The 2010 Cluster Munition Monitor reports on the United Kingdom raises the prospect that the Starstreak Missile might fall under the definition of the prohibition in the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the UK Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill.  The Monitor text is below, with links to the original source documents:

In relation to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the UK’s Cluster Munition (Prohibitions) Act, further clarification may be required regarding the “Starstreak” missile manufactured by Thales Air Defence Limited.

The “Starstreak High Velocity Missile” employs three submunitions, each with a “high density penetrating explosive warhead.” Although generally considered an air defense weapon, the manufacturer’s sales literature advertises the weapon’s utility against ground-based targets. Brochures for the Starstreak state that “a variety of threats can be defeated including aerial targets such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and helicopters and also surface targets such as Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), static installations or terrorist platforms.”[REF1 and REF2] With respect to “surface threats such as light armoured vehicles (LAVs) and fast inshore attack craft (FIAC)” brochures note that “Starstreak II has been designed to defeat these threats.”

Both the Convention on Cluster Munitions and the UK Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act provide an exclusion from their prohibitions for weapons “designed exclusively for an air defence role.”

When the UK Ministry of Defence was asked, under the Freedom of Information Act, whether it had received any information suggesting that the Starstreak has “a capability” against ground-based targets it replied: “As far as we have been able to ascertain, we have received no information suggesting that the A5 missile, known by Thales Air Defence Ltd (TADL) as Starstreak II, has a capability against ground based targets.… We have, however, seen some articles in the trade press and on the internet reporting a ground based capability. Having discussed the matter with TADL, it is our understanding that confusion may have arisen from a briefing they gave, as it covered several different systems with differing capabilities.”

The Starstreak missile is manufactured in the UK and is in service with UK armed forces.

A number of points are worth noting here:

The most basic is that the UK MoD reponse to the FoI question looks pretty thin when juxtaposed with the manufacturer’s own literature.

Beyond this though are more serious challenges regarding definition “by design”. At one level the utility claims against ground based targets by its manufacturers dictate that the weapon should be considered prohibited.  The intent of the “exclusively designed” requirements (in the CCM and the UK law) are to avoid a situation where weapons with the same technical characteristics as cluster munitions avoid prohibition based on claims that they can be used for air-defence.

Yet it is also possible that a weapon system is “designed” from original project concept, through its development to final testing and sale, as a weapon for use in an air defence role.  Claims of utility against ground based targets might then be added into the sales literature after the design process had been completed in order to argue a more flexible role for the weapon.  Or they could be added on the basis of a utility realized once the weapon had been deployed in combat.  As in other areas of innovation, the evolution of the purposes served by technology is commonplace in the military.

If a utility against ground-based targets were claimed only after the design and production process were completed, it seems difficult to assert that this invalidates the designer’s exclusive intent. And yet, where intent should be ‘found’ is not set out in the CCM and there are no acceptable standards across major arm treaties for how this should be done.

That said, the burden of proof should be squarely on the UK Government to demonstrate that this weapon has not been designed for use against ground-based targets and that it is exclusively for air-defence.  Continued marketing of the weapon as having utility against ground-based targets would only serve to weaken the case that it is not already prohibited.

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