Losses and Aviation Safety

A highly operationally significant and embarrassing loss: Ukraine says it shot down Russian A-50 AEW&C aircraft (and damaged beyond repair Il-22 Command Post aircraft)

Ukraine shot down Russian A-50 AEW&C aircraft

If true it would be a blow to Moscow’s air power: Ukraine’s military says it has shot down a Russian Beriev A-50 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Army chief Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi said the Ukrainian Air Force had “destroyed” an A-50 (NATO reporting name ‘Mainstay’) AEW&C aircraft, and an Ilyushin Il-22 (Coot-B) Airborne Command Post variant of the Soviet Cold War-era Il-18 airliner series.

As reported by BBC, a briefing from the UK’s Ministry of Defence on 23 February said that Russia “likely” had six operational A-50s in service. The planes can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.

If confirmed the loss of an A-50 would be significant for the Russian Air-Space Force (RuASF or VKS).

Rybar, one popular military channel, said that – if Ukraine’s information about the Russian losses was confirmed – it would be “another black day for the Russian air force.”

Il-22 Command Post aircraft damaged beyond repair

Instead it seems that the Il-22 was hit by Russian friendly fire. According to another channel the Il-22 was able to land back in Russia. By contrast images posted on social media appeared to show it heavily damaged: a claimed confirm by Yuri Ihnat, Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, who said on social media that the Il-22 had been damaged beyond repair.

In February last year, Belarusian opposition group BYPOL claimed to have damaged an A-50 military plane in a drone attack near Minsk.

Damaged Russian Il-22

Russian A-50 shot down: a very long-range engagement

Air war specialist from the defence think tank Rusi, Justin Bronk, told the BBC that if confirmed the loss of an A-50 would be a “highly operationally significant and embarrassing loss” for Russia’s air force.

He added that there were “only a small number” of these aircraft within the Russian air force, and “even fewer trained mission crews, meaning that the loss of one would be a major blow”.

If confirmed, he said it would “be a very long-range engagement” for Ukrainian Patriot air defence missiles, which would stretch “the theoretical capabilities of the weapon to their limit”.

Frank Gardner, the BBC’s security correspondent, said the apparent development was a “small bit of good news for Ukraine amid an awful lot of bad news”.
He said the situation generally is “not looking good for Ukraine”, as it deals with shortages of ammunition, low morale among its troops and continued attacks by Russia on its infrastructure.

The A-50 Mainstay

Much like the USAF Boeing E-3 Sentry, the A-50 serves as an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) acting as a flying command and control centre for guiding combat aircraft over the battlefield. As told above the RuASF is currently thought to have about 6 SDRLO (Long Range Detection System) aircraft in service.

Designed to replace the Tu-126 (NATO reporting name: Moss), the A-50 is an early-warning derivative of the Ilyushin Il-76 transport and first flew in 1978. The airframe bristles with a vast array of antennas, the most notable of which is the saucer like radome mounted on pylons above the fuselage. This massive radar antenna spans almost 30 feet across and has a detection range of 250 miles. It can track up to 50 – 60 separate targets and guide 10 – 12 fighter aircraft simultaneously. The fuselage is packed with communication and control systems with consoles for 10 mission specialists.

Beriev A-50 Mainstay

Photo credit: Dmitry Terekhov from Odintsovo, Russian Federation via Wikipedia and Fighter Bomber Telegram Channel

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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