The Royal Air Force rushed its new MBDA Storm Shadow missile into service during Operation Telic, firing 27 of the weapons against high value Iraqi targets, reportedly including command centres and the ministry of information.
With its terrain reference, inertial and GPS navigation system, and with imaging infrared terminal homing, the Storm Shadow proved extraordinarily accurate - giving those tasked with post-war assessment some problems. In one case, debris had to be minutely examined in order to confirm that two Storm Shadows had in fact gone through the same hole.
Now that Operation Telic is over, the RAF is waiting for the weapon to enter full operational service with great anticipation, and a high degree of confidence.
The RAF has a long record of quickly clearing new weapons and systems for wartime use under what are known as Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs), but this was not necessary with the integration of Storm Shadow, which had already undergone test firings in the USA in January 2003. Instead the existing service introduction programme was simply accelerated, so that No 617 Squadron - the famous 'Dambusters' - flew the first operational Storm Shadow mission on 21 March 2003, the 60th anniversary of the unit's formation.
Although the long reach of Storm Shadow allowed the weapons to be fired some distance from the target, the missions were far from 'milk runs'. On the first mission, the lead pair of Panavia Tornado GR4s (flown by Wg Cdr Dave Robertson, OC 617 Sqn and Sqn Ldr Andy Myers, and by Sqn Ldr Noddy Knowles and Flt Lt Andy Turk) were targeted by an SA-2 SAM during their attack run, forcing them to take evasive action and to use countermeasures. The second aircraft had already been fired upon by another SAM, forcing the crew to take avoiding action and to jettison their external fuel tanks, making the mission 'fuel critical'.
Targets were carefully mapped to ensure that the two-stage Broach warhead exploded in the optimum position, and this ensured the weapon's effectiveness, while minimising collateral damage.
Those listening to the air raids on CNN in the Combined Air Operations Centre were reportedly able to differentiate between the sound of TLAMs, which detonated with a large explosion, and the Storm Shadows, which made a simple thud.
Damage assessment photography tended to show that hardened Storm Shadow targets had been destroyed internally, but were externally marked only by an entrance hole, whereas TLAM targets tended to be in ruins, along with the surrounding streets. The official verdict was that the weapon had proved 'clinical and extremely contained'.
One RAF pilot commented: "I'm just glad the powers that be had the foresight to use what was essentially a developmental weapon in combat operations. Without this weapon we would have had to get very close to some very nasty places."
Source: Flight Daily News