On May 5th, the British defense secretary Ben Wallace told the House of Commons that the UK had broken a long-standing taboo by transferring "a number" of Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles to Ukraine.
Longest Range Weapon for Ukraine
Storm Shadow is officially advertised as having a range "exceeding 250km," or 155 miles. It is unclear whether Ukraine has received fully capable Storm Shadows, or a reduced range model so as to adhere to the MTCR arms control regime, which ordinarily discouraged the export of missiles with a range exceeding 190 miles.
Western governments had previously feared that Ukraine might use long-range missiles for attacks on Russian soil deemed politically provocative, which could incite retaliatory escalation. However, the Storm Shadow is pre-programmed for its targets prior to takeoff, which should make it easier to integrate onto Ukraine’s Soviet warplanes than other advanced Western guided weapons.
The real bullseye falls on Russia’s extensive military infrastructure on the Crimean Peninsula, including airbases and much of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Russia had leased bases in that area from Ukraine for two decades, only for Putin to invade the entire peninsula in 2014.
Given that the donation from the UK sounds like it was in limited quantity ("a number"), the UK’s Storm Shadow may effectively be more a political play than a military one. The missiles are in France’s inventory under the designation SCALP-EG, and Italy also has them. Both are major donors to Ukraine. The French Navy also uses a longer-range ship-launched variant called the MdCn.
Origin of Storm Shadow
Storm Shadow/SCALP is a French-U.K. joint venture built by European missile-maker MBDA and based on the Apache runway-cratering missile. It doesn't use any input from the carrying aircraft before or after launch. Instead, it’s pre-programmed on the ground to follow waypoints to the target area autonomously using inertial and GPS navigation. Once near the target, the missile lunges upwards-tossing off its pointy nose cone and flying into the target area with a two-stage warhead that explodes to ensure maximum destruction.
The transfer of Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine is expected to alter the course of the war in Ukraine. The real bullseye is on Russia’s extensive military infrastructure on the Crimean Peninsula, including airbases and much of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. With a range of 155 miles, Storm Shadow's deployment in Ukraine could threaten Russia's military assets in the Black Sea region.
While the exact number of missiles supplied to Ukraine is unknown, the transfer of this weapon could provoke an escalation in the conflict with Russia. It may also cause Moscow to rethink its approach to the war in Ukraine, given that it has not faced this type of weapon before in the conflict. The UK's donation of Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine could also encourage other Western countries to provide Ukraine with additional military assistance.
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