This AWACS plane would have been shot down last Sunday over the Sea of Azov

The enormous strategic importance for Russia of the loss of a Beriev A-50 Mainstay aircraft

Bad news is piling up for the Russian Air Force, but what has been known in recent hours has considerable importance.

The Russian disaster in the air strike launched by Putin against Ukraine on Christmas Eve
The Ukrainian anti-aircraft ambush in which Russia has lost 3 Su-34 fighter-bombers

This Monday, the Ukrainian Air Force reported the destruction of two large Russian military aircraft: an airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft Beriev A-50 "Mainstay" and a command aircraft Ilyushin Il-22 "Coot-B", a derived from the Ilyushin Il-18 commercial airliner. According to Russian journalist Yuri Kotenok, the Il-22 was seriously damaged but was able to land in Anapa. The journalist published this photo, which shows severe damage to the tail and drift of the plane, probably caused by the explosion of a missile.

Russia has not published any official confirmation about the downing of the A-50, but it has not denied it either. According to Ukrainian intelligence, the plane was shot down on Sunday over the Sea of Azov. It has not been confirmed whether the shootdown was the work of fighter jets or Ukrainian missiles, but everything seems to point to a new action by the MIM-104 Patriot long-range surface-to-air missiles supplied by the US and Germany, which would be the only ones capable of shooting down a Russian plane at that distance from the front.

The A-50, introduced in 1985, is an aircraft of great strategic importance for Russia. It has an estimated cost of 330 million dollars and its radar is capable of detecting targets beyond the limit of the horizon that cannot reach ground radars. This aircraft would be capable of tracking 300 targets simultaneously, in addition to detecting a missile launch at 800 km, as well as land and sea targets at a distance of 300 km.

On February 28, 2023, Belarusian partisans damaged a Russian A-50 parked at the Machulishchy Air Base, in Belarus, through a drone attack. That attack would have reduced the operational fleet of Russian A-50s to nine aircraft, a figure reduced to 6 by British intelligence, which warned that this loss would further limit Russian air operations.

British intelligence already pointed out the strategic importance of this plane: "The A-50 MAINSTAY is a Russian airborne early warning and control platform. Its role is to build a recognised air picture and to provide coordination to adjoining fighter aircraft." Thus, This aircraft is a fundamental piece in Russian air operations in the invasion of Ukraine: without the A-50, the Russian Air Force could lose its air superiority in Ukraine.

But the A-50's role will not be limited to air control over Russian fighter jets. On November 17, 2023, British intelligence reported: "For the first time, Russia has likely started using A-50 MAINSTAY D, its Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, to identify targets over Ukraine for its SA-21 long-range ground-based air defence missile system. This adds to MAINSTAY’s core mission of co-ordinating fighter aircraft. Compared to SA-21’s usual ground-based radar, MAINSTAY can use its radar to spot adversary aircraft at longer ranges because its altitude allows it to see further around the curvature of the earth."

British intelligence also indicated Russia's special interest in the A-50 deployment: "Russia has likely expedited integrating MAINSTAY and SA-21 partially because it is concerned about the prospect of Ukraine deploying Western-provided combat aircraft", such as the MiG-29 supplied by Poland and Slovakia and, soon, also the F-16 delivered by the Netherlands and Denmark.

British intelligence then issued a forecast that has turned out to be correct: "There is a realistic possibility that Russia will accept more risk by flying MAINSTAY closer to the front-line in order to effectively carry out its new role." This is the only way to explain why Russia has risked an AWACS so valuable and a command plane exposing them in an area that is within reach of the Ukrainian Patriot, as demonstrated with the ambush in which three Russian Su-34 fighter-bombers were shot down on December 22 and the downing of another Su-34 and a Su-30 fighter two days later in the same area of southern Ukraine.

The loss of a single A-50 is much more serious for Russia than that of those five fighter planes combined, not only because of its high cost, because of its crew of 15 men and because an A-50 It has on board much more specialized and scarce personnel in the Russian Air Force, but also because the already unacceptable risk for Russia of exposing that plane could lead it to lose its air dominance in Ukraine and hand it over to the defenders of that country , precisely when the F-16 fighters are about to go into action. This scenario would leave Russian land and maritime forces exposed to attacks by Ukrainian fighters.


Photos: Yuri Kotenok / Russian Ministry of Defense.

Don't miss the news and content that interest you. Receive the free daily newsletter in your email:

Opina sobre esta entrada:

Debes iniciar sesión para comentar. Pulsa aquí para iniciar sesión. Si aún no te has registrado, pulsa aquí para registrarte.