The UK has become the first country to provide Ukraine with long-range missiles to aid its efforts to repel Vladimir Putin’s Russian forces.
Ukraine has been asking for fighter jets and longer-range missiles for months as it prepares to launch its long-awaited counter-offensive amid fears its conflict with Russia is stalling.
The Kremlin had warned that if Britain provided missiles, it would require “an adequate response from our military”.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the House of Commons that the Storm Shadow cruise missiles were “now going in, or are in the country itself.”
“We simply will not stand by while Russia kills civilians,” Wallace said.
“The donation of those weapon systems gives Ukraine the best chance to defend itself against Russia’s continued brutality, especially the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian civilian infrastructure against international law.
“It is my judgment as defence secretary that this is a calibrated and proportionate response to Russia’s escalations.”
The Storm Shadow cruise missile has a range of over 250 kilometres, which Wallace said was a fraction of the range of Russia’s own AS-24 “Killjoy” hypersonic missiles, Iranian one-way attack drones or the Kalibr cruise missile.
Wallace said 23,000 Ukrainian civilians had been confirmed killed or wounded since the start of the war in February 2022, but that the true figure was likely to be higher.
The delivery of the missiles makes good on a commitment made by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Munich Security Conference in February that Britain would be the “first country to provide Ukraine with longer-range weapons,” just as it had committed the first Western battle tanks.
The opposition Labour Party backed the delivery of the long-range missiles, but questioned why it had taken so long.
The Storm Shadow is equipped with a 400-kilogram BROACH warhead. This is a two-stage warhead, comprising an initial shaped charge, which can cut a passage through its target, allowing a follow-on warhead to then penetrate.
Fabian Hoffman, research fellow at the Oslo Nuclear Project with the University of Oslo, said that the warhead on the missile can cut through concrete and penetrate underground bunkers.
“The warhead is where it gets interesting,” he said. “This warhead design allows cruise missiles to achieve the degree of hard-target penetration formerly only possible using laser-guided gravity bombs.
“As such, Storm Shadow constitutes an incredibly effective weapon against hardened targets if it can be brought to its target.”
Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said Ukraine would be able to strike into Russian-occupied territory with the new capabilities.
“The provision of the Storm Shadow air-launched land attack cruise missile will potentially improve greatly the Ukrainian air force’s ability to engage ground targets at long range,” Barrie said.
“This will allow missile strikes deep into Russian-occupied Ukraine, while reducing the risk to the launch aircraft.
“Providing Storm Shadow to Kyiv appears to have been under consideration for some time, given that the integration challenges of using the missile from a Soviet-era aircraft design have had to be addressed.”
The delivery of longer-range missiles comes as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told public broadcasters that he needed more time for equipment to arrive before Ukraine could launch its counter-offensive.
“With [what we already have] we can go forward, and, I think, be successful,” Zelensky said.
“But we’d lose a lot of people. I think that’s unacceptable. So we need to wait. We still need a bit more time.”
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