The Taurus air-launched cruise missile (ACLM) remains a coveted asset for Ukraine, offering unique bridge-busting capabilities that Storm Shadow/SCALP EG and ATAMCS lack. However, Taurus’ strength is also its weakness, as Berlin fears the missile would be used to destroy the Kerch Bridge and escalate the conflict. Despite some claims, Taurus production capacity is not a constraint, says manufacturer MBDA Deutschland.
PRODUCTION LINES CAN BE RESTARTED
Missile manufacturer MBDA Deutschland, the majority stakeholder of Taurus Systems GmbH, revealed that Taurus KEPD 350 missile production can be promptly restarted and even upgraded with the latest technologies.
The ability to reactivate production facilities is a crucial aspect, contradicting the delay attributed by many to limited inventory and cold production lines.
The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) has around 600 Taurus missiles in inventory, but only 150 are deemed operational.
GERMAN FEARS OF ESCALATION BLOCK TAURUS TRANSFER
The primary hurdle in transferring Taurus missiles to Ukraine lies in German Chancellor Scholz’s reluctance to approve the transfer due to concerns that Ukraine might utilize the missile to target the Kerch bridge or targets on Russian territory.
Kerch Bridge is an illegal Russian construction connecting occupied Crimea to Russia. In addition to the “land bridge” via southern Ukraine, the Kerch bridge is the only other link between Russian forces in Crimea and mainland Russia. This renders the Kerch Bridge one of Russia’s most strategic ground lines of communications (GLOCs) in this war.
BRIDGE AND BUNKER BUSTER: PIMPF
Taurus is particularly effective in dismantling buried targets and multi-layered infrastructure, such as underground bunkers, cliffside airfields, and bridges. Its MEPHISTO warhead employs a fuze called PIMPF (Programmable Intelligent Multi-Purpose Fuze), which enables precise targeting of bridge structures.
When attacking bridges, it is desirable to puncture the bridge deck and then detonate into one of the concrete support pillars. Destroying the pillars would cause the bridge to collapse.
Thanks to its void and material counting ability, PIMP can be programmed to explode only after passing through the first layer (e.g., bridge deck) and when impacting the second layer (e.g., pillar).
In contrast, the Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG warhead, BROACH, employs the MAFIS fuze, which is limited by the need to manually time the explosion. This leaves a significant margin of error as it can be challenging to estimate how many milliseconds it will take for the missile to puncture the bridge deck and reach one of the support pillars.
ATACMS AND TAURUS: APPLES AND ORANGES
Many have claimed that the MGM-140 ATACMS in Ukrainian service nullifies the need for Taurus. However, Taurus and ATACMS are radically different missiles, serving distinct purposes.
ATACMS is a ground-launched short-range ballistic missile capable of Mach 3 speed and with a range of up to 300 km. However, Ukraine received a 160-km version.
ATACMS was designed to strike time-sensitive targets (TST) and clear entire grids of enemy forces and equipment. For example, ATACMS’ maiden attack is assessed to have destroyed 6% of Russia’s helicopter fleet.
In contrast, Taurus is an air-launched cruise missile flying low and slow (subsonic speed) and with a 500 km+ official range. The real but unofficial range is believed to be around 700 km.
Taurus, Storm Shadow, and SCALP-EG are unideal against TST and cannot inflict wide-area damage (exceptions apply). These missiles were instead designed for extensively-planned surgical strikes against high-value targets.
Taurus can still play a pivotal role in disrupting Russian GLOCs and command and control (C2) nodes, despite the battlefield’s assessed transition to a positional war, with Ukraine reverting to a primarily defensive posture.
Until a stalemate is truly reached, Taurus can aid Ukrainian counteroffensive actions of opportunities, such as the ongoing efforts to widen the beachhead across the Dnipro River.
In addition, Taurus could also help Ukraine sustain its highly successful missile campaign aimed at rendering Crimea untenable to Russian forces. Ukraine’s recent Storm Shadow campaign led to the Russian Navy- Black Sea Fleet starting to relocate out of Crimean bases into Novorossysk.
The potential transfer of Taurus missiles would most likely come with specific restrictions, both technological and political.
One obvious limitation is the prohibition of targeting the Kerch Bridge. Other modifications could include a shortened range and georestricing the missile to Ukrainian territory.
However, it is unlikely that Germany would prevent Ukraine from employing Taurus missiles against other Russian GLOCs on Ukrainian soil, such as the bridges and roads near Chonhar, Henichesk, and Armiansk, connecting Crimea to Kherson.
Some of these bridges have already been targeted and temporarily neutralized. However, Taurus’ unique bridge-busting ability can affect long-term or permanent destruction.
PROSPECTS FOR TAURUS TRANSFER
The likelihood of Ukraine obtaining Taurus missiles is moderate to low.
While the German Parliament reportedly reached a consensus on Taurus delivery in August 2023, Chancellor Scholz appears unwilling to follow through. Not even the release of ATACMS to Ukraine seems to have changed Chancellor Scholz’s mind. To make matters worst, the latest press leaks suggest that Germany has de facto pulled the plug on Taurus deliveries to Ukraine for now. Officially, the German Government has not rejected the weapon transfer, but German Defense Minister Pistorius made it clear the Taurus file still requires deliberation.
Trend analysis suggests that Ukraine has received most of what it has requested but with varying delays. Germany tends to take the longest in evaluating, approving, and acting on weapons transfers. Taurus, in particular, proves to be a remarkably elusive transfer case, surpassing even the long-anticipated ATACMS in suspense.
By Vlad Sutea
Cover image © Bernhard Huber/MBDA