An unnamed US official told Defense One that most Russian warplanes firing on Ukraine are doing so from inside Russian airspace. The official claims that Russia is flying about 200 sorties a day and is mostly launching long-range missiles from its airspace.
In comparison, the US official said Ukraine, which has 56 operational warplanes, has been flying between five and 10 sorties on average each day. The official said Ukraine is avoiding flying frequent sorties because Russia’s surface-to-air missiles, known as SAMs, can shoot down planes in all areas of Ukraine.
The official said Russia has shown “a general risk aversion and a cautiousness in the air” despite its country-wide SAMs coverage. Ukraine has some air defenses of its own, and the US and its NATO allies are working to bolster them.
If the US official’s assessment of the situation is correct, it highlights the danger of the US and NATO imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pleading with the West to “close the sky” over Ukraine even though it would mean direct fighting between the US and Russia, which could quickly spiral into nuclear war.
Hawks in the US have called on the Biden administration to impose a “limited” no-fly zone in Ukraine. But since Russian warplanes and SAMs can hit targets across the country from inside Russia, a “limited” no-fly zone is impossible.
In order to impose a no-fly zone, the US and NATO would need to shoot down the Russian warplanes that are operating inside Russian airspace and would have to take out Russia’s SAMs and other air defenses. There’s no way a no-fly zone could be “limited” or not involve the US directly entering the war.