Weeks after its first announcement, France has now confirmed it is providing SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles to Ukraine. The news, in itself, carries little significance since Kyiv started receiving the same weapon — the British Storm Shadow — in May. Still, having more SCALP/Storm Shadow missiles with their 250km-plus (155 miles-plus) is essential and will significantly boost Ukraine’s deep-strike capabilities amidst the ongoing counter-offensive.
Manufactured by the Pan-European missile company MBDA, the SCALP/Storm Shadow is a cruise missile with a 450kg conventional warhead designed to be deployed from fixed-wing aircraft. According to MBDA, the missile’s sophisticated navigation module combines an inertial navigation system (INS), GPS, and terrain reference navigation system for optimal accuracy, while in the terminal phase it relies on infrared guidance and picture-based automatic target recognition. It can also be used in conjunction with decoy drones and may have a much longer range than advertised (some reports suggest it can travel more than 500km.)
It is not known how many missiles the British have sent to Ukraine for use with its Soviet-era jets, but European arms stocks are far smaller than those of the US. The UK’s initial order in the late 1990s is thought to have been around 900 missiles. The French additions will therefore offer welcome new opportunities for Ukraine to hit key targets in Russia’s rear areas.
The missile’s modular warhead allows for airburst, point-blast, and dual-stage penetrative detonations and makes the missile ideal for a variety of fixed or stationary targets, from troop concentrations to military complexes, to hardened structures. Equally important, the missile features a low-observability construction that, combined with pre-mission route planning and low-altitude flight capabilities, minimizes exposure to enemy ground-based air defense and ensures high survivability until the weapon reaches its target.
Ukrainian forces have already employed the Storm Shadow with success against the Chongar bridge connecting the occupied territories of Crimea and Kherson, and the headquarter of Russia’s 58th army in occupied Berdyansk on July 11, killing the deputy commander of Southern Military District Lt. Gen. Oleg Tsokov, the highest-ranking fatality since the beginning of the invasion. Based on the damage patterns and distance from Ukrainian lines, other targets may include ammunition depots in Novooleksiivka and Rykove, Kherson region.
As Ukraine adjusts its tactics to minimize casualties against a heavily entrenched enemy, the SCALP/Storm Shadow will play an essential role in the next phase of the counteroffensive, because it will allow Ukrainian forces to attack high-value Russian targets at operational depth with pinpoint accuracy. Ukraine’s goal is to further erode Russian combat effectiveness by degrading its ability to sustain troops, destroying critical supplies, command and control nodes, and decimating new personnel destined for the frontline (more than 100 Russian troops were reportedly killed and 400 wounded in what was thought to be a Storm Shadow attack on a barracks in Yurovka in late May.)
Hunting ammunition stocks is particularly important because it will cripple Russian artillery fire, which, in combination with minefields and concealed anti-tank fighting positions, inflicted heavy casualties on advancing Ukrainian mechanized units during a series of attempted breakthroughs in June. Therefore, having a larger availability of SCALP/Storm Shadow is great news for Ukraine, which can now deliver lethal effects in depth on a much larger scale than before. This capability effectively complements the medium range (~70km) of HIMARS-launched GPS-guided rocket munitions (GMRLS), which proved very effective to weaken Russian forces ahead of the successful Ukrainian counteroffensives in Kharkiv and Kherson last year (although Russia has had some success interfering with their GPS systems.)
The provision of the SCALP/Storm Shadow to Ukraine fits into the heated debate surrounding the delivery of tactical missiles (ATACMS) with a range of up to 300km by the US. In the past few weeks, US policymakers have renewed the pressure on the Biden administration to green-light the ATACMS, with some media revealing that a positive decision by the White House could be announced soon. The fact that the UK and France took the initiative on long-range weapons for Ukraine (as with the earlier UK decision to send main battle tanks) is not a merely symbolic step and may have prompted a fresh reassessment within the US government.
The ATACMS, which uses a GPS-aided inertial navigation guidance system, would bring all occupied territories, including most of Crimea, under Ukraine’s strike reach and could be rapidly deployed by Kyiv’s forces given its compatibility with HIMARS and M270 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) family of vehicles that Ukraine already operates. This is a key advantage compared to the SCALP/Storm Shadow, which can be launched only by a limited number of valuable aircraft like Su-27 and Su-24.
However, the SCALP/Storm Shadow may arguably be an overall better solution than ATACMS. Despite being much slower (Mach ~0.9 vs Mach 3), the SCALP/Storm Shadow has the advantages of low observability and a programmable flight path that make it a headache for the air defense crew. Conversely, the ATACMS’ semi-ballistic trajectory and larger radar cross-section significantly increase the chances of early detection and interception by Russia’s long-range, high-altitude air defenses such as the S-400. The counterargument is that the ATACMS’ very high speed gives Russian air defense operators a much narrower window (a few minutes) to react compared to the SCALP counterpart, although the latter can exploit its stealthiness for the same purpose. Russia claims that its Pantsir short-range air defense (SHORAD) systems have recently managed to intercept SCALP/Storm Shadow missiles, although the available evidence is only partial.
The Storm Shadow could also be provided by other European allies like Italy, albeit in small numbers considering the limited stocks, perhaps through a joint initiative with other allies aimed at establishing a sustainable supply of key military capabilities to support Kyiv in the long term. Moreover, the proactive approach of London and Paris could incentivize other countries such as Germany (and the US) to eventually include long-range weapons, namely the Taurus KEPD 350E air-launched cruise missile, with almost 600 currently in the German arsenal. The more long-range weapons, including ATACMS, the higher the chances of success for Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
At the same time, these commitments should invite a careful examination of MBDA’s production capacity for these missiles (along with a vast array of defense systems and weapons from other manufacturers), which at present is limited to the SCALP-EG variant and may take up to two years to be reactivated for both the Storm Shadow and the Taurus.
Federico Borsari is a Leonardo Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), NATO 2030 Global Fellow, and a Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). His main research interests include security and defense dynamics, transatlantic security relations, and the impact of new technologies on warfare.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.