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ISW: Russian air operations drop over Azov Sea after Ukraine strikes hit radar plane, command aircraft

Russian tactical aviation presence over the Sea of Azov has reportedly dropped to unprecedented low levels after Ukrainian strikes eliminated an A-50 radar plane and damaged an Il-22 aircraft, degrading Russian air capabilities, ISW says.
Russia's airborne early warning and control aircraft A-50U
Russia’s airborne early warning and control aircraft A-50U (Red 41). File photo: Wikimedia Commons
ISW: Russian air operations drop over Azov Sea after Ukraine strikes hit radar plane, command aircraft

The US-based think tank Institute for the Study of War says Russian tactical aviation operations are reportedly decreasing near the Sea of Azov, and “Russian aviation capabilities may be degraded after Ukrainian forces destroyed a Russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and caused severe damage to a Russian Il-22 airborne command post aircraft on the night of 14 January.”

Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Colonel Yurii Ihnat, on 16 January, reported that Russian tactical aviation presence over the Sea of Azov is now at an unprecedented low. Ihnat explained that the A-50 and Il-20 aircraft had previously played a crucial role in detecting air targets up to 600 kilometers away and providing real-time information to Russian control points in Ukraine. This capability allowed Russian tactical aviation to spot Ukrainian aircraft from a distance, significantly enhancing the efficiency of their operations.

According to Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command, Russian forces had a meager fleet of three A-50 and six upgraded A-50U aircraft in operation before 14 January 2024. Ihnat emphasized that the destruction of even one of these limited aircraft would noticeably diminish Russian operational capabilities.

Ihnat stated that the Il-22 aircraft sustained severe damage, rendering it non-operational. However, he anticipated that Russian forces would probably replace both the destroyed A-50 and the damaged Il-22 aircraft. Ihnat further clarified that despite the loss of these aircraft, it would not affect the frequency or intensity of Russian missile and drone strikes. This is because Russian forces preprogram these missiles and drones with specific routes and targets from ground positions.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, on January 16, emphasized the importance of achieving air superiority for Ukraine, drawing a parallel to the country’s previous success in gaining superiority in the Black Sea after strikes on Russian naval assets in occupied Crimea.

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