Following British deliveries of portable Starstreak short-range air defense missiles to Ukraine, British tabloid The Sun reported on April 18 that London plans to deliver Alvis Stormer HVM armored vehicles loaded with 16-20 laser-guided Starstreak missiles each to the embattled country.
Not only does the Stormer give the anti-air system mobility and armor protection, but its integral sensors and fire control system make it substantially deadlier to low-flying Russian aircraft.
Though Stormer is relatively obscure, curiously enough you may have already seen one “in action” if you’re a fan of Star Wars films—specifically, the 2017 film Rogue One features a real-life Stormer in an urban battle scene early in the film.
Remove the elongated tracks and side mounted laser cannons of the fictional TX-225 Occupier counter-insurgency tank, and you’ll see the hull of an underlying Stormer flatbed model.
The vehicle dressed up for the sci-fi movie is actually one of six built to carry French Minotaur mine dispensers in the 1991 Gulf War, and later refit with British Shielder minelaying system, which can rapidly deploy 240 anti-tank mines—all since retired.
Starstreak and Stormer
Ukraine is instead receiving the Stormer HVM air-defense model, which mounts a launcher carrying eight Starstreak surface-to-air missiles on its roof. An additional 8-12 missile reloads are stowed inside the vehicle, which has a crew of three (commander, gunner, driver).
As detailed in this earlier article, the Starstreak High-Velocity Missile (HVM) not only has a greater maximum speed (Mach 3-4), range (4.35 miles), and altitude (16,000 feet) than the more common Stinger portable missile, but it’s likely to bypass most traditional aircraft countermeasures.
Instead of a heat seeker, Starstreak relies on a combination of optical and laser guidance: the gunner tracks the target using an optical sensor on the launcher, which then uses a laser to transmit guidance instructions to a receiver in the missile’s tail. This method can’t be defeated by standard aircraft self-defense systems like chaff, flares, radar-jamming, and directional-infrared countermeasures, though optical obscurants could work.
For a good measure, Starstreak missiles split into three separate exploding ‘darts’ to maximize the odds of destroying targeted aircraft.
Ukraine first received man-portable Starstreak launchers (MANPADS) from the UK in March, and by April 1 a Starstreak was already credited with downing a relatively advanced Mi-28N Havoc attack helicopter in Eastern Ukraine, apparently blasting its tail off.
Downed Russian Mi-28 pic.twitter.com/nmDxTgxKsR
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) April 1, 2022
Now London is reportedly sending a “handful” of Starstreak-armed Stormers vehicles for service in Ukraine, likely delivered via C-17 transport. That’s out of a total of 120 (or possibly 155) armored vehicles London has pledged to dispatch to Ukraine.
The 14-ton Alvis Stormer FV4333 is an enlarged, modernized descendent of a diverse family of British light armored vehicles called the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked), or CVR(T). The Stormer is significantly roomier than the cramped CRV(T)s, and like its predecessor was intended to mount diverse mission payloads.
Early production Stormers were mostly exported, including 40 amphibious troop carrier models for Indonesia, 10 command-post variants for Oman, and 25 fighting vehicles for Malaysia mounting 20-millimeter cannon or twin-machine gun turrets.
In the 1990s the United Kingdom finally procured 135 Stormer HVM air defense vehicles alongside 10 Stormers for reconnaissance. These were deployed to Iraq in 2003 but did not engage in combat. Today 60 still serve in three batteries of the 12th Regiment Royal Artillery. That suggests the UK retain an inventory of over 70 retired Stormers HVMs.
Compared to the man-portable Starstreak, the Stormer HVM obviously has greater mobility (max 50 miles pe hour) which can be used to escort vehicle convoys, for example. Stormer’s armor, though thin, is resilient to small arms, medium machine guns and shrapnel from artillery.
But most intriguingly, the Stormer-mounted Starstreaks benefit from powerful sensors and fire control systems: a Thales acquisition sight in the turret cupola, and an Air Defense Alert Device (ADAD) nested between the quad missile launchers.
ADAD is a passive, all-weather day/night infrared search-and-track system that can manage engagement with up to four targets in a cue, detecting aircraft up to 5.6 miles away and helicopters at 3.7 miles.
Furthermore, the vehicle-mounted ADAD can automatically slew- the targeting sight onto an aircraft, rather than relying on manual direction from the gunner to keep the sight pointed at a potentially fast and evasive aircraft. That should significantly improve odds of an intercept for each missile fired.
A journalist from UK journal The Times reported being unable to hit targets using a simulator of the shoulder-fired Starstreak, but consistently hitting using the Stormer’s automatic target-cuing system. That suggests the vehicle-based version may prove easier to operate effectively with soldiers who have undergone comparatively rushed training/familiarization.
On the downside, an armored vehicle is harder to conceal than a two-person missile team. However, at least the Stormer HVM doesn’t rely on active radar, which air defense suppression missiles are optimized to home in on and destroy.
How useful is Stormer to Ukraine?
In early March, Russian jets and attack helicopters attempted to deliver more effective air support in Ukraine by flying low-level strike missions—and suffered very heavy losses to Ukrainian air defenses, which by April 19 include six advanced Su-34 supersonic bombers, five Su-30SM multi-role jets, nine Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets and eleven Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters—and that’s only visually confirmed kills.
Russian pilots and planners largely abandoned low-level attacks in April (except at night) and losses have correspondingly decreased. Russian warplanes now rely more on expending limited supplies of cruise missiles and inaccurate medium-to-high-altitude bombing using unguided weapons. In general, Russian air operations seemingly show limited ability/inclination to interdict road movement, nor provided close air support in the current campaign; focusing primarily on strikes against static targets.
Meanwhile, Russian helicopters have repeatedly been observed angling their noses up and spraying volleys of unguided rockets in a wildly inaccurate ballistic trajectory so as not to enter range of Ukraine’s short-range air defenses.
Russian KA-52 & MI-28 attack helicopters firing rockets in an unconventional way. By firing upwards they greatly extend their range but will have terrible accuracy. #Ukraine #Russia #UkraineWar pic.twitter.com/GLwDOh9vyY
— Global Conflicts (@Globe_conflicts) March 17, 2022
Thus, improving Ukrainian short-range air defenses may not help as much as hoped if Russian pilots have mostly given up on low-altitude operations.
However, it’s worth noting the Mi-28N kill attributed to Starstreak was releasing such a rocket salvo when it was downed. Furthermore, in the new phase of the war focusing on Eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s own armored formations and artillery batteries will play a larger role—and those forces will make a tempting target for Russia’s attack helicopter assets.
The Stormer/Starstreak thus offers Ukrainian armored formation effective anti-helicopter defense even against hovering pop-up attacks from behind terrain—from a platform which can accompany tracked vehicles into rugged or muddy terrain.
The supersonic missile also packs enough kinetic energy at Mach 3+ to penetrate lightly armored BMP and BTR fighting vehicles—a capability the British Army successfully tested on one of its own FV-432 armored personnel carriers. Thus, Stormer could help bust lighter armored vehicles (ie. not tanks) from miles away if necessary.
That said, a downside of Stormer over the portable model is the greater training and logistical requirements involved in operating and maintaining a new class of vehicles. Already some British sources claim that 2-3 weeks of training (likely in the U.K.) may be required to attain basic competence with Starstreak.
Therefore, time will tell if Kyiv can logistically integrate a new class of vehicles, and train personnel to operate and maintain it, quickly enough to affect the huge armor and artillery battle brewing in eastern Ukraine.
Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com, War is Boring, and 19FortyFive, where he is Defense-in-Depth editor. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter.