The first key to Starstreak’s capability is its guidance system

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

The UK is sending Starstreak High-Velocity Missiles (HVMs) to Ukraine:

The first key to Starstreak’s capability is its guidance system. Most MANPADS fire heat-seeking missiles — first, the missile’s infrared seeker head needs to become locked onto the target’s heat signature, before it’s launched and then autonomously homes in on it, in a ‘fire and forget’ mode. Depending on the age of the missile, certain heat-seeking MANPADS will also require some time for the seeker to cool down before it can lock on.

In contrast, the Starstreak uses laser-beam-riding guidance, in which the operator fires the missile as soon as a target is detected in the optically stabilized sight. Line-of-sight is then maintained throughout the engagement process. The aiming unit projects two laser beams onto the target, with sensors on the missile calculating the relative positions until impact. The intensity of these laser beams is low enough that, the manufacturer claims, the targeted aircraft won’t be able to detect them.

Overall, this guidance method is more accurate than traditional laser guidance, in which the target is ‘painted’ with a single beam. The twin-laser approach is more resistant to maneuvering targets that could otherwise break the laser lock. At the same time, unlike infrared-guided MANPADS, the Starstreak cannot be spoofed by flares or other heat sources. Unlike most air defense missiles, it’s effectively immune to countermeasures, including the latest L-370 Vitebsk (exported as the President-S) directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) found on many Russian Aerospace Forces helicopters.

Another advantage is that smaller targets can be engaged (as long as the operator can see them through the sight), including those with infrared signatures that might be insufficient for a heat-seeking missile to track.

In another break from MANPADS tradition, it’s not a single missile with a traditional warhead that’s guided onto or very near the target before detonating. Instead, three tungsten darts are released from the missile body, which contains the rocket motor, during the end-game terminal portion of the attack on the target.

The velocity of these darts, also known as ‘hittiles,’ is such that the Starstreak can destroy not only targets in the air [but] also heavily armored targets on the ground if the need arises. The darts have small control surfaces at the front to ensure they are steered into the target, via the projected laser matrix. They fly in ‘formation’ with a separation of around 5 feet.

The speed with which the missile itself then closes in on the target — up to 2,000 mph — gives it little chance of escape within a very brief engagement window, or ‘unmasking time.’


Once they have penetrated the target, the darts also explode, each one carrying a fragmentation warhead.


  1. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Anything that one man can devise, another man can devise a counter-measure. Since this UK system apparently relies on very low-intensity reflections of laser light, presumably a high intensity burst of laser light on the same wavelength would burn out the weapon’s sensor, rendering it useless.

    The bigger issue for the UK is that they are sending MANPAD-type highly portable anti-aircraft weapons into what was (is) the most corrupt country in Europe, now with the added chaos of war and the presence of the Ukraine’s recruited foreign mercenaries.

    How many of these valuable portable weapons are going to be traded out from the Ukraine, some of them presumably back to the IRA and other European groups with serious grievances? It would not take many instances of redirected use of these UK weapons to shut down all European airports. Unintended consequences abound!

  2. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    It’s beamriding, meaning the sensors are pointed behinds, not forwards. That why it’s a common architecture for simple guided projectiles resistant to most common forms of enemy interference.

    Highly likely many units will ‘fall through the cracks’ and end up in odd hands; but that doesn’t even matter really at this point. UK is another occupied province of globohomo like the rest of them, antithetical to the natives, and so the more trouble they have the more opportunity the natives have.

  3. A Wild Goose says:

    Is this Drive article some kind of joke?

    First of all, common sense dictates that the operator having to sit in a fixed position painting the target with a laser beam is a bad thing.

    Painting a fast moving, maneuverable target is very difficult. Sitting around doing it makes the operator more vulnerable in a modern warzone.

    As for this device’s man portability, it’s laughable.

    Just look at this photo of a Starstreak getup on some exercise:

    That is easily 100, maybe close to 200 pounds of gear. No one is running around in the field with that.

  4. Mike-SMO says:

    Words hide a lot.

    The StarStreak is, in effect, a manpad version of anti-aircraft artillery. It is line-of-sight and therefore of limited use against fast moving targets at low altitude. The system still, obviously some sort of “proximity fuse” to trigger the launch of its “darts”. Aircraft use flares/smoke to disrupt infrared/heat tracking which would also limit visual tracking, especially if the “flares” are used before a change. in direction. It is also not clear if the contents of the “smoke”, now or at some time in the future, might trigger a proximity fuse to launch and thus “waste” its dart payload.

    The StarStreak might be “useful”, but it isn’t magic.

    I would be concerned about having StarStreak systems fall into the “wrong” hands. Commercial aircraft do not have defensive systems and when they are low and near airfields they don’t make sudden changes in direction. Since the Ukraine seems to be as corrupt as Chicago, there is no telling where the missiles sent to that nation could eventually end up.

  5. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Mike-SMO: “Since the Ukraine seems to be as corrupt as Chicago, there is no telling where the missiles sent to that nation could eventually end up.”

    Inventory control will be lost in the conflict, leaving many of the weapons in the hands of desperately poor Ukrainians with corrupt overlords. The weapons will go to the highest bidder.

    Consider that the US is unable (or unwilling) to prevent the movement of massive quantities of drugs over its southern border. Clearly the capacity exists to move large objects across borders with little fear of government intervention. Consider also that the EU has effectively no internal barriers to cross-border movement of goods.

    Long after the Ukraine has been tossed down the same memory hole as the Biden/Milley chaotic abandonment of Afghanistan, the weapons that the West is so foolishly pumping into the Ukraine will be turning up elsewhere — and not used against Russia.

  6. TRX says:

    “Anti-radiation” missiles home in on active radar signals. They seem to be out of favor nowadays, but most modern combat aircraft are almost blind without their radars.

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