Another Costly and Vital Radar Plane Possibly Lost by Russia

Another Costly and Vital Radar Plane Possibly Lost by Russia

On Friday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry acknowledged the destruction of the A-50, a significant setback for Moscow. Accompanying the statement was a video of an airborne explosion. Air Force Commander Mikola Olesjuk confirmed via the messaging platform Telegram that the A-50, operating under the call sign ‘Bayan’, had completed its final mission.

Russia is yet to confirm this development, however, its state news agency RIA Novosti reported two aircraft downed in the same vicinity. There are speculations that one of these could be the A-50 and its associated companion aircraft. Russian military bloggers have suggested that the A-50 could have been accidentally targeted by Russia’s own forces.

The Beriev A-50, with its airborne radar capabilities, can detect activities up to 350 kilometers away and direct other fighter aircraft. This particular plane is believed to have been shot down over or close to the Sea of ​​Azov, repeating a similar incident that took place in mid-January.

At the time, questions were raised about the presence of the A-50, a 323 million euros aircraft, over the sea. Previously, it was known to operate further south, away from the frontlines. However, on January 14, the radar plane was spotted further north, covering the entire Crimea. Tom Cooper, an expert on Russian air power, believes that Russia was outsmarted in this situation. Ukraine had recently disabled radar installations in Crimea, and as a replacement, Russia activated the A-50. This led to the aircraft being targeted by Ukrainian anti-aircraft guns, a scenario that aviation experts found hard to believe due to the distinctive appearance of the A-50.

The recent crash reportedly occurred almost 200 kilometers behind the frontline, a distance that is considered out of reach for an American Patriot missile. This suggests that the cause could be a mechanical defect. Alternatively, the aircraft might have flown closer to the frontline, got hit, and unsuccessfully attempted to return to its base.

Double whammy

The Russian air force is now left with just seven A-50 radar aircraft, and only a few of them are operational. These devices play a crucial role in the ongoing war with Ukraine as they are instrumental in detecting Ukrainian missile attacks and transmitting radio signals from frontline troops to other military bases. Russia has lost at least seven fighter planes in the past week.

The loss of the A-50 is not just about the aircraft; the accompanying fifteen-member flight crew is also a significant loss. A recent study by Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds for the Royal United Services Institute in London, quoted by Forbes, states that Russian air operations are limited by the availability of experienced pilots capable of carrying out important missions.