Ukraine and Russia Use the Same Helicopters—And That’s a Problem

Kiev adds recognition stripes to avoid friendly-fire shootdowns

As a former Soviet state, Ukraine still uses Soviet-designed weaponry. That could be a big problem if Russia expands its annexation of Ukrainian territory and the two countries go to war.

During the amphibious assault on Normandy in 1944, the Allies painted vertical white “invasion stripes” on their warplanes to help Allied gunners recognize friendly planes … and avoid shooting them down. Kiev is now apparently doing the same—adding stripes to its helicopters to differentiate them from essentially identical Russian-flown aircraft.

This photo, released in early April by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, depicts an aging Mil Mi-24P Hind-F gunship helicopter belonging to the Ukrainian air force. Its armament is standard—fuselage-mounted cannons plus two pods each packing 20 80-millimeter unguided rockets.

The prominent white identification bands on the rear fuselage are new.

Recent photos of Ukraine’s military helicopters indicate the ID bands are now commonplace. A photo that appeared on newswires on April 15 shows similar identifying marks on a Ukrainian Mi-8 Hip transport helicopter in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.

Other grainy photos, shot from the ground by amateurs using cell phone cameras, appear to depict ID bands on many, though not all, of Ukraine’s helicopters operating in the east.

World War II’s invasion stripes weren’t the only previous examples of special military ID markings. During the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Soviet tank crews painted white crosses on the tops of their turrets and the Soviet air force added two red stripes to its jets’ rear fuselages.

While cancelling the effect of camouflage, ID stripes can help facilitate quick recognition by friendly forces. They’re most useful when the danger of getting shot up by your own side is at least as great as the danger of being detected and engaged by the enemy.

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