But what is this Franco-British missile which hit a Russian navy HQ?

Maxence Glineur

September 27, 2023 at 12:10 p.m.


Storm Shadow 1.1 © © MDBA


The SCALP-EG has been part of the equipment of the Ukrainian army for several months and has already carried out several feats of arms in the conflict between kyiv and Moscow.

The war continues to rage between the two Eastern European countries. A few days ago, the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet came under bombardment, mainly targeting military officials. Located in the Sevastopol naval base in Crimea, the building lies far behind the front lines, and it was not difficult to guess the identity of the weapon used.

Indeed, at this stage of the conflict, only the SCALP-EG allows the Ukrainian army to reach such targets under such conditions. Let us also remember that a few weeks ago, Elon Musk cut off Starlink over Ukraine for fear of a Russian nuclear attack.

A monster of precision

Also known as Shadow Storm in the UK, the weapon is fearsome. Launched from a fighter plane, it can reach buildings with great precision more than 250 kilometers from the shooting site, if not more. On top of that, it travels at a speed of around 1,170 km/h, which is just below the speed of sound.

This is made possible by a combination of tools, including an inertial navigation system supported by an altimeter. This cruise missile is therefore capable of moving without the intervention of an operator and of correcting its trajectory itself by receiving GPS signals at different intervals.

Storm Shadow 2 © © MDBA


Finally, the device can move at low altitude, evading the vigilance of radars and other surveillance systems. All this explains, at least in part, why the machine is capable of going so far behind enemy lines, even if other tools in its arsenal kept secret must also play an important role.

Objective number two: do damage

But once there, the SCALP-EG isn’t just accurate. When it reaches its target, a small explosive charge located at the end of its head explodes, allowing the main charge to pass through the first walls or reinforcements. The missile can thus do more damage than if the explosion had occurred against a wall, while limiting collateral damage.

To better understand the benefit of this approach, Ian Williams, researcher at CSIS (Centre for Strategic and International Studies), draws the analogy with a firecracker. If it explodes in the palm of an open hand, the latter could only be left with a nice burn. On the other hand, if the same hand is closed over the small explosive, the damage will be greater, because the power of the explosion has less space to escape.

State-of-the-art equipment that doesn’t come cheap

Lethal, precise, rather stealthy… This cruise missile with very edgy characteristics was invented by France and the United Kingdom. The latter requested it in the 1990s and selected a project resulting from a partnership between British Aerospace and the French company Matra. The missile activities of the two companies then merged to create MBDA, which has since been responsible for manufacturing the SCALP-EG.


The production of these machines is quite expensive: in 2011, each unit cost the French army around 850,000 euros. This is why the nations that own them generally don’t have more than a few hundred in stock. The weapon was especially used relatively sparingly during the second Gulf War in the 2000s, and during the Libyan and Syrian conflicts in the 2010s, to name just a few examples. Additionally, the SCALP-EG can only be mounted on a handful of combat aircraft, including the Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and now the Sukhoi Su-24.

The appearance of such a tool in the conflict in Ukraine could reshuffle the cards, forcing the Russian army to reposition some of its key elements. However, the French and British cruise missiles were probably only delivered in small quantities, with officials specifying that the operation mainly concerns units which were about to enter the end of their life.

Source : Wall Street Journal

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