Martlet – Ukraine’s Latest Surface to Air Missile

April 11, 2022

There was an interesting development in Ukraine over the weekend. Footage posted by the Ukrainian military showed them using a Man Portable Air Defence System, or MANPADS for short, to allegedly shoot down a Russian drone.


Nothing particularly unusual in that, but the missile system used is. The weapon appears to be a British-made Martlet system.

While Britain has already reportedly sent Starstreak missiles to Ukraine the Martlet is only just starting to enter service with UK forces. Indeed, the weapon in the video was initially thought to be a Starstreak before eagle-eyed watchers correctly identified it.

The Martlet was developed primarily for the Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (Light) FASGW(L) requirement. This is intended to give British military a single high-accuracy precision weapon system for use against small, fast-moving targets on land, sea and air.


Officially designated as the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM), the system is currently integrated onto Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters for use against surface targets and some of the Royal Artillery’s Starstreak air defence units. This sees one of the triple launcher tubes replaced with a Martlet, given a launch station a total of two Starstreaks and one Martlet.

The LMM is also likely to soon be fielded on Royal Navy warships alongside close in weapon systems to provide a precision counter to small boats and UAVs that may be used against them in the future.

For guidance the Martlet uses an automatic target tracker (ATT). Once a target is identified, the missile operator sights the launcher and activates the ATT. This locks the target and the missile fired. The ATT then tracks both missile and target and guides the weapon into the hit.

Martlet also has a manual guidance mode, which allows the operator to interrupt the ATT at any stage of engagement and take control over.

Like Starstreak, this type of guidance is extremely difficult to counter, as opposed to the more usual heat-seeking guidance systems used on most MANPADS in service, which can be deflected with flares and other countermeasure.

In reality the Martlet is a more limited system than Starstreak. Range is stated to be over six kilometres, in comparison to the Starstreak’s eight, and speed is halved to Mach 1.5 in comparison to Mach 3 to the older missile.

Its warhead is also less effective. While Starstreak use a triple dart made from tungsten alloy to destroy a target, the Martlet uses a blast-fragmentation warhead.


While no doubt effective enough generally, this is apparently inferior to the Starstreak’s terminal effects, which are generally stated to be catastrophic to aerial targets.

So why have Martlet’s, a brand-new system that is barely in service, been sent to Ukraine when the more well-known Starstreak are already being shipped?

Well, to put not too fine a point on it, they are much cheaper.

Best public estimates I have seen say that Martlets cost about £1.5 million each; Starstreak’s are about £3 million.

And this engagement probably best shows how the Martlets are intended to be used – against recon drones. The war in Ukraine has reinforced an issue that has been worrying militaries for the last decade; how hard it is for conventional anti-aircraft systems to engage small UAVs that quite often have basically nonexistent thermal and radar signatures.

Martlet is capable of doing the job of neutralizing these sort of targets.

I am sure many will be tempted to criticize the use of an expensive missile to down a drone that, in all probability, costs only thousands, at most tens of thousands of dollars. But the truth is, the costs of allowing drones to operate unhindered, even if just in an observation role, is going to prove a decisive factor in this and in future conflicts.

So, while the initial cost may seem prohibitive, it will be far cheaper in the long run.


US Lend-Lease for Ukraine – Just What Further Weapons Can the West Send?

U.S. to Supply Switchblade “Kamikaze Drones” to Ukraine?

The Westland Welkin; Whirlwind’s High Flying Sibling

The Westland Welkin; Whirlwind’s High Flying Sibling

If you’ve been watching my YouTube channel or reading this website for a while, you’ll know I have done a couple of articles on the Westland Whirlwind, an interesting aircraft that, though it provided good service as a ground pounder, never met its potential as a...

Prajadhipok; The Original Thai Fighter

Prajadhipok; The Original Thai Fighter

I wrote an article recently on the Paribatra bomber, Thailand’s first indigenously designed and built aircraft. This rather obscure aircraft was a little tricky to research as there is not a lot out there on it, certainly in English. But there is a veritable...

Hypocrites; The International Community and Burma

Hypocrites; The International Community and Burma

It will soon be one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the world is still bickering about exactly what to do about it. That is all very depressing, but at least the world IS talking about Ukraine. Whereas Burma, also known as Myanmar, is now approaching two years...

The XP-47H; Shark-Nosed Thunderbolt

The XP-47H; Shark-Nosed Thunderbolt

During the Second World War, fighter designs generally came in two primary variants. You had your skinny boys, that used liquid-cooled inline engines.   Then you had your chunks, that used big, beefy air-cooled radials.   And amongst the latter, the P-47...

POINT BLANK – Where Park Glider Meets ATGM

POINT BLANK – Where Park Glider Meets ATGM

A few years back I wrote an article for The National Interest where I discussed how the previous years of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq had demonstrated the need for a cheap, lightweight guided infantry weapon capable of being used in a multitude of roles. Western...