Ukrainian has been appealing to the US to send the battle-ravaged nation long-range weaponry, especially the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), to strike targets deep inside Russia.
Since there are no signs of this rocket system forthcoming anytime soon, Ukrainian military commentators are discussing other alternatives like the Storm Shadow Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM). After acquiring HIMARS Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), Ukraine has been pressing the US to provide long-range ATACMS to battle Russia.
However, the Biden administration seems unlikely to provide the Ukrainian military with ‘deadly’ ATACMS anytime soon if recent remarks by the Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Miley, are to be taken seriously. The US was initially even reluctant to equip Ukraine with HIMARS.
“Right now, we’re not providing the ATACMs,” said Miley in an interview in March when asked whether the ATACMS long-range missile would become the latest advanced weapon initially withheld from and later sent to Ukraine.
He explained that from a military standpoint, the United States has relatively few ATACMS, “and we do have to make sure that we maintain our own munitions inventories, as well.”
Miley maintained, though, that he would never predict anything on the table, off the table, for the future while making it clear that “there’s a policy decision to date not to, so far.”
However, as EurAsian Times discussed earlier, the British Strom Shadow air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) might be a viable alternative to ATACMS.
Recently, Oleh Katkov, the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian news media company, Defense Express, argued in an interview that the Storm Shadow is actually better than the ATACMS, saying how it would provide more operational mobility and accuracy.
Storm Shadow vs ATACMS
Developed by the European multinational missile developer and manufacturer MBDA, Storm Shadow is designed to destroy bunkers, hardened infrastructure, and other moving or fixed targets.
Likewise, even the MGM-140 ATACMS, which is a tactical ballistic missile manufactured by Lockheed Martin, can be used to destroy high-value targets over long distances. Also, it can be fired from the M142 HIMARS or the M270 MLRS, both of which Ukraine currently possesses.
The ATACMS can hit targets up to 300 kilometers, whereas the Storm Shadow has an operational range of up to 560 kilometers.
However, the range of the export version of the Storm Shadow missile will have to be capped at less than 300 kilometers to comply with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) restrictions.
So, from the Ukrainian standpoint, there is no difference, after all, when it comes to the range of the ATACMS and the Storm Shadow missile.
However, Katkov argues that Russia has already violated the international agreements on the non-transfer of missile weapons with a range of more than 300 kilometers by transferring the Iskander tactical missile system with a range of 500 kilometers and the R-500 ground-launched cruise missile with a range of around 500-2,500 kilometers to Belarus.
“That international agreement has already been violated by the Russian Federation, and this, in my opinion, opens up the possibility of Ukraine receiving long-range missile weapons with a range of more than 300 kilometers from its allies, and in this case, that means Storm Shadow,” Katkov said.
The ATACMS is tipped with a 227-kilogram warhead, which is significantly less than the 450-kilogram BROACH (Bomb Royal Ordnance Augmented CHarge) warhead of the Storm Shadow missile.
“The warhead of the Storm Shadow cruise missile is twice as large as that of the ATACMS,” Katkov said. “This means the strike on enemy positions will be more powerful.”
Katkov further pointed out that the Storm Shadow missile will provide a much more mobile means of destroying targets inside the enemy territory because it is designed to be deployed via an aircraft.
“One aircraft can work in one day in the east, north, and south. And this will be the standard situation. The (ground-based) ATACMS missile system will not be able to do this physically,” he said.
He further explained that Storm Shadow uses a full range of navigation tools, including satellite, inertial, and DSMAC (Digital Scene-Matching Area Correlation), which relies on an internal database of relevant terrain imagery to help guide the weapon toward its targets.
As EurAsian Times discussed earlier, the missile can also be programmed before it is deployed, giving it a ‘fire-and-forget’ capability, which enables the pilot of the launching aircraft to turn around and fly away after firing the missile before it can be tracked by the hostile air defense systems.
“The integration of this missile is easier because all the data about the target is laid down on the ground, similar to JDAM-ER or HARM,” said Katkov while further noting that the “missile can be launched outside the areas of operation of Russian anti-aircraft missile systems and outside the range of its fighter aircraft.”
“Only in theory can it actually be integrated under the wing of Soviet vehicles — in the fall, there were rumors that such work was underway,” Katkov mentioned, referring to speculations in the past about Polish engineers integrating Storm Shadow missile with Ukraine’s Sukhoi Su-24M fighter bombers.
As per speculative reports, Poland is the integrator country that has undertaken the mission to fuse this British-French weapon with only one Ukrainian Su-24 fighter from the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade because of the high price of the missile (($1.4 million per unit).
In terms of availability also, Katkov said that Ukraine is more likely to get the Storm Shadow missile than the ATACMS.
“Unfortunately, there is no information about the number of units (available). But this missile is in mass production. It is produced and is in service not only in the United Kingdom but also in France and many other countries. That is, the probability of receiving ATACMS is close to zero, and Storm Shadow is probably higher,” said Katkov.
British PM Rishi Sunak had indicated that the UK could provide Ukraine with the Storm Shadow missile during a speech at the Munich Security Conference in February.
“The United Kingdom will be the first country to provide Ukraine with longer-range weapons,” said Sunak, without going into detail about what platform or weapon system the UK would donate to Ukraine to provide it with long-range capabilities.