LONDON — Britain has donated Storm Shadow cruise missiles to the Ukrainian air force in a move widely seen as a game changer in Kyiv’s ability to mount long-range strikes against invading Russian forces.

The decision to hand over a quantity of the MBDA-built cruise missiles was announced by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace in a May 11 statement to lawmakers here.

“Storm Shadow is a long-range, conventional, precision-strike capability,” he said. “It compliments the long-range systems already gifted, including HIMARS and Harpoon missiles, as well as Ukraine’s own Neptune cruise missiles and longer-range munitions already gifted.”

The Anglo-French-developed Storm Shadow missile, known in France as Scalp-EG, has a range in excess of 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, and is particularly effective against hardened and buried targets, according to the manufacturer.

The donation of Storm Shadow missiles, many of which are already in Ukraine, means the British are the first nation to supply Kyiv with long range weapons.

Wallace described the government’s decision as a “calibrated, proportionate response to Russian’s escalation” in its invasion of Ukraine.

“These systems are not in the same league as the Russian AS-24 Killjoy hypersonic missile or Shahed Iranian one-way attack drones, or their Kalibr cruise missile with a range of over 2,000 km, roughly 7 times that of the Storm Shadow missile,” Wallace said. “Russia must recognize that their actions alone have led to such systems being provided to Ukraine.”

Wallace said technical hurdles integrating the weapon onto Ukraine’s Soviet-era combat jets had been successfully overcome.

“Having technically cleared the hurdles, and as everyone talks about an expected counter-offense, now is the right time to gift these to Ukraine, and they [Storm Shadows] are now going into or are in the country,” he said.

The British have been signaling for months their intention to donate the long-range weapon to the Ukrainians, and confirmation of the move comes ahead of a long expected offensive by Kyiv against Russian forces occupying parts of the country.

It’s part of a wider Western effort to strengthen Ukraine’s deep-strike capabilities which has recently seen a British-led effort to procure missiles or rockets with a range of 100-300km and payloads between 20kg and 490kg as part of an international funding arrangement.

The Storm Shadow weapon provides the Ukrainian air force with a substantial step up in capability, according to Douglas Barrie, senior air analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in London.

“It really provides Ukraine with a long-range strike capability it doesn’t have,” he said. “It’s in a different league compared with other weapons in Kyiv’s arsenal.”

Storm Shadow has been used extensively by the Royal Air Force, first on Tornado strike jets and more recently the Typhoon combat jet.

The weapon was rushed into operational use against Iraq in 2003 even though it was not officially in service at the time. Since then it has been used in the Middle East and Libya.

Storm Shadow is the second sophisticated Western air-to-ground weapon known to have been supplied to Ukraine since the Russian invasion got underway in late February 2022.

Last year the U.S. integrated HARM AGM-88 missiles on Ukrainian MiG-29 and Su-27 warplanes in a matter of weeks to be able to strike Russian air defenses located in Ukraine.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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