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ATACMS is Better Than Storm Shadow, IISS Says After Seeing Impact of Both in Ukraine

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Illustrative photo: ATACMS ballistic missile launch in Australia / Photo credit: SFC Andrew Dickson, U.S. Army
Illustrative photo: ATACMS ballistic missile launch in Australia / Photo credit: SFC Andrew Dickson, U.S. Army

The issue is not just theoretical: for Ukraine, getting as many as possible of the most effective weapons is the way to undermine russian plans and come out victorious

1The need for additional long-range weapons for Ukraine from Western countries remains a pressing issue. In early June, Ukraine added domestically made and modified Neptune missiles to its arsenal, using them to strike russian territory. The importance of the topic is further underscored by ongoing media speculation about Germany's reluctance to supply Taurus cruise missiles.

Meanwhile, promising news suggests that Italy may transfer part of its stockpile of Storm Shadow missiles (also known as SCALP and SCALP-EG) to Ukraine. Italy purchased 200 of these missiles in 1997, though the current stockpile is unknown.

Read more: ​Italy Will Give Ukraine the Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles
Storm Shadow / SCALP-EG under the wing of a Su-24M aircraft / Defense Exrpess / ATACMS is Better Than Storm Shadow, IISS Says After Seeing Impact of Both in Ukraine
Storm Shadow / SCALP-EG under the wing of a Su-24M aircraft / Screenshot credit: Ukrainian Air Force

These discussions indicate a lack of consensus among Western countries regarding what types and quantities of long-range missiles should be supplied to Ukraine, and what kind of tasks the weapons should be able to perform.

Amid these debates, an article in the Military Balance Blog by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) offers a different perspective. The authors Zuzanna Gwadera and Timothy Wright argue that the American ATACMS ballistic missile is a better option for Ukraine than the European Storm Shadow/SCALP air-launched cruise missiles. To support the point, they provide the following reasoning.

Firstly, Ukrainian Defense Forces had inflicted successful strikes on russian military facilities in occupied Crimea using ATACMS. The ones most effective to date resulted in the destruction of two MiG-31 aircraft at Belbek airfield, the sinking of the Tsiklon missile corvette, and the destruction of the Kerch ferry crossing. The fact these achievements became possible indicates that the United States of America has supplied Ukraine with ATACMS modifications featuring a range of up to 300 kilometers and equipped with cluster or unitary warheads.

The russian ferry crossing in Kerch after an ATACMS hit on the night of May 30, 2024 / Defense Exrpess / ATACMS is Better Than Storm Shadow, IISS Says After Seeing Impact of Both in Ukraine
The russian ferry crossing in Kerch after an ATACMS hit on the night of May 30, 2024 / Photo credit: General Staff of UAF

In contrast, the export variants of the Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG cruise missiles have a limited attack range of only 250 kilometers. Therefore, the IISS analysts continue, even in terms of the operational range, ATACMS is a much better option than air-launched cruise missiles from France and the United Kingdom.

Next, the experts turn their attention to the carriers for the named Western long-range missiles, specifically, compare their flexibility. Although having more flexible targeting options, the Ukrainian Su-24M bomber adapted for Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG missiles is simply lacking in numbers, forcing the Ukrainian military to weigh each opportunity for attack whether a particular target is worth the risk.

Storm Shadow / SCALP-EG under the wing of a Su-24M aircraft / Defense Exrpess / ATACMS is Better Than Storm Shadow, IISS Says After Seeing Impact of Both in Ukraine
Storm Shadow / SCALP-EG under the wing of a Su-24M aircraft / Photo credit: Ukrainian Air Force

The M142 HIMARS and M270 launchers which deploy ATACMS, have no such shortcoming with an estimated number of 60 units at Ukraine's disposal; their ability to "rapidly emplace, fire and relocate" is another reason to prefer ATACMS over the European air-launched cruise missile.

On a note from Defense Express, we should add that with this analysis, the IISS might pursue not only a purely scientific interest in comparison of the Western long-range missiles but also to persuade the USA to increase the supply of ATACMS missiles to Ukraine.

Read more: Military Expert Analyzes Ukraine's Strikes of ATACMS Missiles on Ferries in Kerch Strait