Tech & Tactics Weapons Missiles

Storm Shadow: Ukraine’s newest weapon to defend against Russia’s invasion

"This is a calibrated proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.”
Jared Keller Avatar
A Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft carrying two Storm Shadow missiles under the fuselage in August 2013. (UK Ministry of Defense/Geoff Lee)

The Ukrainian military is now in possession of the Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile, the longest-range munition that Western allies have provided to the country since the start of Russia’s invasion last year that will purportedly give troops the ability to strike critical targets deep behind enemy lines.

Manufactured by European missile maker MBDA and, in possibly the most disappointing revelation ever, not named for the fictional G.I. Joe foe, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced the transfer of the Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine before the British Parliament last week, stating the missiles would “allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces based on Ukrainian sovereign territory.

“Our partners know very well why we need them: to be able to reduce the enemy’s offensive potential by destroying their ammunition depots, command and control centers, and logistics chains on the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory,” as Ukrainian defense advisor Yuriy Sak told the Financial Times.

Indeed, a top British military officer echoed that logic in an interview with Breaking Defense on Tuesday.

“These missiles will help them to hit the command-and-control nodes, the logistics, where you have a sort of coalescence of Russian soldiers,” Rear Admiral Tim Woods, defense attache at the British Embassy in Washington, told Breaking Defense. “And what that means is, you are much better able to starve the front line of direction, logistics, weapons, and people.”

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Also known as the ‘Système de Croisière Autonome à Longue Portée – Emploi Général’ (or SCALP-EG) in France, the missile has a range of up to 155 miles and is “designed to meet the demanding requirements of pre-planned attacks against high value fixed or stationary targets” with a low-observable design and pre-programmed ground-hugging flight profile intended to evade ground-based enemy air defenses, according to MBDA. 

When nearing its intended target, the Storm Shadow deploys a two-stage nearly-1000-pound Bomb Royal Ordnance Augmented Charge (BROACH) explosive penetrator and fragmentation warhead, making it “especially effective against hardened structures” like bunkers and other installations, according to Army Recognition.

The Storm Shadow’s range is more than triple the 48-mile range of the missiles currently employed in the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) that the United States military has been funneling into the country since the start of Russia’s invasion, although as our colleagues at The War Zone note, that falls short of the 200-mile range of the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) short-range ballistic missiles that Ukrainian leaders have been pleading with Western allies for in recent months amid concerns over transferring weapons that could potentially reach inside Russian territory.

While furnishing the Ukrainian military with the Storm Shadow may be a step in the right direction, Wallace emphasized to Parliament that the missiles “are not in the same league as the Russian AS-24 KILLJOY hypersonic missile or Shahed Iranian one-way attack drones, or their Kalibr cruise missile with a range of over 2,000km … roughly 7 times that of the Storm Shadow missile.”

storm shadow missile
A Storm Shadow missile on display inside the RAF Museum in London in June 2010. (Wikimedia Commons/Rept0n1x)

The Storm Shadow has a relatively long and colorful combat history. First employed operationally by Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft during the 2003 multinational invasion of Iraq, the missile has since been used by French Air Force Rafales and Italian Air Force Tornado IDS aircraft during the 2011 military intervention in Libya and by British and French military aircraft as part of the ongoing multinational campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. 

It’s unclear how, exactly, the Ukrainian Air Force plans on deploying the Storm Shadow. According to manufacturer MBDA, the missile is operated by Tornado, Rafale, Mirage 2000, and, in the future, the Eurofighter Typhoon. As The War Zone notes, the missile is nearly 2,900 pounds and likely too heavy for employment by the country’s fleet of MiG-29 Fulcrum or Su-25 Frogfoot jets, making it’s Su-27 Flanker and Su-24 Fencer aircraft the top choices to get the missiles in the air. 

However, the Storm Shadow has reportedly already seen action in Ukraine. The day after the British announcement, the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Ukrainian aircraft had already struck a pair of industrial cities in the Russian-controlled eastern city of Luhansk using the cruise missiles, an attack U.S. officials seemingly confirmed to CNN. The following Monday, the Russian MoD claimed to have downed one of the missiles elsewhere in Ukraine.

“Russia must recognize that their actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine,” Wallace told Parliament. “It is my judgment as the Defence Secretary that this is a calibrated proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.”

Speaking in response to Wallace’s announcement before Parliament, the Kremlin stated that the transfer of Storm Shadow missiles to the Ukrainian military would necessitate an “adequate response from our military.”

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