PC 279 Starstreak

As much as we would love it to be otherwise, there is probably a point when all of us could resort to violence. It’s like saying to someone ‘I will give you some money if you …..?’ ‘What’s your price?’ …. and they protest and say ‘I can’t be bribed’ and then they are given a figure which starts their own internal challenging of the issue but still they resist ….. until an amount is offered which would transform their life and their principles lie shattered on the floor …… and they take it!

I think it’s same with violence. Unless you are tricked into a situation when struggle is immediately rewarded with your demise, such as trying to escape a concentration camp by climbing the fence in full view of trigger-happy guards, a one-on-one situation will quickly move towards some physical or assisted response. It’s one of the reasons why countries where guns are readily available have higher deaths per million of population than those who don’t. On the sliding scale of responses, going from A-Z if there are graduated options is better than if Z is very close to A.  

But the desire to defend what we hold dear, the values of our chosen society, is basic. Most countries have some form of Armed Forces the notable exception being Costa Rica, which abolished its military in 1948 after a bloody civil war.

Here is England one of our kings, Harold, was killed when an arrow fired into the sky embedded itself in his eye. Ouch! It wasn’t the first time that projectiles fired into the sky had been used to attack ground forces but the advent of heavier-than-air machines in the First World War meant Biggles-type pilots flying over the enemy trenches could drop hand-grenades and bombs. Those below responded by firing their rifles and machine guns; thus started the need for defence from attack from the air.

Some 47 years after the end of that war I walked across the threshold of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and spent the next 20 years wearing a uniform. I spent some years in West Germany looking east towards the threat from the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. My last role was commanding an Air Defence Battery in the UK equipped with a first generation, shoulder-launched missile system called Blowpipe. The operator had to track the target and the missile at the same time and hopefully the two combined in some impact. (Notes 1 & 2) It was first used in anger during The Falklands War, whose 40th anniversary fell this month. Like many first-generation systems it was extremely difficult to use and came in for a lot of criticism from those who imagined you simple fired the missile at a target and got a hit. (Note 3) Records suggest its operators succeeded in bring down 5 aircraft.

Towards the end of my Battery Commander tour, during a bi-annual live firing practice camp at the Royal Artillery Range at Manorbier in South Wales, I was approach by someone from Short Brothers, the company who made the system, and offered a potential sales role. I joined them in April 1985 and became a salesman for air defence missile systems, initially for Blowpipe’s successor Javelin. (Note 4)

I was a typical salesman, developing contacts and giving presentations and demonstrations to those who were responsible for such purchases; loo paper, cars, mobile telephones or missiles, it’s the same basic process although a ‘demonstration’ for ‘loo paper’ might be an unnecessary one!! My ‘pilot’ bag contained slides and videos and I got on an aeroplane at Heathrow – initially to European capital cities and then to ‘India and The Far East’.   

Whispered confidential conversations about the next generation system during a visit to the manufacturing plant off Montgomery Road in East Belfast (now Thales Air Defence) got me up to date with what the company called Starstreak.

Starstreak comprises a rocket which blasts three little steel darts, captured in a laser beam, towards the target. The kinetic energy released on impact is enough to destroy the aircraft. I used to travel with one of those three darts in my pilot’s bag to aid my presentations. I would always declare it at Customs as that was the easiest way to get through. Most thought it was a scale model of a much larger missile; I did not enlighten them!

One particular memorable live firing demonstration took place at the company’s range at West Freugh south of Stranraer in Scotland. A delegation from Denmark watched as the three darts shredded a canvas sheet sitting on a raft about 2500m out to sea. I left the company in 1991 and completely forgot about it – until last month when I read that it had been used in the war in Ukraine. Whatever development programme you might have been involved in, it’s gratifying to read that the end result is a highly successful addition to an army’s air defence capability.

The Tripod-mounted Starstreak

On Wednesday The Times reported that the UK are giving Ukraine the Starstreak system mounted on a tracked vehicle called Stormer.

And finally, an Army connection! I met Crichton at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on the 9th September 1965; he was commissioned into the Royal Gloucesters. It’s lovely to still be in touch and he commented on Unintended Consequences post card (PC 277 April 2022): “I am constantly impressed by your ability to write about complete trivia (I don’t think all of my posts are trivial!!) but make it interesting and fun, especially when you have been people watching in your local café!”


Richard 22 April 2022

www.postcardscribbles .co.uk

Note 1 CLOS Command to Line of Sight is the basic. Then Semi-Automatic Command to Line of Sight (SACLOS) and finally Automatic (ACLOS) when the system tracks both target and missile

Note 2 The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was always looking to buy weapons for its conflict against the British State. The cartoonist Jak brilliantly summed this up, depicting someone holding a Blowpipe cannistered missile for sale, with the caption acknowledging its native origins.

But don’t ask me what end you blow through!

Note 3 There are two basic types, one infra-red seeking aka ‘Fire & Forget’, and one which relies on the operator or system to track the target.

Note 4 This name is now used by the American company Lockheed Martin for their Anti-Tank missile system.

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