May 12, 2023 | Policy Brief

UK Sends Long-Range Missiles to Ukraine Even Though U.S. Refused

May 12, 2023 | Policy Brief

UK Sends Long-Range Missiles to Ukraine Even Though U.S. Refused

British Defence Secretary Benjamin Wallace announced yesterday that London has sent Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine. By leading where Washington would not, the United Kingdom has provided Kyiv with a much-needed long-range strike capability, which can facilitate Ukraine’s efforts to retake Russian-occupied territory.

Speaking before parliament, Wallace declared that an unspecified number of Storm Shadow missiles “are now going into or are in” Ukraine. Separately, London intends to procure an unnamed long-range strike capability for Ukraine through a UK-led multilateral mechanism.

The Storm Shadow is a combat-proven, low-observable air-launched cruise missile designed for pre-planned strikes against high-value fixed targets. The export version has a range of over 250 kilometers and carries a powerful tandem “BROACH” warhead, enabling it to penetrate hardened targets. After launch, the missile descends to low altitudes to avoid detection. It employs an inertial navigation system, GPS, and terrain-mapping, using an infrared seeker and automatic target recognition for terminal guidance.

Ukraine will presumably integrate the missile with some of its Soviet-made aircraft, like it did with the U.S.-provided High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile last year. The Storm Shadow should be relatively straightforward to integrate, but whether that work has begun remains unclear.

Since last year, Kyiv has been begging for greater long-range strike capabilities — with good reason. The Storm Shadow offers over triple the range of the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rounds fired by Ukraine’s Western-donated M142 and M270 rocket artillery systems. Those systems forced Russia to move its supply depots and command posts beyond GMLRS range, degrading its logistics and command and control (C2). Longer-range systems, such as Storm Shadow or the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a ground-launched ballistic missile with a 300-kilometer range, can push Russian logistics and C2 even farther from the battlefield. The Russian Army has proven itself ill-equipped to overcome that operational challenge. These systems could also strike air and naval bases from which Russia launches missile strikes, conducts combat air patrols, and provides close air support to ground forces.

These benefits will both reduce what remains of Russia’s offensive potential and undermine its ability to resist Ukrainian advances. Kyiv has reportedly promised London it will only use the Storm Shadow within sovereign Ukrainian territory. That restriction will reduce the missile’s impact on certain parts of the front, but Ukraine will still have a plethora of high-value targets from which to choose.

London has been a consistent leader among Ukraine’s Western backers, often stepping up when Washington was slow or reluctant to move. The United Kingdom’s provision of the Storm Shadow contrasts sharply with the Biden administration’s refusal to grant Kyiv’s requests for ATACMS. Indeed, some administration officials are reportedly relieved that London’s decision will ease pressure on the United States to provide ATACMS.

The administration should think again. The Storm Shadow’s high price tag — around $1 million per missile — will likely limit the number London can provide, so ATACMS would offer valuable additional capacity. Moreover, ATACMS would also be more survivable. It is fired by the M142 and M270 mobile ground launchers, which Russia has proven unable to destroy, whereas Ukrainian aircraft carrying the Storm Shadow must brave potent Russian air defenses. In addition, the ATACMS rounds themselves are harder to intercept, traveling nearly four times faster than the Storm Shadow.

Most important, ATACMS offers longer range, allowing Ukraine to hold all of Crimea at risk. Notably, the Kerch Bridge, on which Russia relies to supply its troops in Crimea and throughout southern Ukraine, lies at the ragged edge of the Storm Shadow’s range. Ukrainian pilots would need to fly right up to the front line to strike that target — a perilous proposition. ATACMS would be able to target the Kerch bridge with little risk to Ukrainian forces.

London has provided Ukraine with a powerful tool to defend its sovereignty and liberate its territory. Now it is time for Washington to follow suit.

RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery is senior director of the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation (CCTI) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where John Hardie is deputy director of the Russia Program. For more analysis from the authors and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkCMontgomery. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy Ukraine