The Russian Military Is Being 'Blinded' in Ukraine

February 26, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkraineA-50MilitaryDefenseRussian Air Force

The Russian Military Is Being 'Blinded' in Ukraine

The Ukrainian military shot down a second Russian A-50 military spy plane last week – the second of the aerial reconnaissance aircraft to be destroyed in just over a month. The A-50 was reported to have been downed while flying between the Russian cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar, more than 200km (124 miles) from the front lines.

Russia is Being Blinded as Second A-50 Spy Plane Has Been Shot Down: The Ukrainian military shot down a second Russian A-50 military spy plane last week – the second of the aerial reconnaissance aircraft to be destroyed in just over a month. The A-50 was reported to have been downed while flying between the Russian cities of Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar, more than 200km (124 miles) from the front lines.

According to a report from the BBC, Russian emergency services discovered plane fragments in the Kanevskoy district and put out a raging fire. The downing of the aircraft came as Saturday marked two years since Russia had launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin never commented on the alleged loss of an A-50 in January, which Kyiv said was shot down over the Sea of Azov, but Russian bloggers and some media confirmed the aircraft's loss. As previously reported, the loss of even a single A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft would be a serious blow to the Kremlin's air power in the region.

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 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.

The reconnaissance 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.

Russia is Being Blinded

Russia may be forced to increase its deployment of reconnaissance drones, but it is unlikely they can provide the same level of intelligence as the A-50. The loss of the A-50s will essentially blind Russia and prevent it from monitoring Ukrainian air space.

As David Axe of Forbes.com reported, "Ukraine's ongoing campaign of deep strikes targeting Russian logistics and warships in occupied Crimea has underscored the A-50’s importance. After Ukrainian drones and missiles knocked out several ground-based radars in Crimea late last year, the Russian air force reportedly shifted its A-50s to cover the gaps."

Axe further noted that the Kremlin's forces have not been all that successful when it comes to intercepting Ukrainian cruise missiles – noting how many Russian warships have been lost in the Black Sea.

The downing of another A-50 could serve as a major morale boost for Ukraine after the loss of Avdiivka, a strategic eastern city earlier this month.

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].