Ukraine is carrying British cruise missiles with Soviet jets

Miguel Ortiz
Updated onMay 30, 2023 8:47 AM PDT
2 minute read
A left side view of a Soviet Su-24 Fencer light bomber in flight (National Archives)

A left side view of a Soviet Su-24 Fencer light bomber in flight (National Archives)


On May 11, 2023, the UK announced that it would provide its Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles to Ukraine.

On May 11, 2023, the UK announced that it would provide its Storm Shadow weapon system to Ukraine. Jointly developed by the French company Matra and British Aerospace, the Storm Shadow is a low-observable, long-range, air-launched cruise missile. It can be carried by the RAF's Typhoon fighter jet and was previously employed on the now-retired Tornado GR4. In Ukrainian service, the Storm Shadow is being carried by the Su-24 Fencer, a Soviet-era tactical bomber.

An RAF Tornado carrying two Storm Shadow cruise missiles directly underneath its fuselage (RAF)

In February 2023, in response to Russia's long-range strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure, the UK pledged to send long-range missiles to Ukraine. Defence Minister Ben Wallace called the provision of the Storm Shadow a "calibrated, proportionate response to Russia’s escalation." Following this, France announced that it would arm Ukraine with its SCALP-EG, the French version of the Storm Shadow.

The Storm Shadow was updated to be carried by the Typhoon (RAF)

The Storm Shadow weighs about 2,900 pounds and carries a conventional warhead weighing 990 pounds. It measures just under 17 feet in length and nearly two feet in diameter. Powered by a turbojet engine, the missile flies at Mach 0.8 and has a range of approximately 350 miles. The Storm Shadow is programmed with its target information by mission planners. A fire-and-forget system, it cannot be controlled or self-destructed once it is released. Using GPS and terrain-mapping of the area, the missile flies low and fast to avoid detection.

The Soviet-era Su-24 is still flown by Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (National Archives)

When the Storm Shadow approaches its target, it climbs up for its final attack. From altitude, the missile is given the best probability of target identification and penetration. As it begins its dive, the Storm Shadow jettisons its nose cone to reveal an infrared homing camera. This camera scans the area and vectors the missile onto its target using the targeting information that it was programmed with. The Storm Shadow has seen extensive combat use by the UK and France in the Middle East and Africa.

A photo, signed by Ben Wallace, of a Ukrainian Su-24 carrying Storm Shadows (

Meanwhile, the Su-24 that Ukraine is using to launch the Storm Shadow is very much a product of the Cold War. Developed in the 1960s, the Su-24 was produced from 1967-1993. Cutting edge for its time, the Fencer was the first Soviet aircraft with an integrated digital navigation and attack system. No details on how the Storm Shadow was incorporated into the Su-24's weapons system have been released. Russia claimed that Ukraine used Fencer-launched Storm Shadows to attack industrial sites in Luhansk, a city in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on May 13, 2023. Five days later, the UK confirmed that Ukraine had already successfully employed the missile.


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