Germany’s Taurus Cruise Missile Could Be The Next For Ukraine

As well as the confirmation that Kyiv is using swing-wing Su-24 Fencer combat jets to launch U.K.-supplied Storm Shadow conventionally armed cruise missiles, and that France will donate SCALP-EG cruise missiles, there is now the possibility that another similar long-range weapon could reach the Ukrainian Air Force in the future. It emerged today that Germany could follow the United Kingdom’s lead and provide Ukraine with conventionally armed cruise missiles, in the form of the air-launched Taurus KEPD 350, according to at least one member of Berlin’s federal parliament.

The Taurus missile, which offers broadly similar capabilities to the Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG, is being pitched as another weapon to strike deep behind Russian lines, and, with large stocks in German storage, it could be potentially available to Ukraine in significant numbers.

Roderich Kiesewetter of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a member of the federal parliament since 2009, and a former general staff officer, is now pushing for Germany’s coalition government to approve the transfer of Taurus to Ukraine.

Taurus would be a “very helpful contribution from Germany,” Kiesewetter told reporters, adding that Kyiv’s allies must supply “everything that Ukraine can use in the combined-arms battle, and which is permissible under international law.”

Kiesewetter, who is the CDU chairman of Germany’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Taurus would give Ukraine considerable “added qualitative value and enable strikes against the Russians’ military infrastructure far behind the front line.” This would be especially important as the planned counteroffensive takes shape, he added. “It increases Ukraine’s combat power,” Kiesewetter said.

Kiesewetter also said he was confident that Taurus could be quickly integrated into the Ukrainian Air Force, as has already been done with the Storm Shadow.

But there is some resistance to the idea from the current German cabinet, composed of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Alliance 90/The Greens, and the Free Democratic Party.

When asked about a possible transfer of the cruise missiles, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius of the SDP didn’t mention the Taurus by name, but said: “I think it’s been proven so far that we don’t permanently proceed in a certain direction or draw red or white lines.” He added that Ukraine should be provided with significant support, but responsibly.

It’s clear, however, that the United Kingdom’s delivery of an undisclosed number of Storm Shadows to Ukraine, and France’s promise of the very similar SCALP-EG, is prompting thought among German lawmakers about a similar transfer of Taurus missiles.

According to reports, the German military acquired around 600 Taurus missiles of which only around 150 are kept at operational readiness at any given time. Each of those missiles cost around $1 million, around 10 years ago.

A German Tornado IDS during a test launch of the Taurus missile in South Africa. Bundeswehr/Adolfs

What’s more, there has so far been no real progress in adapting Germany’s Eurofighter EF2000 fighter jets to carry the missile. Instead, it’s exclusively carried by Germany’s fleet of Tornado IDS strike aircraft, which are headed for retirement around 2030, to be replaced by F-35A stealth jets. The long-term plan for Taurus is currently unclear.

A German Eurofighter EF2000 jet seen carrying a pair of Taurus cruise missiles, but the capability to employ them from EF2000s was never fully developed. Philipp Hayer/Wikimedia Commons

As for the missile itself, Taurus is the product of a joint venture between MBDA Deutschland of Germany and Saab Dynamics of Sweden. The missile reportedly has a range of more than 300 miles, putting it in Category II of the Mobile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This is an international guideline that covers various rockets and missiles with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) or more. In its export configuration, Storm Shadow has an officially stated range of over 155 miles, although the British examples are understood to have a much greater range, in the region of 350 miles.

Designed to penetrate air defenses via a very low-level terrain following flight, the turbojet-powered Taurus missile carries a 1,060-pound dual-stage warhead, known as MEPHISTO. This is similar in concept to the BROACH warhead in Storm Shadow, which uses a precursor charge to punch through hardened structures followed by the main change that can be fuzed for penetration mode when required, meaning it detonates after breaching the target. The MEPHISTO warhead can even be programmed to detonate on a specific pre-selected floor of a given building.

The missile guidance system is based on an inertial navigation system (INS) that is continuously provided with GPS updates. There is also an image-based terrain reference sensor, which provides the capability to attack what the manufacturer describes as “semi-stationary targets.”

The United Kingdom has confirmed that Ukraine has already used the Storm Shadow in combat and, depending on the number of these missiles delivered, the stocks could become depleted fairly rapidly, especially as Ukraine seeks to target rear areas of the battlefield. These would include supply lines, ammunition and fuel depots, command posts, and radar installations. You can read more about the potential target sets for Ukraine’s air-launched cruise missiles in our previous report on the Storm Shadow’s capabilities.

With that in mind, and with the delivery of the Storm Shadow having broken the taboo of providing Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles, the transfer of Taurus becomes a compelling argument, at least for its proponents. In particular, it seems that Germany has hundreds of these missiles stored, with little prospect that it will require them for operational use any time soon.

A Taurus missile in flight, with the pop-out wings above the body seen deployed. Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images

It seems that Kiesewetter’s words in favor of sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine were intended to start a discussion within NATO and the European Union, as they came as EU defense ministers met in Brussels to discuss joint military support for Ukraine. In particular, the EU is looking to avoid bottlenecks in the supply of weapons to Ukraine and to deliver arms that are relevant to launching new offensives against Russia. The Taurus missile would appear to fit those parameters, but any final decision on supplying it would need to be made in Berlin.

Since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, however, the German government has grappled with decisions over which weapons from its own stocks should or should not be provided to Kyiv.

Most notably, the issue of approving the transfer of Leopard 2 main battle tanks from the stocks of third-party countries became an intense subject of debate. Ultimately, Berlin gave the green light to other countries supplying these tanks to Kyiv and then provided 18 Leopard 2A6 variants from its own stocks.

Should Germany approve the transfer of Taurus, it’s possible that more examples of the missile could be supplied by Spain, which acquired the weapon to arm its fleet of EF-18 Hornet fighter jets. There is a precedent for this, with France following up the United Kingdom’s Storm Shadow deliveries with a commitment to supply Ukraine with the SCALP-EG missile from its own stocks.

The only other Taurus operator is South Korea, which integrated the specific KEPD 350K version on its F-15K Slam Eagles, and will introduce a further development of the missile for the new-generation KF-21 Boramae, something you can read more about here. MBDA also says the Taurus missile can also be easily integrated on the F-16, which is something that might be of particular interest to Ukraine in the future, with a multinational pilot training program for that type quickly taking shape, amid moves to source these aircraft for the Ukrainian Air Force.

A South Korean F-15K fighter jet flying with a Taurus missile during an exercise on September 12, 2017, in Taean-gun, South Korea. Photo by South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images

As we have discussed before, the fact that Ukraine is now using Storm Shadow cruise missiles — apparently aboard Su-24s — could well help open the door to other weapons in the same category. While Germany might not be the next nation to throw its hat into the ring, there is no shortage of other operators of air-launched standoff weapons (not least the United States, with its own massive stockpile) that could also supply Ukraine with similar kinds of weapons.

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