The new markings might be intended to help the identification of Russian helicopters and reduce the risk of friendly fire.
Since the first day of the invasion in Ukraine, various symbols appeared on Russian vehicles; these symbols were reportedly applied to both identify Russian units (as in many cases were stripped of their standard markings) and another piece of info that has not been decoded yet. According to some analysts, it could either indicate a task force for one precise target or the staging area from where the ground forces started the invasion (Crimea, Russia, Belarus).
Over the course of last week similar symbols started to appear also on Russian helicopters. These markings surfaced online both in photos and videos of low flying helicopters posted on social medias and also in a Russian TV report. The helicopters spotted with the new markings are the Mi-8/17 Hip and Mi-24/35 Hind, which showed three white vertical bands on the tail boom and a white “V” on the rear and on the sides of the fuselage. These markings remind the D-Day markings.
Video of Russian Mi-8AMTSh and Mi-24 helicopters operating in Ukraine. https://t.co/UKPHdiZR8b pic.twitter.com/GXKjcxFj19
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) March 4, 2022
So ID markings help identify friend from foe…
But the three white bands actually make #Russia 🇷🇺 helicopters look more like #Ukraine 🇺🇦 counterparts who adopted two white bands during 2014 conflict!!! pic.twitter.com/eGXzOCwIj1
— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) March 5, 2022
The markings are especially useful in this situation as both Russia and Ukraine employ mostly the same equipment, thus making the identification more difficult and increasing the risk of friendly fire. Since the beginning of the invasion, both sides reportedly shot down by mistake some of their own aircraft, so the introduction of some sort of visual IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) markings seems reasonable.
However, it should be noted that the new Russian markings strikingly resemble the ones used by Ukrainian helicopters during the 2014 conflict with Russian forces in Crimea and Donbas. The Ukrainian helicopters showed two vertical bands, although larger than the Russian ones, on the tail boom. On the other hand, the new Russian markings have been spotted only on helicopters wearing the standard green camouflage, more similar to the Ukrainian camo, instead of the black one.
Some sources claimed that the Russian are trying to mask their own units so they can be mistaken as Ukrainian Army helicopters by the Ukrainian air defenses, as reportedly done by ground units. It is impossible to verify if those claims are true, however it is worth noting that Russian helicopters are suffering heavy losses from Ukrainian air defenses and MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems).