LONDON — Britain has stepped up its supply of weapons to the Ukrainian military, adding Starstreak anti-air missiles to a list that already includes significant numbers of anti-tank weapons.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told lawmakers Mar. 9 that the government was “exploring” the supply of Starstreak but later confirmed that the decision had already been taken in principle to provide the Thales UK-built, short-range weapon.
Issues such as training still had to be resolved, however, said the defense secretary.
Wallace also told Parliament that Britain would supply limited numbers of Lockheed Martin- and Raytheon-built Javelin anti-tank missiles alongside non-lethal items such as ration packs and medical supplies.
“We believe that this system will remain within the definition of defensive weapons but will allow the defending force to better defend the skies,” Wallace said, referring to the Starstreak capabilities.
Wallace told lawmakers that Russia was now using unguided bombs, and that with 95 percent of its forces around Ukraine committed, Moscow was trying to encourage private Russian troops from organizations like the Wagner Group to join the fight.
Citing Ukrainian data, he said Russia is believed to have lost 285 tanks, 985 armored vehicles, 44 aircraft, 48 helicopters, 109 artillery pieces. Some 11,000 Russian troops had been killed, he added, noting that the Ukrainian figures were unverified.
Starstreak is a high-velocity missile designed to provide air defense against helicopters, low flying fixed wing jets and unmanned air vehicles out to a range upwards of 4 miles.
The British have fielded the weapon since 1997, first mounted on an armored vehicle, but more recently as a lightweight, multiple-missile launcher and in shoulder-launched configurations.
Starstreak is the second significant weapon system supplied to the Ukrainian military by the British recently.
Just ahead of the Russian invasion Royal Air Force C-17 airlifters delivered Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons (NLAW) to Ukraine.
Like the Starstreak, the NLAW was built at a Thales UK factory just outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, although the anti-tank weapon was largely developed by Saab in Sweden as a collaborative effort between the two countries.
Wallace updated lawmakers on the volume of NLAWs supplied to the Ukraine, saying Britain had initially provided 2000 weapons but had now increased that number to 3615 missiles, with efforts continuing to deliver more.
The weapons are coming from British military stockpiles. Wallace said work was underway to replenish them.
The weapons supply is part of a wider aid contribution from the British, which includes a big increase in humanitarian donations by the government.
Although Britain is pouring money into aid and the supply of weapons Wallace didn’t address the broader issue of increased defense spending during his statement.
The government announced a £16.5 billion ($22.3 billion) increase over four years in 2021, but a yet-bigger increase would appear to have broad support across Parliament.
The parliamentary Defence Committee has been advocating a substantial rise in Britain’s underfunded military for several years.
A plan for increased spending could come as soon as the next few weeks.
How much is enough is a difficult question, said John Louth, an independent defense analyst here.
“They will have to consider going back to the 1980s spending levels if not before,” he added. “Certainly I can see it going up to 3.5% of gross domestic product [from 2percent now], maybe a little more. The lesson from the Cold War though is that it’s no good doing that unless you are taking an integrated approach with allies.”
Like other analysts here Louth reckons the government’s integrated defense review, released just 12 months ago, will need a rethink, if not shredding, in the wake of the Russian invasion.
Louth said rethinking the role and capabilities of Britain’s shrinking army Army was the immediate priority.
“The British Army have to wake up to the fact that the future isn’t going to be exquisite, highly technical stand-off weapons. It is probably going to be lots of people in traditional looking vehicles with the ability to maneuver. It changes the sense of the Army just being a recruiting ground for the special forces,” he said.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.