How to Establish a No-Fly Zone Without Starting World War III

In the rotten days immediately prior to World War II, Franklin Roosevelt sought a way to help the nationalist Chinese beat back the Japanese army, which was slowly devouring China with the great assistance of its air force. 

FDR couldn’t send troops without a declaration of war. But airplanes were a different story. He charged one of his aides, Lauchlin Currie, with making it happen. Currie devised a covert operation to send 100 brand new P-40 Tomahawk fighters to China with pilots who were “civilian instructors” and mechanics who were “metal workers.” With the help of William Pawley and his Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, the covert operation emerged as the Flying Tigers

In one move, the United States had aided the Chinese by providing modern aircraft with Chinese markings, using American civilian volunteer “instructors” to take on and beat back the Japanese Army Air Force. In the seven months of their combat flying, the Flying Tigers destroyed 296 Japanese aircraft with a loss of only 14 American pilots.

Why not do the same today for Ukraine, only instead of fighter aircraft, we send drones

The reality is, NATO will not and cannot establish a no-fly zone in Ukraine. In the conventional military mind, a no-fly zone means patrolling the skies with lots of jet fighters. Of course, the first time a NATO fighter shoots down a Russian airplane, the big war will start. 

There is, however, an alternative. It is here christened “the flying robot minefield.”

Because of the onslaught of a huge Russian force, there is no time to reconfigure obsolete MQ-1 Predator drones from the boneyard. 

But we do have 300 MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Why not transfer the entire fleet to Ukraine and paint them with Ukrainian markings? Anything piecemeal, such as a handful of used Polish Mig-29s, would not have the desired shock effect upon the Russian invasion.

If Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Brown starts to whine, he can go over to that olive drab hood ornament, General Mark Milley, and they can find a safe space in the Pentagon basement next to the purple water fountain where they can palaver about next year’s diversity goals.

Meanwhile, lease U.S. Air Force UAV satellite control stations to the Ukrainians and move them to a friendly non-NATO country in the northern hemisphere. Air Force  personnel could be instructors to the Ukrainian operators actually flying the missions. Only civilian contractor personnel would be on the ground in Ukraine training Ukrainians to support the aircraft. 

Next, bring out old-fashioned Marine Corps SATS (short airfield for tactical support) portable airstrips, adapt them for Reapers, and emplace and re-emplace them at frequent intervals to keep from being targeted by Russian airstrikes or artillery.  

Arm each of the Reapers with 12 Stinger missiles and launch flights of four flying in wide line-abreast “combat spread.” The breath of the formation will be set as to optimize the hemispherical kill zone in front of the Reapers. The UAVs would fly at a low altitude and at low airspeed to take advantage of radar ground clutter and the “digital notch” so that Russian moving target indicator radars will have a hard time seeing them.

Meanwhile, flying waaaaay back over friendly territory are even friendlier radar aircraft watching for “bogies” flying across the Ukrainian border. Those aircraft can then satellite the data to the UAV control station and the Ukrainians can maneuver their flight of Reapers as if they were a WWII U-boat wolfpack using rudeltaktik: aim the pointy end at the enemy, wait for him to come into range, unt zen, torpedo los! . . . oops . . . missiles away!

Imagine the fun the Russian Air Force will have dodging up to 48 heat-seeking missiles, at close range, with no prior intelligence as to where the missiles would be, no radar warning receiver alert tone, and—unless they have two large Cossacks with snow shovels in the ass-end, heaving out piles of infra-red decoys—not nearly enough flares.

Think of flyboy Lieutenant-General Sergey Dronov of the Glavnokomanduyuschiy VVS  trudging up to Putin’s office and attempting to explain how he just lost a dozen Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack jets to missiles launched from a position that wasn’t there an hour ago.

We’ll call it the instant fly-all-you-want-but-you’ll-be-sorry zone.

Meanwhile, back at another SATS base full of Reapers, another four MQ-9s are launched with 12 Hellfire missiles each. Again, relatively low and slow. They are on an armed reconnaissance looking for a Russian convoy where they will use the Finnish Motti tactic: Find them, segment them, annihilate them.

Again, waaaaay back over friendly airspace looms another peculiar friendly airplane whose radar can “see” all manner of radar reflective objects, such as tanks, trucks, or artillery. Its satellite links the target coordinates to the Ukrainians in the UAV control station under some palm trees on the Mediterranean coast, and they cue their four Ukrainian Reapers in the general direction of the target. When each Reaper acquires the target convoy and sends back a TV picture of the soon-to-be-hosed bad guys, the outboard Reapers each launch one Hellfire missile, one at the nearest tank and one at the farthest tank. Then in the next 15 minutes or so, the Reapers engage in a kind of robot skeet shoot, leaving smoking debris where the convoy used to be.

We’ll name it the instant drive-all-you-want-but-you’ll-be-sorry zone.

Meanwhile, at another Reaper SATS base, the lumbering beast is armed with a load of golden oldies: 2.75-inch folding-fin aircraft rockets. Except now they have wrap-around fins, a much more powerful rocket engine . . . and they are laser-guided

So what kind of target would be ideal for such a system? 


Yep, those stinking, identical little tents set behind each trio of big squad tents that you will find in every Russian encampment are easy targets to discover with the Reaper’s electro-optical day-night observation system. 

What could be more demoralizing to a Russian soldier than when, in that one moment where he is trying to defecate in a place that is temporarily out of the freezing wind, a laser-guided 10-pound warhead suddenly explodes in the malodorous latrine next to his, sending a giant geyser of human excrement, dirt, canvas, and his unit’s last sheet of toilet paper flying skyward in an ominous brown plume which then thunders down, splattering everything within 100 meters with a horrendous steaming goo? 

Best of all, four Reapers armed with pods of AGR-20s could destroy all the latrines in a Russian brigade in about 20 minutes.

We could dub it the instant use-the-tent-at-your-own-risk zone.  

The Russians have actually thought about this and have developed a toilet-equipped tank, but alas, they haven’t deployed any.

Let the Reapers, you will pardon the expression, doo-doo that for a week and the Russian troops can only mutter, “Same stuff, different day.”

About Mark Sessantuno

Mark Sessantuno, a pseudonym, is a national security expert.

Photo: On March 2, 2022 four Russian fighter jets violated Swedish airspace. SWEDISH AIR FORCE/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images

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