There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Non-Kinetic’ No-Fly Zone

Taking down jets with mythical weapons that do not exist, would still be taking down jets.
Image: Russian fighter jet in flight. Anna Zvereva photo.

On March 7, Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich tweeted a thread of various Ukraine and defense updates. Among the news of arms shipments and jet fighters was a curious update on the position of some members of congress—they wanted to establish something called a “non-kinetic no-fly zone.” It’s an absurd phrase for a number of reasons, but the gist is some members of the U.S. legislature want to use mythical weapons to achieve an act of war without suffering the consequences. 


According to Heinrich, the “non-kinetic no-fly zone” would entail “using electromagnetic pulse, sonar, and cyber to keep Russian jets on the ground so they can never take off.”

First, let’s pick apart the methods of establishing a “non-kinetic no-fly zone.” In a traditional no-fly zone, a military power declares a certain portion of the sky off limits. Should an aircraft enter the zone, the military power destroys it. As countless experts have begged political pundits to understand in recent days, if NATO declared a no-fly zone over Ukraine to defend it from Russian air strikes, enforcing it would require shooting Russia aircraft, which would put multiple nuclear powers at war with each other. Needless to say, that is an extremely dangerous proposition. What Heinrich is describing is an attempt to do the same by other, less traditional means.

I have no idea how anyone would use sonar to keep jets out of the sky. Presumably, it’d be used to keep track of the jets. People are doing that anyway and they don’t need sonar to do it. Cyber makes sense only if you don’t understand anything about Russian military hardware. Russia’s jets, hell most of the world’s jets, can’t be remotely accessed which would make hacking without being right next to the thing unlikely. The only easily hackable jet out there is America’s F-35.


It’s possible that “cyber” might also refer to something like the Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP). Sometimes called a “cyber missile,” CHAMP is a missile that fries electronics when it gets close to a target instead of exploding. The problem is that this weapon requires a close proximity to the target. Meaning the U.S. would have to fire a missile to fry the electronics of the target jet. I’m sure the distinction of the CHAMP being “non-kinetic” would be lost on the target. More importantly, its “non-kinetic” aspect would be lost on the Russian military and its radar, which would simply identify it as a missile, cyber or not.

CHAMP also ropes in the idea of using an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to keep jets grounded. The idea of weaponizing an EMP is old and completely illogical. The U.S. and others have tried to figure out a way to do it, but the math simply doesn’t work. Generating an EMP of a size needed to, say, ground every jet on a runway would require an incredible amount of energy. To get a large EMP blast, you need a mighty release of energy. In the real world, we’ve seen these blasts in the aftermath of nuclear detonations. In U.S. and Russian studies of the EMP, no one has ever been able to produce consistent results. 

The idea of using a mythical EMP weapon to enforce a “non-kinetic no-fly zone” gives the game away. The dream of an EMP weapon is that it allows you to do the damage of a nuclear bomb without suffering its worse consequences. The dream of a “non-kinetic no-fly zone” is that it would allow you to enforce such a zone without suffering the consequences of an act of war.

The phrase is an abstraction. Much like Russia’s insistence that it is engaged in a “special action” in Ukraine and not in a “war,” the idea of a “non-kinetic no-fly zone” is an attempt to use violence to enforce will without getting into trouble for doing so. The members of Congress trying to have their cake and eat it too should see how well semantic games are working out for the Kremlin.

Any enforcement of a no-fly zone, by kinetic or non-kinetic means, would be the start of a larger and more bloody war.