The number of Russian aircraft shot down over Ukraine since the start of the invasion in February 2022 has been difficult to verify conclusively. However, estimates indicate that Ukraine has shot down a substantial number of Russian planes and helicopters. In the opening days and weeks of the war alone, Ukraine claimed to have shot down multiple dozens of Russian aircraft.
What types of Russian aircraft have been shot down?
Russia has lost various types of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in Ukraine. This includes fighter jets like the Su-34 bomber, Su-25 attack aircraft, and Su-30 multirole fighter. Ukraine has also downed transport planes like the Il-76, as well as rotary-wing aircraft like the Ka-52 attack helicopter and Mi-24 attack helicopter.
Notable Russian aerial losses
Some of Russia’s most notable aerial losses include:
- March 5: A rare Su-34 fighter-bomber was shot down by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile.
- March 12: An Il-76MD transport plane was destroyed at Kherson airport.
- March 16: Ukrainian forces destroyed a Ka-52 attack helicopter with a portable anti-aircraft missile.
How many Russian planes and helicopters has Ukraine shot down?
According to Ukrainian official estimates, around 300 Russian aircraft have been downed as of November 2022. This includes both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. However, exact numbers are difficult to independently confirm.
In the initial month of fighting alone, Ukraine claimed to have shot down over 150 Russian planes and helicopters. The numbers of downed aircraft have kept steadily increasing as the war has dragged on.
For its part, Russia has only acknowledged limited aircraft losses. As of March 2022, Russia admitted to just under 50 aerial losses.
Data on claimed Russian aerial losses
Here is a table summarizing Ukraine’s estimated counts of Russian aircraft shot down by month, according to reporting in The Kyiv Independent newspaper:
|Month||Number of Russian Aircraft Shot Down|
As these data indicate, the pace of downed aircraft has slowed in recent months as the ground war has stalled to some degree. However, Ukraine continues to shoot down Russian aerial assets on a regular basis.
What tactics and weapons are Ukraine using?
Ukraine is downing Russian aircraft with a mix of anti-aircraft weapons provided by Western allies and its own Soviet-era systems.
- Portable surface-to-air missiles like the Stinger and Starstreak
- Vehicle-mounted air defense systems like the S-300
- Anti-aircraft artillery
- Fighter jets and ground attack aircraft
Ukraine’s air force has managed to stay active despite Russia’s larger numbers, allowing it to directly engage and shoot down Russian planes. Meanwhile, air defense units using a range of missiles and artillery have targeted aerial assets from the ground.
Notable air defense weapons
Some of the most impactful air defense weapons provided to Ukraine include:
- FIM-92 Stinger: Infrared homing portable missile with a range of 5 miles.
- SA-15 Gauntlet: Mobile short-range missile system capable of shooting down helicopters, aircraft, and drones.
- S-300: Long-range surface-to-air missile system effective against aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missile threats.
Using these and other assets, Ukraine has effectively targeted Russian aircraft and denied Russia air superiority.
What has been the impact of Russian aerial losses?
Russia’s losses of aircraft and helicopters have had several notable impacts:
- Denied Russia air superiority over Ukraine’s skies
- Forced Russia to change tactics and rely less on aircraft
- Limited Russia’s ability to provide close air support for ground troops
- Hindered Russia’s efforts to destroy Ukraine’s air defenses and infrastructure
- Boosted morale among Ukraine’s forces and civilians
The steady downing of Russian aircraft has prevented Russia from freely operating over Ukraine. This has reduced bombing efforts while boosting Ukraine’s defenses.
Some of the strategic effects of aerial losses for Russia include:
- Avoiding Ukraine’s airspace due to anti-air threats
- Inability to destroy key Ukrainian infrastructure
- Reliance on standoff missiles versus air strikes
- Shift to using older aircraft and munitions to limit losses
Together, these impacts have undermined a key element of Russia’s strategy in Ukraine.
Could more advanced Western air defenses shoot down more Russian planes?
Providing Ukraine with more advanced Western air defense systems could potentially help it shoot down Russian aircraft at an even higher rate.
Advanced systems like the Patriot missile defense battery have greater range, precision, and target discrimination compared to Soviet-era systems like the S-300. Integrating intelligence and data links could also make Western systems more effective.
However, air defense systems have not shot down every Russian plane or missile. Russia also employs standoff weapons and tactics to suppress enemy air defenses. Advanced Western systems would be degraded over time if Russia made targeting them a priority.
Benefits and limitations
Potential benefits and limitations of providing more advanced Western air defenses include:
- Increased range and accuracy against aerial threats
- Better integration with NATO military systems
- Enhanced ability to detect and track stealth aircraft
- Require extensive training to operate Western systems
- Risk of loss if Russia heavily targeted air defense sites
- Air defenses can be overwhelmed by sufficient mass of weapons
Overall, advanced Western air defenses would provide meaningful but not complete protection from Russian aerial threats.
By downing over 300 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, Ukraine has extracted a major toll on Russia’s air power. Portable missiles, vehicle-mounted air defenses, fighter aircraft, and anti-aircraft artillery have steadily shot down Russian planes and helicopters. This has denied Russia air superiority while reducing its ability to support ground forces.
Providing additional advanced Western air defense systems to Ukraine could potentially increase its ability to shoot down Russian aircraft. However, Russia retains the capability to suppress air defenses through mass, standoff weapons, and tactics. Ukraine’s demonstrated skill with air defense, in combination with sufficient Western equipment, will remain key to limiting Russia’s damaged but still potent airpower.