This long-range air-launched and conventionally-armed missile equips RAF Tornado GR4 squadrons and saw operational service in 2003 with 617 Squadron during combat in Iraq, prior to entering full service in 2004. Post deployment analysis demonstrated the missile's exceptional accuracy, and the effect on targets was described as devastating. Based on this performance, it is arguably the most advanced weapon of its kind in the world.
Feasibility studies on a possible UK requirement for a Long Range Stand- Off Missile were originally commissioned in 1982, and work was eventually subsumed in 1986 into the NATO seven-nation Modular Stand- Off Weapon programme. This project was however aborted, and the UK subsequently withdrew. With the end of the Cold War the UK’s continued need for a stand-off requirement was reviewed and endorsed as part of the ‘Options for Change’ exercise. An international competition was launched in 1994 to meet the UK’s Conventionally Armed Stand Off Missile (CASOM) requirement, and seven companies responded.
MBDA (UK)’s Storm Shadow missile was selected, and a development and production contract was awarded in 1997. The French Air Force are also procuring a similar missile, the Scalp EG, from MBDA (France), both weapons being based on the French Apache AP anti-runway missile. The MoD Defence Procurement Agency is also purchasing the Storm Shadow weapon system on behalf of the Italian Air Force.
Storm Shadow is equipped with a powerful UK-developed warhead and is designed to attack important hardened targets and infrastructure, such as buried and protected command centres.
Mission data, including target details, is loaded into the weapon’s main computer before the aircraft leaves on its mission. After release, the wings deploy and the weapon navigates its way to the target at low level using terrain profile matching and an integrated Global Positioning System.
On final approach to the target the missile climbs, discards its nose cone and uses an advanced infrared seeker to match the target area with stored imagery. This process is repeated as the missile dives onto the target, using higher-resolution imagery, to ensure the maximum accuracy.