Defense Media Network

Storm Shadow at War

Storm Shadow is one of a family of air-launched cruise missiles made by MBDA Missile Systems, a European joint venture formed by EADS (France), BAE Systems (U.K. and United States) and Finmeccanica (Italy). Storm Shadow is the British name; in French it is called SCALP EG (Emploi Général, or “General Purpose”). It is based on MBDA’s canceled Apache anti-runway missile, which entered service in 2001 with the French Air Force, However, Storm Shadow carries a unitary warhead rather than dispensing cluster submunitions like Apache.

Storm Shadow can be launched by the RAF Tornado GR4, Saab Gripen, Italian Tornado IDS, Dassault Mirage 2000 and Dassault Rafale. Storm Shadow will be integrated with the Eurofighter Typhoon beginning in 2014, and it will eventually be fitted to the F-35 Lightning II.  The weapon has been sold to Saudi Arabia, and a modified version, Black Shaheen, was purchased by the United Arab Emirates.

617 sixtieth Storm Shadow

Royal Air Force 617 Squadron personnel celebrate the 60th anniversary of the squadron’s formation, posing with a Tornado GR4 armed with two Storm Shadows hung beneath the fuselage. The squadron’s Tornado aircraft fired Storm Shadow missiles against Iraqi airfields during the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. RAF photo by Cpl. Mark Bailey

Storm Shadow is a “fire and forget” missile, and it must be programmed before launch. This requires a mission planning system to provide extremely precise geo-location data and intelligence imagery of the target. As the missile approaches the target after its GPS-guided cruise to the target, it performs a pop-up maneuver to provide the best possible penetration angle. A nose cover is jettisoned, allowing a high-resolution infrared camera to acquire the target. The targeting system then matches the camera image to a stored template of the target. If no valid target is acquired, the missile is programmed to fly to a safe crash point. Typical Storm Shadow targets include command bunkers, radar sites, missile installations and ships in port.

Storm Shadow is carefully shaped to reduce its radar cross section, particularly around the engine inlet duct. The onboard radar altimeter is designed to use “low probability of intercept” waveforms and transmission modes to further reduce the risk of detection.

Storm Shadow won a U.K. contract in June 1996, in competition with designs from six other aerospace teams. The RAF ordered 900 missiles, with an additional 500 ordered by France, and 200 for Italy. The missile entered service with the Royal Air Force in late 2001, and was fired by 617 Squadron against Saddam Hussein’s airbases during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

More recently, Storm Shadow played a leading role during the 2011 air campaign against Libya, Operation Odyssey Dawn, where it achieved the following milestones:

  • March 21, 2011 – RAF Tornado GR4 crews flew an eight-hour, 3,000-mile mission to strike Gaddafi’s radar stations, anti-aircraft batteries and supply lines. Dismissing claims by Gaddafi’s regime that the air strikes had killed innocent civilians, the U.K. defense secretary said, “We are using some very specific types of weaponry to minimize any civilian casualties or other collateral damage.’ Despite the fact that it can be fired from up to 150 miles away, Storm Shadow is accurate to within 6 feet.
  • Aug. 10, 2011 – RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft launched from RAF Marham, Norfolk, to conduct eight-hour round-trip missions over Libya. Armed with Storm Shadow cruise missiles, the six GR4 aircraft flew from their UK base to target Gaddafi’s command and control facilities and air defense infrastructure. The aircraft carried two Storm Shadows each, for a total of 12 missiles used in the attack.
  •  Sept. 12, 2011 – RAF aircraft targeted a military vehicle depot at a regime compound near Sebha. Tornados from RAF Marham in Norfolk fired a large salvo of Storm Shadows, causing severe damage.
  • The French Armée de L’air used an undisclosed number of SCALP-EG missiles over Libya in 2011. Specifically, SCALP/EGs were fired by Rafales against Al Jufra Air Base.
  • Italian Tornado IDS aircraft also fired between 20 and 30 Storm Shadows during this campaign. This was the first time Italy fired the missile operationally, and it had a 97 percent success rate.

Many enhancements have been proposed for this weapon system, although Europe’s financial troubles make it uncertain whether any of these will ever enter service. Storm Shadow strike planners would like to have a data link from the missile to the launch aircraft, or even back to the Air Operations Center. With a two-way data link, it would become possible to re-target missiles in flight, a concern when there is a risk of civilians wandering into the field of view, or when the planned target may have already been neutralized by other weapons.

Storm Shadow on Rafale.

Storm Shadow/SCALP EG carried by a Rafale. MBDA photo by Alexandre Paringaux

As potential adversaries develop more hardened and deeply buried targets; warheads with greater penetration power have become an increasingly urgent requirement. The Storm Shadow’s current tandem-charge warhead can penetrate between 7 and 15 feet of concrete, depending on impact angle and speed. Designs currently under development by MBDA may double this, with little increase in weight.


  • Weight: 1,300 kilograms (2,866 lb.)
  • Length: 5.1 meters (16.7 ft.)
  • Diameter: 48 centimeters (1.6 ft.)
  • Warhead: 300 kilograms
  • Engine: Microturbo TRI 60-30 turbojet, 5.4 KN thrust
  • Wingspan: 3 meters (9.8 ft.)
  • Range: 250+ kilometers (155 mi)
  • Cruise altitude: 30 – 40 meters (98.4 – 131.2 ft.)
  • Speed: 1,000 kilometers/hour (Mach .8)
  • Guidance: Inertial, GPS and TERPROM (Terrain Profile Matching). Terminal guidance using imaging infrared.
  • Unit price: about 900,000 Euro = UK£790,000 = US$1.3 Million