The United Kingdom and France have supplied Ukraine with powerful cruise missiles, but Berlin is reluctant to do the same.
While German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s hesitations infuriate Kyiv, there are some reasons for Berlin’s caution. To the untrained eye, there is little to differentiate the two missiles.
Both are launched from fighter aircraft, measure about 5 meters long and weigh approximately the same: 1,300 kilograms for the Storm Shadow/SCALP and 1,400 kg for the Taurus. Each has a range of about 500 kilometers and very similar warheads: 450 kg for Storm Shadow/SCALP and 461 kg for Taurus.
So why all the fuss in Germany?
It’s the fuze, according to Fabian Hoffmann, a doctoral researcher and missile expert at the University of Oslo, who researched the different devices each missile family uses to detonate its warhead.
The Storm Shadow/SCALP BROACH warhead system uses the so-called Multi-Application Fuze Initiation System (MAFIS), where the delay between impact and detonation of the warhead is set manually. That makes it difficult to properly target complex objects like bridges, as the warhead may have to first pass through a relatively thin road before hitting the real target: the concrete pillar supporting the entire structure.
The Taurus addresses that problem as its MEPHISTO warhead is equipped with a “void detection and layer counting” fuze called PIMPF (Programmable Intelligent Multipurpose Fuze), which can recognize layers of material and voids and can detonate more effectively buried or multi-layered targets.
“A missile equipped with a void-sensing and shell-counting fuze can therefore cause damage that could previously only be achieved with two or more precisely delivered bombs,” Hofmann wrote, adding that if Ukraine gets the missile Taurus could effectively attack the Kerch Bridge linking Russia itself to occupied Crimea.
That is a key objective for Kyiv, which has tried several times to tear down the bridge crucial to Russia’s logistics and control of Crimea.
But this is also why Scholz is reluctant to supply the Taurus. He recently called the scenario in which Ukraine uses the German missile to bring down the bridge an “escalation of war.” He added that his chancellor’s responsibility is to ensure that “Germany does not become part of the conflict.”
This is not the only issue of concern in Berlin. The Storm Shadow/SCALP and Taurus use a terrain contour mapping system to maintain course in GPS-compromised environments. Berlin is concerned that the Taurus missiles require topographical mapping data of their targets programmed into their guidance systems by Germany.
Gustav C. Gressel, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said: “Ukraine would need more geographic data to launch Taurus than for SCALP or Storm Shadow.” He added that “training Ukrainian soldiers in the process takes longer because it is more sophisticated.”
Gressel said Ukraine could use the Taurus without German troops on the ground. “Technicians from MBDA Germany [the company behind the Taurus design] could go to Ukraine or teach Ukrainians in Germany” how to operate and maintain the Taurus.
But Hoffmann dismissed the argument that helping Ukraine with mapping would be escalatory. He said that much of the topographic data needed for the Taurus contour mapping system is publicly available. Germany is also concerned that a Taurus could fall into Russian hands.
While Paris and London already have a future replacement missile in the works, Germany plans to continue using the Taurus until mid-century. Rather than developing a successor to the Taurus, the platform will receive a mid-life update, which will not alter the missile’s hardware but will integrate “better GPS and other software updates for greater capabilities,” Hoffmann said.
Until then, “Taurus is the only really deep means of attack Germany has,” Gressel said.
There is fear in the Foreign Ministry and the defense industry “that the Russians will get to know Taurus and counter it,” Gressel said. “Or worse, a Taurus can crash unexploded and unharmed somewhere, and the Russians start reverse engineering it.”
The Taurus is also specifically designed to counter Russian air defense systems like the Pantsir and S-400, making it especially interesting for Russian troops to get their hands on one.
Despite Scholz’s fears, there is increasing pressure on him to concede. The United States is already supplying a small number of its ATACMS tactical ballistic missiles to Ukraine; Germany had previously said it would not act on the Taurus until it sent its own missiles.
Senior lawmakers from the Bundestag defense committee and Scholz’s own Social Democratic Party are urging him to change his stance “immediately.”