Russia adapted to the game-changing HIMARS, but Ukraine’s new Storm Shadow missiles could put the fear back into its commanders, warfare experts say
Jake Epstein – May 20, 2023
- The UK recently outfitted Ukraine with its Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles.
- This new strike capability puts Russian positions far behind the front lines within Ukraine’s reach.
- Experts say Russian commanders are now facing logistical headaches and a renewed sense of fear.
Ukraine’s military just got its hands on Storm Shadow missiles from the UK, and it is already making good use of the newly acquired weapon that significantly boosts Kyiv’s long-range strike capabilities.
Russian forces have already adapted to game-changing weapons that Ukraine introduced into the war last year, like the US-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). Warfare experts say Storm Shadow missiles could spark new logistical headaches for Russia, giving Kyiv a massive capability to put the fear back into Moscow’s commanders who thought they were safe and out of reach.
“It’s going to have a terrible effect on morale for the Russian forces, and officers and commanders who are going to be operating within Ukraine,” George Barros, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, told Insider.
The UK announced earlier this month plans to provide Ukraine with the Storm Shadow, an air-launched cruise missile developed in partnership with France that has seen combat experience in various conflicts across the Middle East. When released from an aircraft, these missiles drop to fly at a low altitude and avoid detection.
Kyiv has long pushed its Western partners for extended-range missiles and munitions able to strike Russian positions behind the front liens and deep inside the occupied territories of eastern and southern Ukraine, but the US and its NATO allies, worried that the weapons will provoke an escalatory response from Moscow, have largely been reluctant to do so, until now.
With an operational range of 155 miles, Storm Shadow will more than triple the distance for Ukraine’s long-range strike capabilities. The much-celebrated HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system that Kyiv obtained from the US last summer can only hit targets up to 50 miles away. With the Storm Shadow, Russian-occupied territory that was previously out of Ukraine’s reach is now in range of its weapons.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told reporters on Thursday that he understands Storm Shadow missiles have been used since they were sent to Ukraine, but he declined to go into any further details. A recent strike in the eastern Luhansk region has reportedly been linked to the new missiles.
It’s going to ‘degrade’ Russia’s war effort
Since the early weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and even now, the Kremlin’s forces have relied on a tactic of carrying out massive artillery barrages to destroy Ukrainian positions and then advancing through the rubble. When this wasn’t possible, they sent human waves into urban environments to make territorial gains at high costs.
When the HIMARS arrived in Ukraine nearly a year ago, they quickly became highly revered among Kyiv’s forces. These truck-mounted and highly mobile systems were used to carry out precision strikes targeting Russian command posts, ammunition depots, and bridges and have been hailed by experts as a “game-changing” weapon.
Ukraine used the HIMARS to degrade the effectiveness of Russia’s battlefield tactic, which depended heavily on Moscow’s ability to stage massive amounts of artillery shells near the front line to sustain a high rate of fire, Barros, the ISW analyst, said. To mitigate their new problem, Russian forces had to move their ammunition back outside the range of the HIMARS to prevent it from being destroyed.
Russia has also shifted key logistics hubs deep behind the front lines, relocated command and control to hardened structures in the rear, and reorganized air defense systems, Jack Watling, senior research fellow for land warfare at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, wrote in a recent analysis on the potential impact of Storm Shadow.
Introducing Storm Shadow to the battlefield will resolve “serious tactical challenges” that Ukraine currently faces, Watling wrote. Its warhead is designed to penetrate hardened targets and its stealth features will help it avoid detection and interception.
Barros said the implication is that Russia’s tactic “will be reduced even further” because it will require the Russians to undertake even more stringent sustainment and protection measures to avoid the missile’s long range. This means pushing ammunition depots and command and control efforts even deeper into occupied territory and away from the front lines.
“It’s just going to degrade the overall Russian war effort,” Barros said. “The Ukrainians are very capable of making the Russians pay.”
‘Afraid for their personal safety’
Beyond forcing the Russians to once again try to figure out how to protect key positions from a long-range strike capability, Ukraine could use its Storm Shadow missiles to instill a fresh sense of fear into Moscow’s commanders who previously thought they were out of range.
Higher-ranking Russian military officials like officers and commanders hanging out deep in Ukraine’s occupied territory might have previously enjoyed a feeling of safety knowing that they were far from the front lines and beyond the reach of Kyiv’s existing firepower range.
But in the blink of an eye, Russian commanders now understand that Ukraine has the potential capacity to deliver a warhead right to their location, Barros said. Needless to say, the Storm Shadow development poses a threat to these commanders, especially because Ukraine has already proven that it’s quite capable of eliminating them, thanks in part to Moscow’s poor command and control practices.
“So the more that these Russian commanders are exposed to Ukrainian fires, I expect their survivability to decrease,” Barros said.
Watling, meanwhile, noted that making Russian commanders “afraid for their personal safety” is an effective way to degrade their battlefield decision-making and priorities.
“Employed well, in conjunction with psychological operations and other capabilities, Storm Shadow offers myriad opportunities to cognitively attack the enemy,” he said. “In this sense, their existence in Ukraine’s arsenal may be as significant as their use.”
The delivery of Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine comes as the country gears up for its highly anticipated counteroffensive, which is expected to be aimed at liberating occupied territory in the eastern and southern regions. While there are speculations over when the offensive will actually begin, Kyiv’s forces have enjoyed some recent territorial gains through counterattacks around the war-torn city of Bakhmut, where intense and brutal fighting has raged for months.
The recent delivery of Storm Shadow missiles calls into question whether the Biden administration will provide Ukraine with surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), a much-sought-after weapon that has an impressive range of nearly 200 miles and can be launched from Kyiv’s existing force of HIMARS.
Should the US eventually send ATACMS, it would not be the first time that Washington has moved to outfit Ukraine with notable military aid following the footsteps of European partners. Britain confirmed earlier this year that it would send Kyiv its Challenger main battle tanks, paving the way for Germany and the Biden administration to eventually do the same with Leopard and American M1 Abrams tanks.