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Ukraine conflict: Loss of ‘Mainstay' hampering Russo-Belarusian air activity, says UK MoD

A screenshot from footage released by BYPOL shows the UAV parked on the radome of the A-50 during a pre-strike reconnaissance sortie, according to the group. (BYPOL)

The loss of the airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) capability provided by the Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay' is hampering joint Russian and Belarusian air activity, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has determined.

In its latest intelligence update posted on 9 March, the MoD said that the A-50U that was previously reported as attacked by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) at Maschulishchy Air Base (also known as Minsk-Machulishche Air Base) in Belarus on 26 February had been flown out of theatre for repairs, and that its loss was affecting ongoing air operations.

“On 7 March, Belarusian President Alexandr Lukashenko confirmed that one of Russia's small fleet of A-50U ‘Mainstay-D' airborne early warning and control aircraft deployed in Belarus had been damaged. The aircraft was almost certainly attacked by a small uncrewed air system. The ‘Mainstay' has likely now been moved to a repair facility at Taganrog in Russia. The transit flight reportedly took place at a lower-than-usual altitude, likely because of damage to the pressurised cabin.

“The ‘Mainstay' was likely providing situational awareness for MiG-31K ‘Foxhound-D' fighter aircraft modified to launch the AS-24 ‘Killjoy' air-launched ballistic missile, which Russia sees as a key strategic capability. The modification saw the jets' internal radar removed to balance the airframe, making pilots reliant on external sources of situational awareness, such as [the] ‘Mainstay'.

“It is a realistic possibility that joint Russo-Belarusian air activity will now be forced to rely on ground control and fighter escort until another ‘Mainstay' can be deployed,” the MoD said.

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