Russian A-50 'AWACS' Plane Was Destroyed by Ukraine: Report

A-50 AWACS from Russia
January 15, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkraineMilitaryA-50

Russian A-50 'AWACS' Plane Was Destroyed by Ukraine: Report

Ukraine claimed on Monday that it shot down a Russian military reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Azov on Sunday. The loss of even a single A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft could be a serious blow to the Kremlin's air power in the region.

 

Russian 'Eye in the Sky' has Been Poked Out - Ukraine claimed on Monday that it shot down a Russian military reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Azov on Sunday. The loss of even a single A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft could be a serious blow to the Kremlin's air power in the region.

"The Ukrainian Air Forces destroyed the enemy A-50 long-range radar detection and control aircraft, worth $330 million, and the Il-22 enemy air control center. Great job, warriors! Ukraine will win!," the Defense Ministry of Ukraine announced via a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

 

A-50: Russia's AWACS

The Beriev A-50 (NATO reporting name "Mainstay") was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and is based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport. Developed to replace the Tupolev Tu-126 (NATO reporting name "Moss"), the A-50 took its maiden flight in 1978 and entered service in 1985.

The aircraft has been compared to the United States Air Force's E-3 Sentry – commonly known as the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Command System) – but with notably fewer capabilities.

While a total of 40 were built, just nine were reported to be in operation when Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago. In addition to only having a handful in service, the A-50 has been considered a high asset target – reportedly costing upwards of $330 million each.

The A-50 is a four-engine jet-propelled aircraft, equipped with rotating radar that scans 360 degrees, detecting radars and potential targets in the air and on land. Each aircraft has a crew of 15 personnel who are tasked with interpreting radar returns and then relaying the information to up to ten fighter aircraft for either air-to-air intercepts or air-to-surface attack missions.

As previously reported by The National Interest, the aircraft can track air targets at a distance of up to 650 km (400 miles) and ground targets at 300 km (190 miles), while it can track around 300 ground or 40 air targets simultaneously. Without external support from airborne tankers, the A-50 can stay airborne for up to four hours and has a range of 1,000 km (620 miles). The A-50M variant has been modified to allow airborne refueling by Il-78 tankers, which can extend its loiter and surveillance time.

In March 2023, Ukrainian saboteurs damaged one A-50 parked on an airfield in Machulishchi, Belarus with a drone. 

Justin Bronk, an air war specialist from the defense think tank Rusi, told the BBC that, if confirmed, the loss of another A-50 would be a "highly operationally significant and embarrassing loss [for the Russian Air Force]."

A-50

Command 'Coot' Also Damaged

In addition to the A-50 being shot down, a Russian Illyushin Il-22M (NATO reporting name "Coot") was also damaged in an attack and subsequently forced to make an emergency landing in Anapa on the Russian side of the Sea of Azov.

Not to be confused with the 1946 prototype jet bomber developed in the Soviet Union, the Il-22M is actually a turboprop-powered airborne command post and radio relay aircraft based on the Il-18 airliner. The Kremlin maintains a fleet of just a dozen of the aircraft, which are employed for both airborne command and control and radio relay tasks.

The "Coot" has played an important role in controlling Russian forces in their war against Ukraine. Due to these aircraft also being a high-value target, they typically tend to operate within the safety of Russian airspace and far beyond the range of Ukrainian air defense systems. However, one was shot down by the infamous Wagner Group during Yevgeny Prigozhin's brief insurrection attempt – killing all 10 crewmembers.

A-50

The Kremlin has not confirmed the loss of the A-50 or the damage taken to the Il-22M. The Ukrainian government did not share any details on how the two aircraft were attacked over the Sea of Azov.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].

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