A-50 AWACS: Ukraine Adds Salt To Russian Wounds; Bombs Taganrog Plant Repairing A-50 ‘Eye In The Sky’?

In what could be yet another jolt to Russia’s aerial surveillance capabilities, Ukrainian forces may have struck a facility that was housing and repairing a previously damaged A-50 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.

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On March 9, Vasiliy Golubev, the regional governor of Rostov, posted on Telegram about a major drone strike that was allegedly directed against Taganrog.

This information was later confirmed by the Russian Ministry of Defense. Four districts reported the downing of 47 drones early on March 9, of which 41 were claimed to have been detected and destroyed in Rostov.

Preliminary reports suggested that no significant damage or loss of life had happened at Taganrog. However, Russian Telegram channels were later flooded with claims — without providing specific details — that the Beriev aircraft factory in Taganrog may have been affected in the attack. Now, we know the scope of damage.

As per satellite imagery published by an open intelligence group, Frontelligence, the Beriev Aircraft Company, which was engaged in repair work on an A-50 AWACS aircraft, incurred significant damage in the drone attack.

Three strikes on industrial properties are seen in the photos, two of which landed on the main production workshop, where an A-50 airborne early warning and control system was being serviced at that time.

The researchers believe that an A-50 was present at the location before the attack and was being repaired at one of the hangars that were hit. There are speculations that the aircraft was critically damaged in the strike, but neither side has officially commented on the extent of damage at the time of writing this report.

According to Russian military bloggers, the Ukrainian forces were aiming at the production site of the Be-200 amphibious aircraft but got the A-50 instead. As per previous satellite images, the A-50 was spotted in the facility in late February and was most likely still present at the location at the time of the attack. EurAsian Times could not independently verify these claims.

Some Ukrainian military bloggers mocked Russian air defenses like the cutting-edge S-400 air defense system, which they said could not defend one of its most significant facilities.

The A-50 AWACS is Russia’s eyes in the skies. Earlier this month, the UK Ministry of Defense stated that Moscow had likely grounded the aircraft following two losses in over two months. It said the aircraft might remain grounded while internal inquiries were conducted to determine the cause of the losses.

The A-50 is an aerial radar system designed to identify and track enemy aircraft, missiles, and air defense systems. It also identifies ground targets and provides daily command and control to Russian air operations. However, the number of these aircraft is limited, and the latest losses have left a gaping hole in Russia’s spying capabilities.

Losing A-50s Does Not Augur Well For Russia

In Late February, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian intelligence services collaborated to shoot down the A-50 aircraft after being emboldened by recurrent shootdowns of the Russian Su-34 Fullback jets.

Taking to social media, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry wrote on Platform X: “Again? Again! The Ukrainian Air Force destroyed another enemy A-50 long-range radar detection and control aircraft worth $330 million. Great job by Ukrainian warriors!”

This was the second loss of the aircraft in 2024. In January this year, the Ukrainians managed to obliterate a Russian A-50 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane and an Ilyushin Il-22M radio relay aircraft over the Sea of Azov.

Additionally, Ukraine reportedly damaged an A-50 in February 2023, as claimed by releasing footage from a drone that landed on its radar disc and presumably exploded at the Machulishchy air base in Belarus.

If the claims about an A-50 undergoing repairs being damaged by Ukraine on March 9 are confirmed, it would add up to three Ukrainian assaults on the aircraft in the first three months of this year. More, these attacks have dealt a massive blow to the Russian Air Force since it has a very limited number of A-50s in its inventory and cannot risk losing more of them.

A-50 airborne early warning and control
File Image: A-50 AWACS

As of 2021, only nine A-50s (including six upgraded A-50Us) were thought to be in service in Russia. Military analysts and authorities have frequently cited the lack of AEW aircraft in Russia’s fleet as a weakness in its defenses.

The lack of a substantial and effective AWACS fleet may have also contributed to several of the tactical successes of the Ukrainian-launched Storm Shadow/SCALP-ER air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM). Low-observable (LO) land-strike missiles and other aerial fighters can be detected by ground-based radars with the help of A-50Us.

The existing A-50Us may require modifications to avionics, microprocessing, and sophisticated non-analog digital electronics systems. Discussions on several Telegram groups connected to Russia indicate that the A-50 is still using circuits and computing systems from the Soviet and Cold War eras.

Since Russia is still subject to international sanctions, it will take time for it to increase production or upgrade these aircraft. The loss of any more A-50s could come as a massive setback.