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Ukraine conflict: Russian A-50 AEW&C aircraft sabotaged in Belarus

The A-50 AEW&C aircraft is a key enabler for Russian air operations over Ukraine, and the loss of an airframe to a UAV strike in Belarus will be keenly felt by Russian forces. (United Aircraft Corporation)

A Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay' airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft has reportedly been put out of action by saboteurs in Belarus.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) reported the claim made by the Belarusian ‘partisan' group BYPOL that an A-50 had been critically damaged during an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack on Maschulishchy Air Base (also known as Minsk-Machulishche Air Base) in Belarus on 26 February.

“BYPOL reported two explosions and damage to the front and middle sections of the A-50 ‘Mainstay', as well as the radar antenna,” the MoD said in its latest Intelligence Update posted on 28 February. “Attribution and damage has not been officially corroborated,” the MoD added.

According to the MoD, the attack leaves the VKS with just six operational A-50s. Janes World Air Forces reports that 10 A-50s were in service before this incident, as well as seven upgraded A-50Us. This suggests that it was a modernised A-50U that has been put out of commission. Upgraded from the baseline A-50 that first entered Soviet service in 1984, the A-50U features a new Vega-M Shmel-II radar system and upgraded computers and communications equipment. These features allow for an enhanced target-tracking capability and an overall reduction in weight, giving the aircraft a greater range and endurance.

“The loss of an A-50 would be significant, as it is critical to Russian air operations for providing an air battlespace picture,” the MoD said, adding this loss will further constrain Russian air operations.

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