Last week, on 11 May, the UK became the first country to provide Ukraine with medium range cruise missiles. Less than a week later the first evidence of their use has emerged.
Storm Shadow is an air-launched subsonic cruise missile with a reported range of 250-300km (155-185 miles). It can reportedly reach speeds of Mach 0.8 or around 620 miles per hour. This will enable Ukraine to strike targets within territory occupied by Russia including Crimea. Theoretically, Storm Shadow could also strike targets inside Russia, but the UK has provided them on the understanding they will not be used outside Ukraine’s borders.
Storm Shadow is characterised by its accuracy and also has a sophisticated warhead: the Bomb, Royal Ordnance, Augmenting CHarge (BROACH). The 450 kg (990 lb) BROACH warhead uses a precursor penetrator charge followed by a follow-through main charge to penetrate hardened shelters and structures.
Storm Shadow is said to be extremely accurate. Once the missile is released from the aircraft its wings deploy and it uses a GPS/INS and Terrain Profile Matching navigation system to guide the missile to the target area. The missile typically flies at a low level and on its the final approach it jettisons its nose cone and the on-board infrared sensor guides the missile to the impact point. With a reported price tag of around £790,000 per missile, they are typically used against high value targets.
Development of the missile requirement began in the mid-1980s becoming part of the multi-nation NATO Modular Stand-Off Weapon (MSOW) programme. While the US pulled out of the programme in the late 1980s Matra BAe Dynamics continued development of a missile based on the Matra Apache. The missile became known as Storm Shadow and was procured by the UK in 1997, it entered service in 2002.
The missile also entered service with the French in 1998 as SCALP-EG (Sistème de Croisière Autonome à Longue Portée – Emploi Général, or Long Range Autonomous Cruise Missile System – General Purpose). Since then Storm Shadow and SCALP have been used in the Gulf, Iraq, and in Libya by the UK’s Royal Air Force and the French Air Force.
Ben Wallace, UK Defense Secretary, addressed the UK’s Parliament on 11 May saying:
“Today I can confirm that the UK is donating Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine… the use of Storm Shadow will allow Ukraine to push back Russian forces based within Ukrainian sovereign territory. …Russia must recognise their actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine. It is my judgement as Defence Secretary that this is a calibrated, proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.”
Wallace added that it hadn’t been easy to incorporate the missile on a former Soviet aircraft. He said “that has been one of the reasons for the time… working out if it is technically feasible, and I would like to pay tribute to our scientists & technicians.” It is believed that Ukraine’s Su-24 Fencers have been adapted to launch the missiles.
Storm Shadow is key for Ukraine as it provides a much needed long range, deep strike capability, well beyond that of HIMARS rockets and other artillery. Ahead of Ukraine’s anticipated offensive the cruise missiles will allow Ukraine to strike high value targets including infrastructure and logistics nodes and command and control centres – most of which have been repositioned outside of HIMARS/GMLRS munitions range.
13 May saw the first evidence of Ukraine’s use of the missiles emerge with Russian media outlets and telegram channels sharing fragments collected in Luhansk. Russian media shared photographs of an industrial building destroyed. Subsequent photos and videos showing further fragments with serial numbers and other markings were also shown. Russian state media reports that LPR Separatist authorities claim Luhansk has been targeted with at least three Storm Shadow missiles. This claim is yet to be independently verified.
The strike on the target in Luhansk is the first with physical evidence of Storm Shadow’s use, now that the missile is known to be in service it will inevitably be one of the weapons discussed when considering future strikes but given the missile’s cost and the relatively small number available, the Ukrainians will likely be picking their targets carefully.
On 16 May, France signalled its intention to also provide Ukraine with longer range missiles, while not confirmed by name this potentially means its SCALP-EG missiles. In late May some German politicians made calls for Germany’s similar Taurus missile to be provided to Ukraine.
Update – 24/5/23: During a visit to Ukraine UK secretary of Defence signed a photograph of a Ukrainian SU-24MR carrying a Storm Shadow. Inscribing: “To all the brave ‘few’ who risk all for the glory of Ukraine” in reference to Churchill’s remarks referring to the RAF as the ‘few’ during the Second World War.
Update – 3/6/23: A photo of a Ukrainian air force SU-24M was shared online showing it carrying a pair of what appear to be Storm Shadow missiles.
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Defence Secretary oral statement on war in Ukraine, UK Government, (source)
House of Commons Proceedings 11 May 2023, UK Parliament, (source)
UK Provides Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles to Ukraine, OVD, (source)
Russia says Ukraine used Storm Shadow missiles from Britain to attack Luhansk, Reuters, (source)
Interview with President Emmanuel Macron on TF1, Elysee/TF1, (source)
Storm Shadow, ThinkDefence, (source)
Putting Russia’s Army in the Shadow of the Storm, RUSI, (source)