Explainer: How big is Ukraine’s air force and what weapons do they have to fight Russia

Russia is continuing to advance in Ukraine with devastating airstrikes reported in Kyiv and the north-east city of Kharkiv.

As the Russian invasion entered its sixth day, US senator Chris Murphy said Putin’s troops are preparing for a “long and bloody” siege of the Ukrainian capital, while Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin is engaging in “barbaric and indiscriminate” tactics to target civilians in Ukraine.

It comes as more than 70 Ukrainian servicemen were killed by a Russian rocket attack and dozens of civilians have died in “barbaric” shelling, Ukrainian authorities said on Tuesday, as a huge Russian military convoy approached the capital Kyiv.

To support Ukraine’s aerial defense against Russian attack, the European Union security chief Josep Borrell confirmed that 70 combat aircraft would be donated from multiple countries and stationed on airfields in Poland.

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This map shows the extent of Russia’s attack on Ukraine

(Press Association Images)

“If necessary, they can be stationed on Polish airfields, from which Ukrainian pilots will perform combat missions,” the press service of the Ukrainian Navy said.

However, Nato head said the alliance would not send combat jets, troops or enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine to support Kyiv as it does not want to be part of the conflict.

Although Russia’s military is significantly larger than Ukraine’s in every area, President Zelensky’s forces still pose a threat and at the very least can mount a defense against Russia’s ongoing invasion as the world has been seen in the last six days.

How big is Ukraine’s Air Force?

According to the Flight International 2022 World Air Forces database, Ukraine’s Air Force has 210 military aircraft including 98 combat aircraft.

These consist of Soviet-made MiG-29s and three types of Sukhoi jets.

A Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighter


However, Russia has a significantly larger military airforce with active aircraft totaling 3,863 according to Flight International’s database, with almost 15 times more combat planes than Ukraine.

Despite its smaller arsenal, Ukraine’s ministry of defense have reported that as of 1 March it has downed 29 Russian aircraft, 29 helicopters and 7 air defense units.

How big is Russia’s army?

Since 2014-15, Ukraine has tripled its defense budget in an attempt to improve its military and also comply with standards demanded to join Nato as an entry requirement.

The increased investment has helped Ukraine’s army measure to Russia. It currently has 125,600 soldiers compared to Russia’s 280,000.

However, in terms of total military personnel, Russia trumps the smaller Ukraine with 900,000 active compared to Ukraine’s 196,600.

A Russian cruiser conducting an artillery battle and destroying a mock enemy submarine in Black Sea near Sevastopol


Ukraine also has 900,000 reserve personnel – those who have received military training in the last five years – compared with Russia’s two million.

They have more than three times the amount of artillery, six times the number of tanks, and almost seven times more armored vehicles than the Ukrainians.

The Russian navy operates 74 warships and 51 submarines, compared with Ukraine’s two warships.

Military analysts say Ukraine’s anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses are weak, leaving it highly vulnerable to Russian strikes on its critical infrastructure. They say Russia would also seek to use its superiority in electronic warfare to paralyze its adversary’s command and control and cut off communications with units in the field.

What weapons does Ukraine have?

Several western nations have come to the aid of Ukraine to bolster its military defenses.

The United States has provided more than $2.5 billion (£1.87 billion) in military aid since 2014, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, coastal patrol boats, Humvees, sniper rifles, reconnaissance drones, radar systems, night vision and radio equipment.

Turkey has sold Kyiv several batches of Bayraktar TB2 drones while Britain supplied Ukraine with a reported 2,000 short-range anti-tank missiles in January and sent British specialists to deliver training.

Here’s a list of some of the weapons Ukraine has currently and what they do:

Javelin anti-tank guided missiles

Javelin anti-tank guided missiles

(Creative Commons)

What are they for: The anti-tank missiles use infrared systems to lock their targets meaning troops don’t need to aim.

The missile is capable of flying up to 490ft into the air before connecting with a target.

Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon

Servicemen of Ukrainian Military Forces on the front-line with Russia-backed separatists near Novognativka village, Donetsk region, examine a Swedish-British portable anti-tank guided missile

(AFP via Getty Images)

What are they for: This weapon is another anti-tank missile, of which the UK has donated 2,000 units to Ukraine.

It’s capable of flying at speeds of 440 miles per hour using an inertial navigation system to fly to a target vehicle.

stinger missiles

Lithuania’s military aid including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, delivered as part of the security support package for Ukraine,


What are they for: Latvia and Lithuania have donated stinger missiles which is a Man-Portable-Air-Defense System (MANPADS) that uses infrared homing technology to search and flying strike targets.

It’s been used by Ukrainian forces to bring down Russian aircraft.

Bayraktar TB2 drones

(Creative Commons)

What are they for: The drones supplied by Turkey and is capable of 24-hour flights at an altitude of 24,000 feet (7,300 meters) and carrying a payload of 330 lbs (150kg).

It is capable of carrying out aerial strikes against tanks and bunkers, with a maximum altitude of five miles to avoid enemy machine guns.

The drone can also navigate even if it loses GPS signal, however, it’s unclear whether they’ve been used in Ukraine yet.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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