Royal Air Force Typhoons have used the MBDA Storm Shadow cruise missile in action for the first time, with a pair of aircraft reportedly firing four weapons at cave complexes on March 10. The network of caves, southwest of Erbil, was being used by Daesh terrorist forces.
Once the cave complex had been identified by Iraqi forces as being used by a significant number of Daesh terrorists, two RAF Typhoon FGR.Mk 4s were tasked to conduct strikes in support of ground forces from the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS). The CTS conducted surveillance of the area before the attack to confirm that there were no civilians at risk, and the Typhoon pilots exercised “their utmost care in checking there were no signs of civilians in the area before conducting the strikes.” Following the Storm Shadow mission, surveillance revealed that the “weapons were confirmed to have struck their targets precisely.”
The mission was the first of several strikes against Daesh that week. On March 11, Typhoons conducted further attacks against two additional locations, using six Paveway IV laser/GPS-guided bombs. On March 12, Typhoons struck another group of caves used by Daesh, using eight Paveway IV bombs, and two days later attacked Daesh-held caves in the same remote, mountainous area of northern Iraq, dropping six Paveway IVs.
The Royal Air Force has been conducting airstrikes under Operation Shader since Sept. 30, 2014, as part of a coalition effort to assist Iraqi Security Forces in their operations against Daesh (the so-called Islamic State). Eurofighter Typhoons augmented Panavia Tornados from December 2015, and then replaced the Tornado completely in February 2019 once the Brimstone and Storm Shadow had been integrated on Typhoon under the Centurion program. That milestone ensured that the type was able to employ the key air-to-ground weapons previously used by the Tornado.
Current operations are aimed at preventing Daesh from re-establishing its presence in the country. The caves near Erbil were assessed to be particularly difficult targets and the Storm Shadow missile was selected as the most appropriate weapon for the task.
Storm Shadow was developed for pre-planned attacks against high-value fixed or stationary targets, and has a multi-stage BROACH (Bomb Royal Ordnance Augmented Charge) warhead. This bunker-busting 990-pound (450-kg) warhead consists of an initial penetrating charge, with a variable-delay fuze to control detonation of the main warhead. It was originally developed by BAE Systems Global Combat Systems Munitions, Thales Missile Electronics, and QinetiQ (a consortium dubbed Team BROACH).
The 2,900-pound missile is powered by a 1,214-l-pound-thrust Turbomeca Microturbo TRI 60-30 turbojet and has an operational range of more than 300 nm while flying a lo-lo fly-out/attack profile, though the Storm Shadow’s formidable stand-off range was not required in this instance.
The weapon is programmed before launch, and its targeting cannot be changed in flight. The missile navigates its approach semi-autonomously, guided by GPS and terrain-mapping, while avoiding known defenses. Close to the target, the missile climbs, identifies the target with its high-resolution thermographic camera, before pushing into a dive. If the target cannot be identified, and there is a high risk of collateral damage, the missile will fly to a pre-planned crash point.