to Ukraine, particularly man-portable air defense systems such as Javelins and NLAWs. The arming of Ukraine with laser-guided Starstreak weaponry had found bipartisan support in the British Parliament.
Ukraine’s military is thought to have received Starstreak training through online (digital) mode and potentially by British instructors operating in Eastern Europe.
Despite the fact that the Starstreak missile can be launched from land, sea, or air platforms, only ground-based versions have been deployed in combat.
On land, the missiles can be launched from the shoulder like MANPADS or combined into portable stand-type Lightweight Multiple Launchers (LML) that can be mounted on light vehicles and carry three ready-to-fire rounds, as previously stated by the EurAsian Times.
Downed Russian Mi-28 pic.twitter.com/nmDxTgxKsR
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) April 1, 2022
The Starstreak is a man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) developed by Thales in Belfast, which also produces the NLAW. The missiles are “intended to provide near air defense against conventional aviation threats such as fixed-wing fighters and late unmasking helicopter targets,” according to the manufacturer.
The first part of Starstreak’s capacity is its guidance system. The majority of MANPADS fire heat-seeking missiles, which must first lock on to the target’s heat signature before being launched, and then home in on it autonomously in a ‘fire and forget’ mode.
However, the Starstreak has laser-beam-riding guidance, which means the missile fires as soon as a target is identified in the optically stabilized sight. Line-of-sight is maintained during the engagement phase.
The missile’s sensors calculate the relative locations of two laser beams fired at the target by the targeting device until impact. According to the manufacturer, the power of these laser beams is low enough to go undetected by the targeted aircraft.
Another feature that distinguishes the system is the use of three canister missiles with clip-on equipment and a standard pointing mechanism by the multiple launchers. Without reloading, three targets can be attacked in fast succession. This saves time and allows for faster shooting on the target in a shoot-to-kill scenario.
It’s extremely fast, reaching a top speed of three times the speed of sound which is much faster than the maximum speed of a Stinger anti-aircraft missile. It also has a seven-kilometer range and carries three tungsten-alloy darts in each missile.
Flares or other heat sources cannot mislead the Starstreak, unlike infrared-guided MANPADS. Because the twin-laser method is more resistive to movement targets than conventional air defense missiles, it is practically impregnable to countermeasures.
While the MANPADs have become the weapon of choice and convenience for the Ukrainian troops to annihilate Russian aircraft and tanks, the Starstreak could be expected to enhance that capacity manifold with its advanced features.