MS Risk Blog

Deploying the Taurus KEPD 350 to Ukraine – Pros and Cons

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Key Judgements:

The Taurus KEPD 350 is a German-Swedish manufactured modular stand off long range missile system which can be used for precision strikes against hardened, deeply buried and high value point area targets. The missile incorporates stealth technology, carries a highly effective 481kg duel-stage warhead system known as MEPHISTO, has an operational range in excess of 500km. Taurus is designed to penetrate air defences via a very low level terrain following flight and remains the only stand off missile system which can be programmed to detonate on a specific pre-selected floor of a building. The missile system flies at an altitude of only 35 meters, and can reach speeds of up to 727 miles per hour which makes it impossible for radar systems to detect. The missile also comes equipped with four independent navigation systems which it uses to stay on course when in flight, a satellite supported GPS system which has been shielded against attempts to jam it and a terrain-referenced navigation system with image sensors which the missile uses to determine its position when honing in on a target. The Taurus KEPD 350 is evidently a very advanced, effective and operationally beneficial system, and one in which could have the potential to benefit Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia. With Ukraine recently facing shortages of western ammunition as well as shortages of  air defence missile systems, the Taurus KEPD 350 certainly  looks more and more appealing to the Ukrainian military. However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has continuously and repeatedly voiced his concerns surrounding sending Taurus to Ukraine. Scholz argues that sending the missile system to Ukraine would be “irresponsible” and also “a line that I – as chancellor – do not want to cross”. In contrast to Germany’s view, the United Kingdom and France have supplied Ukraine with their Storm Shadow and SCALP cruise missile systems. This begs the following questions: Should Germany supply Ukraine with it’s Taurus KEPD 350 system? What would be the advantages or disadvantages for Ukraine if Germany supplied them with the missile system or chose not to?

The Taurus KEPD 350 has the potential to be a game changer for Ukraine in its war against Russia. From an operational perspective, if Germany choose to give the green light in supplying these missiles to Ukraine it would be advantageous to Ukraine as the missile system would have the potential to strengthen and bolster Ukraine’s own defensive capabilities whilst simultaneously offering Ukraine the advantage of being able to launch long range precision strikes against Russian targets from over 500km away. The UK’s Storm Shadow and France’s SCALP missile systems have a range of less than 300km. The Taurus’ longer range of 500km would be beneficial to Ukraine because it would allow Ukraine to engage Russian targets from a safe distance which would likely be well beyond the reach of most Russian air defence systems. Taurus’ longer targeting range in combination with MEPHISTO, would enable Ukraine to have the capability to conduct a variety of strikes on a range of Russian strategic and tactical targets, thus giving Ukraine the potential to destroy Russian defence systems that Ukraine previously may not have been able to target with Storm Shadow or SCALP missiles. Ukraine could potentially target Russian positions far behind the front line and could use the missile system to strike targets in Russian-occupied Crimea. The combination of the Taurus KEPD 350’s stealth technology and its low level terrain flights which are conducted at high speeds would arguably give Ukraine the ability to launch an conduct surprise strikes on Russian high value targets which are well fortified and protected without alerting Russian defence or radar systems. Another operational  advantage for Ukraine would be that if Germany chose to send these missiles over, it would allow Ukraine to have the capability to install them on various aircraft, ground and sea platforms therefore offering Ukraine a significant operational advantage as well as valuable strategic flexibility which are two very important assets for the Ukrainian military as it currently finds itself in an operationally challenging conflict environment. Overall, these advantages demonstrate that the Taurus KEPD 350 would be a potent addition to Ukraine’s armed forces.

On the other hand, the decision to supply and deploy the Taurus KEPD 350 missile system to Ukraine has a risk of escalating the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The missile system is sufficiently far reaching and it could  hit  targets deep inside Russia, which could make the Kremlin view Germany and by extension NATO becoming more involved in the war. Russia has repeatedly warned against the delivery of the Taurus weapon system to Ukraine. Therefore it is highly likely that their deployment to Ukraine would coincide with a noticeable and sharp surge in Russian escalation of the conflict. Germany’s decision not to deploy Taurus could also be operationally detrimental to Ukraine in the short term as it could enable Russian forces to advance deeper into Ukraine, enabling them to occupy, annex and control more territory without worrying about far away Russian targets   as the ones that are outside of the range of the Shadow Storm and SCALP missiles would be largely safe to some degree. A small  disadvantage would be that if the Taurus system was given to Ukraine, the integration of the long range missile system onto the SU-24M would take up to six months. It would take two months to install the missile on the jets and up to four months to prepare the personnel involved in the use of the weapons. The Taurus KEPD 350 can also be installed on F-16’s. Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium have promised to give Ukraine 45 F-16’s over the course of 2024 and into 2025. Experts predict that the missile would take up to twelve to eighteen months to integrate onto the F-16. This presents a small disadvantage operationally to Ukraine because they wouldn’t be able to install the missile on their aircraft immediately, which would be arguably beneficial for Russia. Another disadvantage of handing over the missile system to Ukraine is that there are also very few copies of the Taurus’ complex data which are needed to program the missile. Therefore if Germany handed over these missiles to Ukraine it is likely that it would lose access to the scarce complex data material which makes it a risky move for Germany. Germany also believes that the missiles could only be deployed using soldiers from the Bundeswehr, which would run the risk of dragging Germany into the war against Russia.

With the operational advantages and disadvantages in mind, should Germany send the Taurus KEPD 350 to Ukraine? Despite offering various tactical and strategic advantages for Ukraine, the deployment of the Taurus missile system to Ukraine would undoubtably raise Russian aggressiveness and could provoke Russia to pursue an escalation of the contemporary conflict, which would present a variety of issues to Ukraine and her NATO allies both now and in the near future. Moreover, the deployment of the missiles have been assessed in Germany as being unable to be deployed or used responsibly by without the deployment of German soldiers. This in combination with a large amount of the German public supporting the decision not to send these missiles to Ukraine makes it painfully clear that the decision to deploy Taurus to Ukraine is one which should ultimately not go ahead despite the military advantages that it would provide Ukraine. However, if Russia keeps advancing into Ukraine, and Ukraine continues to struggle to gain vital western ammunition supplies then a line may have to be crossed for Germany in the future in which it may be forced to play its hand and deliver the missiles to Ukraine. What is certain is that currently these missiles will remain in German hands and will not be deployed to Ukraine despite the operational advantages and benefits they could offer the Ukrainian military. The operational and strategic environment on the battlefield is always subject to change but as Sun Zu in the Art of War notes, one must “Ponder and deliberate before you make a move”.