Russia Has Captured Europe’s Most Advanced Cruise Missile: Implications of the Storm Shadow in Moscow’s Hands

An Anglo-French Storm Shadow cruise missile has been captured largely intact by Russian forces in Ukraine, as confirmed by footage released since July 5. The air launched missiles were provided to Ukraine by the United Kingdom from May, and have been integrated onto the country’s fleet of Soviet built Su-24M strike fighters allowing them to engage targets significantly deeper behind Russian lines. The subsonic missile class is prized for its stealth capabilities, its precise satellite guidance and its precision strike capabilities, and makes extensive use of components and technologies from the United States. It is relied on very heavily by several of NATO’s European member states to conduct air strikes, as demonstrated by the large proportion of strikes in Syria in 2018 which were conducted using Storm Shadows. Where in Syria Russia was reported to have used its electronic warfare capabilities to bring down American Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were subsequently sent to Russia for study, the capture of the Storm Shadow will provide further opportunities to study Western cruise missile technologies and develop appropriate countermeasures. This information could be highly useful not only to Russia but also to several security partners which similarly perceive threats of potential attacks from European states, such as China, North Korea, Belarus and Algeria. With electronic warfare also speculated to have been used to bring down the missile, the techniques applied are likely to be studied in detail if this was the case.

The Storm Shadow missile was captured by Russian servicemen from the Tsar’s Wolves unit, with state media confirming on July 7 that it had been handed it over to specialists for examination. Head of the Tsar’s Wolves military and technical centre Dmitry Rogozin stated regarding the capture: “I’m glad it was our unit that did it. Now our air defence will shoot this thing down, and it will gradually become useless… The missile was dismantled into several parts by our technicians right on the battlefield, the high-explosive and shaped-charge parts separately, and the control unit separately, while the wing was folded up for easy transportation.” He added that while it took two days to remove the missile, this process was particularly dangerous as “a functioning GPS tracker was there, which could have directed the strike team to the opponent. Even though we blocked it, our fighters had to relocate all the time and even engaged in battle — the enemy’s sabotage and recon unit tried to catch the car with the rocket and an accompanying vehicle on the road.” This indicates that stopping the missile from being transported into Russia was a specific objective of enemy forces, which include significant contingents of British active duty personnel and military volunteers

The Storm Shadow was designed with an emphasis on long engagement ranges, which has been particularly critical for European states due to their lack of fifth generation fighter aircraft with stealth capabilities. Older fourth-generation aircraft like the Eurofighter or the Su-24M would otherwise be highly vulnerable if engaging a well defended target from close ranges. The missiles use a GPS/INS and terrain reference for navigation, and in their terminal stages rely on high-resolution imaging infrared seekers with automatic target recognition. Storm Shadows are relied on not only for aviation, but also to equip warships as the MdCN variant which was used by the French Navy for attacks on Syrian government forces in 2018. Although Russia has developed fifth generation fighters, serious delays in doing so and the limited numbers in which they are fielded has led it to also place an emphasis on fielding air launched cruise missiles with stealth capabilities such as the Kh-101 and Kh-59MK2.