104 Battery of 10 Air Defence Regiment has fired an undisclosed number of Thales Starstreak at a firing camp at the Overberg Test Range near Cape Town to allow its operators to develop experience in firing live missiles.
The missiles were fired against the indigenously manufactured BAE Systems Land Systems Dynamics Locats (low-cost aerial target system) aerial targets. Thales Defence Systems, which supported the exercise, says in a media statement the Air Defence Artillery “took the opportunity to conduct day and night firings, introducing their new Starstreak thermal imager to provide a full 24-hour air defence capability.
“The success of the camp, underlined by an unprecedented number of target kills, is even more impressive given that the Locats targets destroyed were totally un-enhanced, proving Starstreak’s capability against unmanned air vehicle targets,” the statement added. Locats has a maximum speed of 310 km/hr, a wingspan of 3.2m and length of 2.9m.
SA ordered two Thales Page continuous-wave (CW) low-observable battery air defence local warning radars, eight Lightweight Multiple Launchers (LML) as well as about 100 VSHORAD (very short range air defence) high-velocity missiles in December 2002. At the time Armscor in a statement said the cost was R796 700 389 and deliveries would be complete in 36 months. It was reported in October 2007 that Starstreak missiles cost about R1 million each and that Guardian had by then cost R801 million. The battery that can be parachute dropped also includes two two radars with a 20km range. Denel, the Guardian systems integrator, credits the VSHORAD missiles with a range of 5km (Thales says 7km).
Speaking from the range Lt Col Jacques Baird, Chief of Staff of the ADA, said: “I am delighted with the performance of the Starstreak system and of course our operators. Indeed, at one stage I thought that we would run out of targets before the end of our camp.”
ADA Formation General Officer Commanding Brigadier General Jabu Mbuli added that if “this camp has proved anything it is that Starstreak can defeat a wide variety of air targets, both the traditional and the emerging small low-infrared signature threats. We spent quite some time evalu-ating various missile systems as our ground-based air-defence (GBAD) solution and what we have witnessed at this exercise clearly demonstrates that we made the right choice.”
Starstreak represents the cornerstone of the success of phase one of the GBAD project. “Our relationship with Thales is first class,” said Hanlo Pretorius GBADS Programme Manager of Armscor. “From the moment the contract was signed we have formed a partnership to deliver the best product and service to the user and I have no doubt this teamwork will continue to bring benefits.”
Christian Lamoureux, CEO of Thales South Africa, noted “It is extremely pleasing to be able to support a successful firing camp like this, especially against challenging targets like these. Once again Starstreak has demonstrated its unique capability and why customers worldwide are showing a great deal of interest in the system. I look forward to a long and successful relationship with the Armed Forces in South Africa for many years to come.”
Starstreak was designed to counter low-flying high-performance aircraft and helicopters. It employs semi-automatic command line of sight guidance consisting of a stabilised tracking system and an automatic guidance system. While the operator tracks the target using the stabilised tracking system, a laser beam for missile guidance is transmitted along the target sight line. The system compensates for crosswinds and low-level targets and a lead-angle is automatically generated to launch the missile ahead of crossing targets.
In its simplest form, Starburst is a man-portable, shoulder-launched system consisting of an aiming unit and a missile. The missile is contained in a canister that acts as a recoilless launcher when firing takes place. The aiming unit is clipped on to the canister and together they provide the firing and guidance control for the missile. At the end of the engagement, the aiming unit is quickly detached, the used canister discarded and a new canister fitted for the next engagement. The system can be operated by a single person. However, a second person reduces reaction time.
Armscor in March 2007 told Parliament that when finally delivered at the end of November 2009, the project would be 54 months over deadline. Armscor told MPs the project was extensively delayed by problems with subcontracts with local suppliers, by challenges in translating systems specifications and by design shortcomings affecting the thermal imager, radar power supply and radio interface module. As a result, Denel was to pay a R80 million penalty.
Noteworthy is that the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms records SA imported 96 Starstreak missiles in 2005. There are no previous or subsequent references to the Northern Irish-made VSHORAD.
In May 2008 Denel Dynamics CE Jan Wessels said about 30 companies were involved with the project. “The missile and radar are European and the software was written by five companies, some in SA,” says Wessels. “Our job [as prime contractor and systems integrator] is to put it all together to make it work.” Wessels added the delays and problems encountered have made the project one “where you have to grind your teeth”. “There are 32 entities that must deliver. We’ll just have to take the pain until they all do so satisfactorily. Although there is a lot of contractual baggage, we are quite chuffed about progress with the programme.”
Denel Integrates Systems Solutions executive manager Ralph Mills added the first live firings of the Starstreak missile in October 2007 “went very well”. A further set of firings, were scheduled for late 2008 and it was said media would be invited. It is not clear if the firings ever happened.
Supply of Starstreak missiles
– EBEB/2009/459 10 Mar 2010 R34 216 705,88 Thales Air Defence Limited
Industry support for local warning segment of the Ground Based Aif Defence – extension of EBEB/2001/421
– BEB/S2009/2321 29 Oct 2009 R4 970 000,00 Denel Aerospace Group
– BEB/S2008/2220 2 Oct 2008 R1 035 496,02 Denel Aerospace Group
– BEB/S2007/2140 1 Nov 2007 R1 828 530,70 Denel Aerospace Group
Rework design baseline on the local warning segment for Ground Based Air Defence Systems – extension of EBEB/2001/421
– BEB/S2009/2300 6 Aug 2009 R1 113 636,00 Denel Aerospace Group
Evaluation of new generation digital radios performance as Air Defence Control network provider for the mobile Air Defence System
– EBEB/2008/218 26 Mar 2009 R8 482 410,00 Denel Aerospace Group
Support facility for the Starstreak missile of the local warning segment of the Ground Based Air Defence Systems – extension of EBEB/2001/421
– BEB/S2008/2213 4 Sep 2008 R533 520,00 Denel Aerospace Group
Training manual updates for local warning segment of the Ground Based Air Defence Systems – extension of EBEB/2001/421
– BEB/S20082192 12 Jun 2008 R96 672,88 Denel Aerospace Group