Sea of Azov: Possible SAM interceptor kills second Russian A-50

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Recent footage hitting the social media spectrum reveals a fiery aircraft assumed to be an A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning and control [AEW&C] plane, though the exact details are murky. Whether it was Ukrainian forces or Russian air defenses that brought it down is yet to be determined. 

Russian sources put forth that their own forces’ crossfire over the Sea of Azov led to the A-50’s premature landing. Alternatively, technical issues could be the culprits responsible for the fall of the plane. 

The Beriev A-50, colloquially known as the Mainstay, is a critical cog in Russia’s AEW&C fleet, crafted from the Ilyushin Il-76 platform. The disappearance of such an aircraft from the Russian stronghold is a significant loss. 

Coincidentally, this incident might represent the second time an A-50 has fallen since the start of Russia’s offensive against Ukraine on February 24, 2022. In the first month of 2023, another A-50 found its demise in the Sea of Azov. This event coincides with an incident involving an Il-22 that suffered substantial damage from a missile but managed to stick its landing nonetheless.

A-50 jointly with S-400

In a report last October, TASS, the state-controlled news agency of the Russian Federation, unveiled a new plan related to the A-50 radar detection aircraft. This came on the heels of a pronouncement from Defense Minister Shoigu that 24 aircraft were downed within a short span of five days. 

Photo credit: Wikipedia

According to TASS, the Soviet-built Beriev A-50 aircraft, used for airborne early warning and control [AEW&C], deployed missiles from the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system toward Ukrainian aircraft. 

The news report by TASS further suggested that the collaborative operation of the A-50 and the S-400 merits some attention. It was stated that the S-400 system launched missiles towards aerial targets approximately 1 km high, utilizing novel anti-aircraft guided missile warheads, fired from a significant distance.

A-50’s role in Ukraine war

According to sources from Ukraine, nine A-50 and A-50U models are presently being used for territorial supervision. They alternate monitoring duties over the Russian territories of Kursk and Voronezh, the claimed territories of Crimea, and the Black Sea. According to the Military Balance, this fleet is a representation of all the existing long-range radar detection and command planes under Russian services. 

Previously, it was a known fact that the A-50 model was deployed in Belarus’s airspace under Russian control. But with the pullout of all military forces, including aviation from Belarus, it seems this strategy has shifted. 

It’s essential to appreciate the value of these aircraft, known as airborne warning and control systems [AWACS]. They possess a unique faculty to identify airborne objects at low altitudes and against landscape from an incredibly far distance. For the Russian A-50, this implies a reach of roughly 450 kilometers. 

Video screenshot

Given these factors, one can conclude that the A-50 aircraft form a key part of the aerial observation capabilities of the Russian Federation. Essentially, this allows them to assert control over the entire left-bank region of Ukraine and the whole area of the Black Sea. The visibility of A-50s expanded to almost the entire Ukrainian territory when they were policing the skies of Belarus, making the situation even more tense. 

It’s noteworthy that the placement of these inspection areas is an estimation. They are calculated considering the safe distance of the A-50 aircraft from the Ukrainian border.

About A-50

Photo credit: Twitter

The A-50 aircraft, also known as the Beriev A-50, is a Soviet-built airborne early warning and control [AEW&C] aircraft. It is based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft, with the main difference being the large rotating radar dome above the fuselage.

The technical characteristics of the A-50 include a length of 49.59 meters, a wingspan of 50.5 meters, and a height of 14.76 meters. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 190,000 kilograms and is powered by four Aviadvigatel PS-90A turbofan engines. These engines allow the aircraft to reach a maximum speed of 800 kilometers per hour, with a cruising speed of 750 kilometers per hour.

In terms of avionics, the A-50 is equipped with the ‘Shmel’ radar system, which is housed in the rotating dome. This radar system can track up to 150 targets simultaneously within a 230-kilometer range. It also has an identification friend or foe [IFF] system, communications equipment, and data links for command and control.

Photo credit: / Wikipedia

War scenario

In a war scenario, the A-50 plays a crucial role in providing command and control for military operations. It can detect, identify, and track enemy aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles, and direct friendly forces to engage them. It also serves as a command post for managing air battles and coordinating with ground and naval forces.

The operational range of the A-50 is impressive, with a range of 5,000 kilometers and an endurance of up to 7 hours without refueling. With in-flight refueling, it can stay airborne for extended periods, providing continuous surveillance and command and control.

Additional equipment on the A-50 includes electronic countermeasures [ECM] to jam enemy radar and communications, infrared countermeasures [IRCM] to defend against heat-seeking missiles, and chaff and flare dispensers for additional defense. It also has a self-contained navigation system, allowing it to operate independently of ground-based navigation aids.


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