F-16s Scrambled To ‘Shoot Down’ Russian Cruise Missile That Breached NATO Airspace During ‘Biggest Ever’ Attack On Ukraine

The Polish government has announced that it scrambled F-16 fighter jets in response to a Russian missile trespassing Poland’s airspace during a large-scale attack on Ukraine.

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As stated by the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, an “unidentified object,” later identified as a Russian cruise missile, breached Polish airspace in the early hours of December 29, 2023. 

The missile covered approximately 40 km (25 miles) within 3 minutes in Poland’s airspace. “Everything indicates that a Russian missile entered Polish airspace… It also left our airspace,” said General Wieslaw Kukula, chief of the general staff of the Polish armed forces.

Polish and NATO radar systems closely monitored the missile’s trajectory, prompting the redirection of F-16s that were either patrolling the region or, according to certain sources, scrambled in response to the intrusion. 

In an official statement released on X (formerly Twitter), the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces said, “We would like to inform you that on Friday at 7.12 local time, from the side of the border with Ukraine, there was a violation of Polish airspace by an object that left Polish territory after less than three minutes. We identify it as a Russian cruise missile.”

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Polish Armed Forces

“At all times, the missile’s flight path was tracked by radar systems, both Polish and allied. Air defense systems remained ready for use. In addition, F-16 aircraft patrolling the area were directed to the area where the missile crossed Polish airspace.

Additionally, to verify data from radar systems, forces, and resources from the land forces, air forces, and territorial defense forces were deployed to trace the object’s flight trajectory on the earth’s surface,” the Armed Forces added. 

Poland also revealed that, to corroborate radar data, a collaborative mobilization of forces and resources from land, air, and territorial defense forces was launched to trace the missile’s trajectory on the ground. 

The heightened alert in Poland coincided with what Ukraine has described as Russia’s biggest day of air strikes since the beginning of the conflict.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported a total of 158 missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) launched against Ukraine. On the other hand, Ukrainian air defense successfully intercepted and downed 87 missiles and 27 Shahed drones.

Poland Calls In Russian Charge D’Affaires For Explanation

In response to the airspace violation, Poland summoned the Russian charge d’affaires and demanded an explanation while urging an immediate cessation of such actions, as stated by the Polish Foreign Ministry.

Following discussions, Russia’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw, Andrei Ordash, asserted that Poland presented no evidence of a border breach by a Russian missile. 

The diplomat stated, “I was handed a note which contained an unsubstantiated claim that allegedly on the morning of 29th December, an airborne object violated Polish airspace, which Polish specialists identified as a Russian guided missile.” He further noted that no documented proof was provided despite his request.

On December 30, the Polish Military also carried out a ground search around the point where it lost radar contact with the projectile, intending to confirm its belief that the object had not struck Polish soil.

The Poland Defense Ministry later confirmed the completion of the inspection at 3:00 p.m., revealing negative search results. The Ministry emphasized that no threats to the safety of Lublin region inhabitants were identified during the search operation, concluding that further field verification actions are not planned.

Image released by the President of the Republic of Poland. Twitter

On December 29, Defense Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz communicated that he had been in contact with the president, prime minister, and military authorities to gather details about the incident. 

President Andrzej Duda’s office also released a photo capturing an emergency meeting involving politicians and military officials. 

Since Russia’s invasion and the ongoing conflict with Ukraine, Poland has experienced three instances of missiles breaching its airspace. In November 2022, two Polish farmers lost their lives when a missile struck the village of Przewodow near the Ukrainian border.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the cause of the incident was a misdirected Ukrainian air defense missile that had gone astray during its deployment. 

In a less harmful but embarrassing occurrence in December of the same year, an object suspected to be an unarmed Russian Kh-55 cruise missile was launched from Belarus, traversing approximately 500km of Polish territory before landing in a forest. 

Kh-55 Russia missile
Kh-55 Russian Missile

Despite being detected by Polish air defenses at the time, the object, suspected to be an unarmed Russian Kh-55 cruise missile, was only located in April 2023. A passer-by discovered it near the city of Bydgoszcz in central Poland.

In a continuation of these incidents, another unidentified object, believed to have originated from Belarus, entered Polish airspace this year. It was believed to be an observation balloon, and radar contact was lost near Rypin in central Poland.