Ukraine could be on the cusp of getting Germany’s Taurus long-range cruise missiles, possibly giving Kyiv the edge it needs to move its ongoing counteroffensive firmly into Russian-controlled Crimea.
As German politicians in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s own party speak up in favor of providing Taurus missiles to Ukraine—something Kyiv has been requesting for months—attention is turning to the longer-range capabilities Taurus and U.S.-made ATACMS ballistic missiles could provide.
A German Defense Ministry spokesperson told Newsweek on Monday they could not give any new information on the transfer of Taurus systems to Ukraine, referring to comments from German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on August 3.
“We are still of the opinion that right now this is not our top priority,” Pistorius said on Thursday. “We are not the only ones not delivering. Our American allies are not supplying these cruise missiles either. Ours have a special range. The time for us to make a decision has not yet come.”
But Taurus missiles, broadly the same as Anglo-French Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missiles, could give Ukraine the edge in contesting Russian control in Crimea, an expert has told Newsweek.
The U.K. said in May it was sending Storm Shadows, a promise followed by France in mid-July. Experts quickly said the missiles would allow Ukraine to strike further into Russian-held territory, complicating Moscow’s air defense plans.
Although Storm Shadows are very close in design to the Taurus, the latter’s “slightly improved warhead design” would make it a better weapon for targeting bridges, according to Fabian Hoffmann, a doctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo in Norway.
Russia has blamed several attacks on bridges in the annexed Crimean peninsula on Ukraine, and specifically on U.K.-supplied Storm Shadow missiles. On Sunday, the Russian-backed governor of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region said Kyiv had fired 12 Storm Shadow missiles at two bridges linking mainland Ukraine with Crimea. Unverified footage showed holes in the bridge, with Russian media and officials reporting temporarily paused traffic. Russia has also accused Ukraine of attacking the Kerch Bridge, connecting Russia to Crimea, with naval drones.
But ultimately, “these attacks on bridges using Storm Shadow have not been terribly effective, it seems,” Hoffmann told Newsweek. Although it is difficult to tell from photos and available footage, Storm Shadow strikes appear to have damaged the bridges, but not taken them out for long periods of time.
Storm Shadow missiles manage to penetrate the first layer of the bridge, but fail to critically damage its structure, Hoffmann said. The Taurus, however, could have a secondary warhead which detonates once the initial blast gets through the first layer, he said. The second warhead “explodes in the pillar, which then of course maximizes the destructiveness and can really cause significant damage to a bridge.”
“This is one area where the Taurus could provide a qualitative edge,” Hoffmann said, adding the Storm Shadows are “90 percent the same missile” as the Taurus.
“Both missiles have good accuracy, the difference lies in the precise design of the warhead, which in both cases is engineered for attacking bunkers rather than bridges but has the capacity to destroy a lot of concrete,” military expert David Hambling told Newsweek on Monday. How effective the Taurus or Storm Shadows could be depend on how Ukraine would use them, such as targeting the supports of bridges or roadways, he said.
Destroying the various bridges in Crimea could choke off Russian supplies to the peninsula. The Chonhar Bridge stretches from Russia’s military logistics hub at Dzhankoi to Melitopol, the Russian-occupied city in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region.
Dzhankoi is home to one of “the most important Russian military airfields in Crimea,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence has previously said, as well as being a “key road and rail junction” vital for supplying Russia’s troops in southern Ukraine.
Sending the Taurus would bolster Ukraine’s long-range strike capabilities, as the missiles only slightly differ from Storm Shadow missiles.
Both are made by European missile manufacturer, MDBA, were developed in tandem and have almost identical uses Hoffmann said. They are equipped with the same navigation systems, with marginal improvements made to the Taurus and a different engine, he added.
The exact ranges of the missiles are not known. Officially Storm Shadows can reach around 155 miles, although experts suggest this may be lower than its true capability.
The range of the Taurus missiles is touted as in excess of 310 miles, but some parliamentary discussions have suggested its real range could be 430 miles, Hoffman said.