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UK intel: Two A-50 AWACS aircraft downed in two months show Russia’s difficulty securing air assets

As Russia had lost its second A-50 AWACS aircraft, it can replace it with seven other airframes, but the loss of specialist crews in quick succession will further strain those remaining and force consideration of new operating areas, per UK intelligence.
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
UK intel: Two A-50 AWACS aircraft downed in two months show Russia’s difficulty securing air assets

Russia’s recent loss of a second key A-50 surveillance aircraft in two months to Ukrainian air defenses over the Sea of Azov further demonstrated its inability to protect valuable air assets and likely imposed an additional strain on specialized crews, the British Defense Ministry says in its intelligence update on Ukraine.

The aircraft was “almost certainly” targeted by Ukrainian air defense systems while flying in Russia’s Krasnodar Krai, while there is a slim chance Russian forces inadvertently shot down their own plane, as per the Ministry.

The Ministry wrote:

  • On February 23, 2024, a Russian A-50U Mainstay D was destroyed, almost certainly by a surface to air missile, while operating South of the Sea of Azov, over the Russian territory of Krasnodar. There is a remote chance that the Russians inadvertently shot down their own aircraft while attempting to protect it.
  • This is the second A-50 destroyed in as many months. Russia only began operating A-50 aircraft over the Sea of Azov in November 2023. On January 14, 2024, Ukraine successfully targeted an A-50 in that area. This forced Russian decision makers to consider safer operating areas for the aircraft. This latest Ukrainian success has demonstrated a continued Russian inability to protect high value air assets. It brings into question the efficacy of Russian air planners.
  • The Russian air force will be able to cover the immediate loss of the A-50 because they have seven operational airframes remaining. Yet the loss of two experienced specialist mission crews in as many months is highly likely to induce further strain and combat fatigue on the remaining force if they are to sustain constant operations. It is likely that the Russian air force will again consider different operating locations, but Ukraine is demonstrating an ability to adapt quickly and continues to pose a threat.

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