ua en ru

'Russia has just 9 such planes, not all functional': Expert highlights importance of A-50 destruction

'Russia has just 9 such planes, not all functional': Expert highlights importance of A-50 destruction Ukraine shoots down an expensive and important reconnaissance aircraft A-50 for Russia (

The Air Force of Ukraine managed to destroy a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection and control aircraft, which is capable of reconnaissance and targeting. In total, the aggressor country may have 9 A-50s, but not all of them are combat-ready.

Oleksandr Kovalenko, a military and political expert of the Information Resistance group, tells RBC-Ukraine in detail why the destruction of the A-50 is important and what makes this operation unique.

Sources used: Data from the Defense Forces' sources, exclusive expert commentary, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security.

What kind of aircraft is it and how many of them does Russia have?

The A-50 is a long-range radar surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. As the expert Oleksandr Kovalenko explains, such aircraft are used to conduct reconnaissance activities in the airspace. The A-50 is also used for targeting tactical aircraft and can even be used to improve air defense capabilities, increasing the ability to target, fix, observe, and destroy targets from a distance.

"There are only 9 such aircraft in Russia. But 3 of them are inoperable: one of them is undergoing modernization, which it has not yet fully completed, and the rest are inoperable because they cannot be repaired," Kovalenko tells the agency.

Thus, as the expert emphasizes, Russia has 6 such combat-ready aircraft, but even they raise questions.

"Because one of the A-50s was hit by a drone in Belarus, it was evacuated from Belarus. At that time, the fuselage of the aircraft, namely its Dzhmil reconnaissance system, was not directly hit. And today, Russia hardly can quickly restore such complex systems. And in fact, there has been no information that it has been repaired," Kovalenko recalls and adds that a maximum of 5 A-50 aircraft were recorded in the airspace in the duty format.

Note. In February 2023, it was reported that an A-50 was damaged by drones at the airfield in Machulishchi, Belarus. It later flew to Taganrog for repairs.

Why destruction of A-50 is important

The expert explains that Russia cannot produce such aircraft in general.

"It is very expensive by itself, almost 400 million dollars. But the fact that A-50s are not being produced now and each of them is unique makes this aircraft even more expensive for Russians," Kovalenko emphasizes.

According to him, such a loss for Russia means that it has significantly fewer opportunities to conduct reconnaissance activities in the airspace of Ukraine.

"They will not only have less information about the location of Ukrainian tactical aviation and not only in the airspace but will also be unable to reorient their tactical aircraft and air defense systems," Kovalenko says.

The expert describes the destruction of the A-50 as a rather painful, serious, expensive, and reputational loss for the aggressor country.

"Because the Il-22 was damaged along with the A-50. This is a unique case in the world history of wars and conflicts when two aircraft of this level and functionality are destroyed or damaged at the same time. This is a unique case. This has never happened before in history," Kovalenko emphasizes.

Second loss for Russia

According to the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, this is the second loss or damage to the A-50. As we have already mentioned, before, Belarusian partisans disabled such an aircraft at the airfield in Machulishchi.

At the same time, such an aircraft was shot down yesterday. In particular, in a conversation with the agency, expert Kovalenko also agrees that there have been no cases of downing a Russian A-50 so far. This means that it happened for the first time.

The Center for Strategic Communications, in turn, notes that the A-50 is a very sophisticated and specific piece of equipment. There are up to 20 of them in the Russian arsenal.

They also point out that the Il-22M11 is a protected air control center that operated together with the A-50 during enemy air attacks against Ukraine, which is also Russia's second loss during the war. The first such aircraft was shot down by Wagner PMC militants during Yevhen Prigozhin's mutiny last summer.

In conclusion, the destruction and disabling of these aircraft is a great success for the Ukrainian Defense Forces, which will facilitate the fight against enemy aggression in the air.

Destruction of A-50 and Il-22: how it happened

On January 14, late in the evening, RBC-Ukraine's sources in the Ukrainian Defense Forces reported that the Air Force shot down a Russian A-50 and shot down an Il-22M11 (tail number 75106).

A source told the agency that the A-50 had been shot down immediately after it went on duty near Kyrylivka around 21:10-21:15 on January 14. The A-50 disappeared from the radar and stopped responding to tactical aviation requests, and later the pilot of a Su-30 of the Russian Aerospace Forces discovered the fire and crash of an unidentified aircraft.

The IL-22M11 was on duty in the area of Strilkove and was eventually shot down along the coast of the Sea of Azov at around 9 p.m. on January 14. After the shooting down, RBC-Ukraine learned from radio intercepts received from sources, that the pilot of the Il-22M asked the air traffic controller in Anapa to call an ambulance and firefighters to the runway.

Already today, the information about the destruction of the Russian A-50 radar aircraft and the IL-22 air control center was confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. He called it a well-planned operation in the Azov Sea region.

In addition, the destruction of the A-50 was confirmed by the head of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, Kyrylo Budanov. But he did not go into details.