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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Meet the Storm Shadow Missile: A Game Changer in Ukraine?

Storm Shadow missiles. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
An RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft carrying two Storm Shadow missiles under the fuselage. This long-range air-launched and conventionally-armed missile equips RAF Tornado GR4 squadrons and saw operational service in 2003 with 617 Squadron during combat in Iraq, prior to entering full service in 2004. Post deployment analysis demonstrated the missile's exceptional accuracy, and the effect on targets was described as devastating. Based on this performance, it is arguably the most advanced weapon of its kind in the world. Feasibility studies on a possible UK requirement for a Long Range Stand- Off Missile were originally commissioned in 1982, and work was eventually subsumed in 1986 into the NATO seven-nation Modular Stand- Off Weapon programme. This project was however aborted, and the UK subsequently withdrew. With the end of the Cold War the UK’s continued need for a stand-off requirement was reviewed and endorsed as part of the ‘Options for Change’ exercise. An international competition was launched in 1994 to meet the UK’s Conventionally Armed Stand Off Missile (CASOM) requirement, and seven companies responded.

For those of us who came of age during the 1980s, the name “Storm Shadow” might conjure up the image of the character from the G.I. Joe action figure/comic book/animated series franchise. That character was known for switching sides multiple times in the storyline (not unlike professional wrestlers). 

However, the Storm Shadow we discuss today is a real-world weapons system that thus far has strictly served the good guys. Say hello to the Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missile.

Storm Shadow Early History and Specifications

The Storm Shadow missile is an Anglo-French venture, with development initiated in 1994 by the tag team of France’s Matra and British Aerospace, and now carried on by MBDA, the result of those firms’ merger along with Italy’s Alenia Marconi Systems. MBDA is headquartered in Le Plessis-Robinson, France. The design was finalized in 2001. 

Specifications include a warhead weight of 990 pounds, an overall weight of 2,900 pounds, a length of 16 feet 9 inches, a width of 25 inches, a height of 19 inches, and a wingspan of 9 feet 10 inches. Operational range is 300 nautical miles and max airspeed is Mach-.95 (1,060 feet per second). Warhead type is the Bomb Royal Ordnance Augmented Charge, developed by BAE Systems to enable cruise missiles to attain a degree of hard-target penetration on a par with laser-guided bombs

Battle-Tested in the Middle East…and Ukraine

The Storm Shadow was first blooded in combat with RAF Tornados during the 2003 Iraq War. Next, they were employed by British and Italian Tornados and French Rafales against pro-Qaddafi targets during the 2011 military intervention in Libya, during which they reportedly had a 97% effectiveness rate. For good measure, the French also used the missile to hit ISIS targets in Syria as part of Operation Chammal, and the Brits have deployed the missile for anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria. 

Nowadays, the Storm Shadow is in the hands of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and it is making a big impact. 

On May 11, the British government supplied an undisclosed number of the missiles to Ukraine, just in time for the current counteroffensive. According to Newsweek’s Brendan Cole:

“At 150 miles, the missile’s range outperforms the weapons systems the U.S. had given Kyiv, such as the HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. The Anglo-French-designed Storm Shadows can make precision strikes against Russian targets that had been previously beyond reach.

“Zelensky paid tribute to the missile’s capabilities during his nightly address on Monday. He said he had spoken with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about continued U.K. support. Zelensky added that the missiles were doing ‘a very useful and accurate job at the front,’ along with “many other weapons supplied by the British.”

A more specific example of the Ukrainians’ successful usage of the Storm Shadow comes to us courtesy of Sam Courtney-Guy of Metro News, titled “Ukraine strikes Russian-held ‘gate to Crimea’ with UK missile.” The gate in question is the Chonhar Bridge, which links mainland Ukraine to the Crimean Peninsula and now serves as a major Russian supply route. The damage to the bridge is causing significant delays for Russian military vehicles that are now forced to take a longer alternate route, which in turn buys precious time for Ukraine’s counterattacking forces. 

Courtney-Guy adds that it is believed one of these missiles was responsible for killing Russian Maj. Gen. Sergey Goryachev earlier this month. 

Where (Else) Are They Now?

Besides Ukraine, Britain, Italy, and France, the Storm Shadow is reportedly in use with the armed forces of Egypt, Greece, India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Interestingly, there is at least one Storm Shadow missile on display at a museum — the RAF Museum in the Hendon section of London. Although I don’t recall seeing that particular display, I did tour this museum back in 2017, and I enthusiastically recommend a visit. 

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).

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Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).