Another Russian A-50 AWACS Aircraft Goes Down, RuAF Losing ‘Eye In The Sky’ At Rapid Pace, Report Claims

Aircraft losses continue to trouble the Russian war machine in Ukraine. The latest reported loss of A-50 AWACS aircraft – along with the shooting down of seven Su-34 Fullback fighter bombers in seven days — could push the Russians into a corner. Not only are the aircraft expensive, but Russia possesses only a few.    

The Russian Air Force may be in for a massive shock as Ukraine has claimed that it has shot down another A-50 AWACS aircraft, leaving a gaping hole in Moscow’s surveillance capabilities.

Emboldened by claims of shooting down seven Su-34 Fullback fighter bombers in less than seven days, the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced that Russia had lost another A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft on February 23.

According to Ukrainian claims, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian intelligence services collaborated to shoot down the aircraft. 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!”

The Main Directorate of Intelligence, or GUR, of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims to have been part of the mission to down the A-50. It also published maps that roughly pinpoint the site of the alleged shootdown. However, the agency did not give details on how the mission was carried out.

After the announcement, videos surfaced on social media which allegedly depicted the shootdown. In one such video (that can be seen below), the aircraft in question can be seen flying low and firing flares with several air defenses intercepting it. The unidentified person(s) who recorded the footage initially thought it was a drone.

A few seconds in, a person identifies it as a plane. Shortly after, the footage turns more dramatic as a missile is seen to be following the flares and then hitting the plane. The recorders of the video exclaim – “It hit,” and wonder where the aircraft is going to fall. As explained in the video, several air defenses fired missiles at the aircraft, with one missile hitting the flare and another finally knocking off the aircraft.

More videos were later published alleging that the aircraft was burning after being shot down. A host of claims started doing the rounds, with several military bloggers noting that the aircraft was intercepted and hit somewhere near the Sea of Azov. The Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) has yet to comment on the claims at the time of writing this report.

Also, several pro-Ukrainian military bloggers and OSINT analysts claimed that Ukraine had taken out another Su-34 Fullback fighter bomber on February 23, right after the latter fired a salvo of missiles against Ukraine somewhere in the Kherson region.

These claims have not officially been acknowledged by the Ukrainian forces and could not be independently verified by EurAsian Times.

Nevertheless, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have registered a stellar combat victory against the Russian Air Force since February 17. As per official claims, seven Russian fighter jets have been downed, including five Su-34s and two Su-35s. There is speculation that the US-origin Patriot missile defense system is largely responsible for this massacre of Sukhoi jets.

The VKS has widely used Su-34 Fullback fighter bombers — reports state that each aircraft costs $50 million — along the frontline. Russia may have lost planes worth $250 million, as at least five of them have already been brought down. The loss increases even further when one considers the cost of a Su-35S, making it unaffordable for the Russians at this point.

Sukhoi Su-34 - Wikipedia
Sukhoi Su-34 – Wikipedia

As for the A-50, this would be the second loss of an A-50 AWACS this year. Last month, 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.

“According to information from sources within the Ukrainian Defense Forces, it has been revealed that a military aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, A-50, was shot down, and an Il-22M11 with registration number 75106 was damaged,” Ukraine’s RBC media outlet said at the time.

It can be assumed that more than these losses, the loss of an A-50 could weigh over the loss of several Su-34 and Su-35 fighter jets for two reasons: the A-50 AWACS aircraft is way too expensive, and more importantly, Russia doesn’t have many.

A-50 Loss Could Restrict Russian Spy Ops

If indeed the A-50 was shot down, it would deal a severe blow to Russia’s aviation operations, considering its chronic deficiency in such aircraft. Ukraine claimed to have damaged an A-50 in February 2023 by releasing footage from a drone that landed on its radar disc and presumably exploded at the Machulishchy air base in Belarus. Then, it took out another A-50 last month.

The A-50 AWACS is built upon the Ilyushin Il-76MD four-engine strategic transport plane by mounting a rotating radar disc on its upper fuselage. Like every Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft, it provides long-range aerial surveillance against enemy fighters, cruise missiles, and command and control services to other fighter aircraft.

Just about nine A-50s, including several upgraded A-50Us, were believed to be operational in Russia as of 2021. Russian officials and military analysts have often pointed to the lack of AEW aircraft in its fleet as a chink in its armor.

Many of the tactical victories of the Ukrainian-launched Storm Shadow/SCALP-ER air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) may have also been attributed to the absence of a sizable and capable AWACS fleet. A-50Us can alert ground-based radars to the presence of other airborne fighters or low-observable (LO) land-strike missiles.

File: Russian A-50 military aircraft

The existing A-50Us may require modifications to avionics, microprocessing, and sophisticated non-analog digital electronics systems. Discussions on several Russia-affiliated Telegram groups suggest that the A-50 still uses computing systems and circuits from the Cold War and Soviet times. It will take time for Russia to produce more of these aircraft or add upgrades, especially as it remains under international sanctions.

For Russia, it may be a massive loss in more ways than one. Besides its obvious surveillance duties, the aircraft was also used in tandem with the S-400 air defense systems to shoot down Ukrainian jets.

After it lost the aircraft in January, experts and Ukrainian officials predicted that Russian aircraft would be pulled back from the frontline. This makes the latest shootdown even more intriguing for those watching the Ukraine war closely.