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Why Ukraine wants Germany's Taurus missiles

March 15, 2024

Ukraine is seeking Germany's Taurus missile to bolster its defenses against Russia. What can this long-range precision weapon do?

Taurus missile and Tornado plane
Taurus are equipped with laser rangefinders and infrared seekersImage: Bernhard Huber/MBDA

The Taurus KEPD-350 missile, which Germany may send to Ukraine, is considered to be one of the most modern weapon systems in use by the German military, the Bundeswehr.

The missile is 5 meters long (16.4 feet), weighs 1.4 tons and is fired from the air by fighter jets. It then travels at speeds of up to 1,170 kilometers per hour (727 miles per hour) — that's almost the speed of sound — to find a target that can be as far as 500 kilometers (310 miles) away.

This long-range missile flies at an altitude of only 35 meters, which makes it almost impossible for radar systems to detect.

How does the Taurus find its target?

Taurus uses four independent navigation systems to stay on course. The satellite-supported GPS system is shielded against attempts to jam it. With what is known as terrain-referenced navigation, Taurus scans the ground and compares the images with previously stored data.

Taurus missile about to hit a bunker
Taurus missiles hit their targets from above in a vertical nosediveImage: Luftwaffe

With image sensors, Taurus can use bridges, rivers or crossroads for orientation. And Taurus determines its position by constantly measuring its own movement.

What is targeted with Taurus?

Taurus is used against what the German Air Force refers to as "high-value targets," which would include bunkers or command posts from which enemy troops control operations. The missile is able to penetrate several reinforced concrete walls. When it reaches its target, the missile climbs steeply and then hits from above in a vertical nosedive.

Before the actual warhead explodes, a charge blasts through the bunker's outer walls. This metal penetrator, weighing 400 kilograms (880 pounds), uses sensors to measure how much resistance it has to overcome. Taurus can penetrate several floors of a bunker before the actual warhead explodes.

How many Taurus missiles could Germany deliver?

As many as 150 to 300 of the Bundeswehr's 600 Taurus missiles could quickly be ready for use. Their unit price stands at around €1 million ($1.1 million).

Bundeswehr Tornado carrying Taurus missiles
The German Air Force can equip Tornado jets with Taurus missilesImage: Andrea Bienert/Bundeswehr/dpa/picture alliance

The Bundeswehr's Taurus are designed to be used with Tornado jets, and the missile, which was developed by the European missile company MBDA, would first have to be adapted to the fighter jets used by Ukraine's Air Force.

How would the Ukrainian army use the Taurus?

Ukraine could use Taurus missiles against Russian positions far behind the front line, destroying supply routes and command centers or hitting targets in Russian-occupied Crimea.

With "Storm Shadow" from the UK and the "Scalp" cruise missiles from France, the Ukrainian army already has similar weapon systems — but with a shorter range.

How Russia uses Western tech in bombs bound for Ukraine

It is possible that Germany may technically limit the range of the Taurus before it is delivered. The government in Berlin has been reluctant to provide Ukraine with weapons that could attack targets on Russian territory, fearing a further escalation of the war.

Moscow has repeatedly warned against the delivery of weapon systems such as the Taurus or the US ATACMS to Ukraine. However, it already uses long-range missiles to attack Ukrainian cities.

In Germany's three ruling parties and also among parts of the opposition, however, there are repeated calls for the "Taurus" cruise missiles to be delivered soon. The argument is that only with these would Ukraine have a chance of fending off the Russian attackers. However, experts agree that the weapon system would not bring about a real turnaround in the course of the war. 

This article was originally written in German.

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Peter Hille Bonn 0051
Peter Hille Peter Hille is a multimedia reporter with a strong background in African affairs@peterhille