Ukraine reportedly shot down two of Russia’s top-tier aircraft over the Azov Sea. One of the planes, a Beriev A-50 is similar to an American AWACS, with a large radar dish mounted above the fuselage of the plane. The price tag of this plane is reportedly over $300 million dollars and Russia may have as few as 9 or 10 of these planes in service.
Ukrainian media reported an A-50 early warning and control aircraft was shot down on Sunday evening shortly after take-off over the Sea of Azov in the Kyrylivka area of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine…
It’s reported cost per aircraft is a massive $330m.
These AEW&C aircraft are vital to maintaining air superiority by functioning as the eyes for all aircraft operating in combat. Because they have very long-range radar search capability, they can share a “picture” in a broadcast to all airborne combat aircraft and assist fighter aircraft in completing intercepts and engagement of adversary aircraft through more direct communication…
The A-50 has 15 mission controller personnel who interpret radar returns and can control up to ten fighter aircraft for either air-to-air intercept or air-to-surface attack missions.
The other plane was a turboprop IL-22 used as a flying command center. This second plane appears to have made an emergency landing so the extent of the damage is unclear. But once again, Russia may have as few as 12 of these in service. For Russia, replacing the lost personnel could be harder than replacing the plane.
“Both types are only operational in small numbers and are critical to command and control of Russian air operations and ground-based air defense coordination,” said Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow specializing in airpower and technology at the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI, a British military think tank. “Replacing any lost mission crews would likely be almost as problematic as replacing the aircraft themselves, since Russia has major training pipeline challenges as a result of the sustained intensity of combat operations against Ukraine over the past 23 months,” he added…
…if Ukraine’s claims are true, it’s an “extremely embarrassing” incident for the Kremlin, no matter how the planes were lost, said Frank Ledwidge, a former British military intelligence officer and senior lecturer in war studies at England’s University of Portsmouth.
“These things should not be killed in an environment like that. They really should not,” he said.
Reuters reports Russian military bloggers agreed that the lost crew is going to be a problem.
Some Russian military bloggers said the downing of the A-50 would be a huge loss for Russia’s air force, since there was a limited number of the planes in service.
“It will be another dark day for the Russian Aerospace Forces and Air Defense,” wrote Rybar, a blogger with nearly 1.2 million subscribers that supports and provides running commentary on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“There are not many A-50s. And the specialists operating them are generally rare. If an aircraft of this type is hit, the crew will not be able to escape.”
Here’s what the two planes look like.
🚨 BREAKING: Ukraine confirms to have shot down two Russian planes over occupied Berdyansk on the Azov Sea:
– Russian A-50 AWACS IL-76 reconnaissance plane. ($300m)
– Russian IL-22, possibly the Special Mission variant PP radar jammer (pictured). Distress messages intercepted. pic.twitter.com/cevtEsl29r
— Igor Sushko (@igorsushko) January 14, 2024
That’s all we know for now. Russia still hasn’t said anything about the incident which is often what happens after a major loss. Of course the loss of two planes won’t be a turning point on the ground but it could make it harder for Russia to target its missiles and maintain any air superiority. It’s going to need to pull up replacement planes and also replacement crews. But the worrisome thing for Russia is that having done this once, Ukraine may be able to do it again. Russia may need to operate further back in its own territory to prevent a repeat.