Air Weapons: Storm Shadow Missiles in Ukraine


May 25, 2023: Britain began deliveries of its Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine in April, which put these recently refurbished and upgraded missiles to the most severe tests of their capabilities. Russia had upgraded its electronic and missile defenses against systems like Storm Shadow and it is not yet clear what impact the missile upgrades or the Russian countermeasures have had. In Ukraine the Storm Shadows are being carried by Su-24 fighter-bombers and some have already been launched against Russian targets in eastern Ukraine. Targets were hit and Russia published photos of Storm Shadow debris. Export models of Storm Shadow often have their range restricted to 250 kilometers. It’s unclear if the Ukrainian Storm Shadows can operate at their max range of 560 kilometers. Ukraine has been asking for a missile with that kind of range so it can hit key military and transportation targets deep inside Russian occupied Ukraine.

Starting in 2017 the British/French Storm Shadow/Scalp missiles began undergoing a mid-life refurbishment and upgrade that covered key components like the turbo-jet engine, navigation system, and replacements for cabling, seals, and gaskets. The first refurbished missiles began returning in 2022. The effort cost over $300 million.

European arms manufacturer MDBA introduced the air-launched Storm Shadow/Scalp cruise missile in 2002 but they were not much used between 2003 and 2015. That changed in 2015 when France intensified its war against Islamic terrorism and the new Typhoon fighter-bomber was equipped to use Scalp. With a max range of 560 kilometers, the 1.3 ton Scalp has a 450 kg conventional warhead and a highly accurate (capable of hitting ships or small buildings) terminal guidance system. Scalp uses GPS, INS and terrain recognition guidance systems to get close enough for the terminal guidance system to take over. Costing about $1.5 million each, some 3,000 have been ordered since the late 1990s when MBDA began marketing it and through 2022 about a hundred were used. France bought 600 while Britain got nearly a thousand and wealthy Gulf Arab oil states bought over a thousand. Greece, Italy and Egypt also bought some. Before the refurbishment France used Scalp successfully in Syria and Mali. Britain first used Storm Shadow successfully during its air campaign against Iraq during 2003. By the time the refurbishments were ordered all the nations with Scalp/Storm Shadow were using them frequently against terrorist targets.

Despite all that activity, by 2017 most Storm Shadow/Scalp missiles were over a decade old and still waiting to be used. This is a common problem with guided missiles which are designed for a long shelf life. After a certain number of years, it is best to refurbish and, if you can afford it, upgrade the older missiles for another decade or so of service sitting in a warehouse. This joint refurbishment effort extended and upgraded the operational capabilities against the anticipated evolving threat well into the next decade.


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