What are the British MANPADS used by Ukraine to shoot down Russian planes and helicopters and how do they work?

British soldiers sport the Starstreak (AFP) weapon system.
British soldiers sport the Starstreak (AFP) weapon system.

The great defensive arsenal sent by the West was fundamental for the strong resistance that the Ukrainian forces are offering against the attack of the Russian troops. In this sense, portable air defense systems (MANPADS) are playing a pivotal role in the downing of Russian planes and helicopters. After a month and a half of the war, reports indicate that most of the confirmed losses of Russian aircraft were shot down by these missiles.

Included in the package of defensive supplies received from kyiv è the STARStreak high-speed light system, developed by the UK and considered the fastest short-range surface-to-air missile in the world.

Since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, the Boris Johnson government has sent Ukrainian forces at least 10,000 missiles, including STARStreak missiles, which have severely hampered Russian air operations.

MANPADS are short-range portable air defense systems, which They use guided surface-to-air missiles with infrared homing technology to detect and engage targets. Being effective at altitudes between 3,000 and 4,800 meters, they pose a great threat to low-flying aircraft, particularly helicopters.

Several NATO allies have sent such an air defense system to Ukraine. The United States did this through its Stinger missilesand the UK with STARStreak.


STARStreak works very differently than almost all other types of MANPADS. Each missile contains three 900 gram tungsten alloy darts which are released once the projectile’s two rocket motors run out to increase the amount of damage. After launch, the missile is directed towards the target through a low intensity double laser beam – which avoids detection – directed by the operator up to the moment of impact. This increases the likelihood of hitting the target.

Darts can pierce helicopters’ armor and explode upon penetration, causing far more damage than a surface explosion.

Compared, for example, to the American Stinger missile, the STARStreak reaches speeds of over 3,700 km / h, making it the fastest short-range surface-to-air missile in the world. It travels at 16km per second and can reach the target in 5-6 seconds, giving the plane or helicopter very little time to avoid getting hit.

Its speed makes it unlikely that enemy planes will have enough time to react once the missile is launched. Furthermore, they cannot be interfered with by infrared or radar / radio countermeasures, or eliminated by anti-radar missiles.

The Thales group, manufacturer of this weaponensures that it is “optimized to provide defense against airborne threats, including fixed-wing ground attack aircraft and late-exposure attack helicopters.”

They can be moved by one person or mounted on an armored vehicle, which makes it very flexible and adaptable to different situations on the battlefield.

This is how STARStreak missiles (Thales Group) work.

Despite the fact that MANPADS tend to shoot down more helicopters due to their low flight, the number of Russian planes that have been destroyed since the invasion has been astonishing. This is because both Russia and Ukraine do not have large stocks of precision weapons, so pilots are forced to fly low to accurately deliver unguided bombs and rockets.

Even specialists believe this pilots on both sides can fly low to spot targets obscured by cloud cover or the perception that long-range, high-altitude surface-to-air missile systems pose an even greater threat than low-altitude defenses.

A video released on social networks shows a helicopter hit by a missile, apparently in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine. the British newspaper Times reported that a defense ministry source “believed the video showed STARStreak in action in Ukraine.”

The paper added that even senior defense industry sources believe STARStreak was the weapon used in that attack.

NATO countries, including the United States, have delivered surface-to-air missiles to Ukrainian forces to help them counter the Russian offensive. Although the exact number has not been revealed, many of them were American-made Stinger MANPADS.

Like the STARStreaks, the Stingers, also used in Afghanistan, can be carried and operated by a single person. The rocket launched from that system can reach a maximum speed of 3,100 km per hour, slightly lower than the British one. Its range, up to 4.8km, is also shorter than that of the STARStreak, which Thales says can hit targets more than 7km away.

According to the British press, this attack was carried out by Ukrainian forces against a Russian helicopter, using STARStreak missiles.

Ukraine started the war using light missiles of the type SA-7 Grail and SA-14 Gremlin (9K32 Strela-2 and 9K34 Strela-3 respectively, according to the Russian designation) from the Soviet era. However, these are technologically obsolete models and, in some cases, directly obsolete. The SA-7s, for example, were given to the Ukrainians by the Germans and have remained in storage at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ukrainian forces also have missiles in their arsenal. Lighting bolt, of Polish origin, which were delivered shortly before the Russian invasion began. These were designed to replace the SA-7, SA-9 and SA-14.

On Thursday, Russia acknowledged that it had suffered “significant losses” among its military deployed in Ukraine and has assured that she will continue to “defend her interests” after being suspended from United Nations Human Rights Council, in statements by the Kremlin spokesman. “We have significant casualties among the troops and it is a great tragedy for us”Said Dmitri Peskov in an interview with the British private channel News from heavenwithout specifying your number.

Vladimir Putin’s army acknowledged in late March that it had lost 1,351 soldiers and that another 3,825 were wounded since the start of his offensive in Ukraine on 24 February.

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