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The United Kingdom has provided the Ukrainian Air Force (Povitryani Syly Ukrayiny – PSU) with Storm Shadow air-launched deep strike cruise missiles in advance of the Ukrainian military expected counter-offensive against the Russian forces that have invaded eastern Ukraine.

Announcing the transfer in the UK House of Commons on 11 May 2023, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was a calibrated response to Russia’s aggression and indiscriminate attacks on Ukrainian civilians, contrary to international law, and that the missiles were “going into” or already in Ukrainian hands.

“What I can say is throughout this process we always make sure we gift having examined minimising escalation and provocation unnecessarily to the Russian state. That is not the business we are in; we are in the business of helping Ukraine defend itself within its sovereign territory,” said Wallace.

“None of this would be needed, no deep strike capabilities needed, if Russia withdrew its forces to the other side of the border back into Russia, and every Russian force would be safe after that,” he continued. “But, of course, that is why we are seeking deep fires within Ukraine, for example, because Russia has invaded so far, deeply into another country.”

A 2019 photo showing a pair of Storm Shadows at RAF Marham beside a Typhoon and a recently retired Tornado GR4: the two RAF aircraft that have carried the weapon. Integrating Storm Shadow onto a Soviet-designed aircraft to allow Ukraine’s air force to use it will have been a challenge. (Photo: Crown Copyright).

When asked in the House of Commons, Wallace declined to detail the Ukrainian aircraft onto which Storm Shadow has been integrated, although it is likely to be the PSU’s MiG-29s. Ukraine operated this type prior to Russia’s February 2022 invasion (alongside Sukhoi Su-27s, Su-24s and Su-25s), but on 16 March 2023 Poland announced it would donate “a dozen or so” MiG-29s to Ukraine, while the following day Slovakia became the second nation to donate fighters to Ukraine, announcing it would gift a similar number of MiG-29s to Kyiv.

Alluding to the required integration work to facilitate the PSU’s use of Storm Shadow, Wallace noted, “It is, of course, not easy to take a British/French missile and incorporate it on a former Soviet or a Russian aircraft. That has been one of the reasons for the time [taken] – working out if it’s technically feasible  – and I would like to pay tribute to our scientists and our technicians who have done an amazing job.”

Storm Shadow/SCALP is an Anglo-French long-range deep strike weapon developed in the 1990s and first used operationally by Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft during the 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. It is also integrated onto French Dassault Mirage 2000 and Rafale aircraft, as well as a number of export customers operating the Tornado, Mirage 2000 and Rafale.

The missile was integrated onto the Eurofighter Typhoon under the aircraft’s Phase 2 Enhancement programme in 2015 and was used operationally by the Typhoon for the first time in March 2021 against Islamic State targets in northern Iraq. It will not, however, be integrated onto the RAF’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

Propelled by a turbojet and guided by an INS, GPS and terrain reference navigation system, the 5.1 m long Storm Shadow is armed with a blast/penetrator warhead that can be carried to ranges in excess of 250 km.

This would allow Ukrainian Air Force aircraft to attack targets far beyond occupied eastern Ukraine from well within their own airspace, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has always emphasised his forces are focused on fighting the Russians on Ukrainian soil.

Peter Felstead