Should we shoot down Russian missiles in NATO airspace?

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there have been several incidents in which Russian Drones, Helicopter or Rockets invaded Polish NATO airspace. Could and should you simply shoot them down? What technical, military and political reasons speak for or against it? 

Polish anti-aircraft defense

Civilian air traffic could be endangered

The Russian missiles are currently primarily targeted by fighter jets or anti-aircraft missiles. Poland is currently using a mix of American Patriot PAC-3 systems, but also Soviet S-125 and S-200. When it comes to fighter jets, there is also a bizarre mix of old MiG-29s to modern F-35 Lightning IIs. Therefore, the range of the systems and the way in which they can be used varies. Roughly, these cover dozens to a few hundred kilometers. A fairly wide strip along the Polish-Ukrainian and Polish-Belorussian borders would therefore have to be closed to air traffic. If in doubt, 100-200 km. And that permanently. However, this would include the major airports of Warsaw, Kraków and Rzeszów. Or you would have to close some areas at short notice, which is again dangerous because it would have to work safely. In the film, it may be trivial to shoot down the right missile in civilian airspace. In practice it is more difficult. 

Danger of falling debris

If a Russian X-22 missile approaches and is intercepted by an S-300 missile, around 10 tons of material will collide at several times the speed of sound. You can imagine that this causes an incredible field of debris. The debris can be large and heavy and can easily penetrate a residential building. If this were to happen over a residential area, civilian casualties would be very likely.

However, Israel has the same problem with smaller rockets fired at them by terrorists from Gaza and Lebanon. Here, too, the Israeli IronDome system has to decide within seconds whether the missile would hit an inhabited area or not. However, most of the terrorists' rockets fly ballistically, which means they receive a lot of energy at the beginning of the flight in order to take off and then just follow an easy-to-calculate curve. Russia sometimes uses ballistic missiles - but these rarely reach Poland. A cruise missile, on the other hand, flies like an airplane on a path that cannot be calculated. There is currently no way to calculate quickly and reliably enough where which parts would impact. You would have to define areas near the border in advance that are definitely uninhabited and offer enough space for a debris field.

The costs

In order to ensure complete monitoring of the border, several aircraft with appropriate early warning systems would have to be in the air at all times. They should be able to immediately call in fighter jets to shoot down the missiles. Additionally, systems on the ground could cover some areas. But the planes also need to be maintained. So you would constantly need some in the air and others in maintenance. Even then, 100% security would not be guaranteed. These costs would be difficult to convey to taxpayers. Nor would it be possible to explain why impacts are possible despite these costs.

Don't give knowledge to the enemy

What exactly which fighter jet, which missile, which radar and which system can do is not publicly known even today. There is some information, there are empirical values, but everyone involved is silent about the details. Russia has been flying to the edge of NATO airspace for years to test reaction times. They also measure which radars they can detect and where. If weapons systems were continuously used in “war mode,” Russia could collect precise data. In the event of an invasion by NATO countries, Russia would have a large knowledge advantage. 

The risk of escalation

It is repeatedly argued that shooting them could lead to an escalation. Russia threatened the West with atomic bombs, Russian soldiers rape, murder and torture to death every day. They blew up a dam and mined a nuclear power plant. Where exactly should it escalate? We are already at the top end of the scale. 

When Turkey welcomed a Russian in 2015 Fighter jet shot down, which was in their airspace for seconds, no war broke out between the nations.


Even if you want to be a strong government and therefore defend yourself against this intrusion, it is not easy to implement. On the one hand, Russia would be recognized as a huge and permanent threat. This could unnecessarily unsettle the population. You would have to justify high costs and finance them somehow and you would hardly achieve any success. “There is no glory in prevention” is what the Americans call it. Therefore, within the current framework, it makes no sense to shoot down the missiles or drones that briefly violated the airspace. One solution could be to shoot down the missiles in Ukrainian airspace, as the Polish deputy defense minister said suggested today.