Russia grounds A-50s after Ukraine attacks: U.K.

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Russia has grounded its A-50 early warning and control planes after losing two of the valuable aircraft within a few weeks, British defense officials have said.

Reports that Russian forces have the upper hand on the battlefield in Ukraine, following their capture of Avdiivka in Donetsk oblast, have not been matched by positive assessments of Moscow’s air power following a string of reported losses.

On February 23, Ukraine’s Air Force spoke about the downing of a Russian Beriev A-50U long-range radar-detection aircraft near the Sea of Azov using a Soviet S-200 anti-aircraft system. Russian milbloggers said it was probably hit by friendly fire, although the Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on this.

Newsweek has emailed the Russian Defense Ministry for comment about the U.K. MOD assessment, which tends to highlight Russia’s losses and Ukrainian gains. Tallies of equipment losses are tricky to confirm, with experts saying that both sides inflate the figures of their adversaries.

A Beriev A-50 aircraft
A Beriev A-50 early warning and control aircraft flies over the Kremlin and Red Square to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, May 9, 2020.The British Defense…


YURI KADOBNOV/Getty Images

Costing more than $300 million each, the plane with the NATO reporting name “Mainstay” was not just a financial setback for Moscow—losing the reconnaissance aircraft dealt Russia’s war effort a blow, especially after Kyiv said it had taken out the same model plane on January 14 over the same body of water.

On February 27, Ukraine’s Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said that Ukrainian forces had not detected an A-50 aircraft in the four days since the A-50 went down.

British defense officials gave an explanation on Saturday that Moscow has “likely grounded” the aircraft, pending an investigation into “the failure to protect another high value enabler.” Russia was now looking at “how to mitigate the threat Ukrainian air defense continues to pose,” the British officials said.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense said not having the A-50 “significantly degrades the situational awareness provided to air crews.” It added that this was a capability gap “Russia can ill afford over the contested airspace of eastern and southern Ukraine.”

The officials said that Moscow will try to bridge the gap with options such as repurposing aircraft and “accepting greater risk.” The Russians will bring back previously mothballed A-50 airframes to help its increasingly stretched air fleet give ground troops effective air support. When the A-50 does return to operations, “air frame and crew fatigue are almost certainly to intensify.”

Russia is recovering from the loss of its fighter planes over the last fortnight, with one of its Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets having “disappeared from the radars” near Mariupol on Friday, according to Ukrainian sources. Newsweek has yet to verify this claim.

If the disappearance is confirmed as being caused by a Ukrainian attack, it would be the 14th Russian aircraft purportedly destroyed by Kyiv in 14 days. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed Thursday to have downed two Su-35s, 10 Su-34 fighter-bombers—as well as the A-50—over the previous two weeks.