Ukraine Says It Has Shot Down Another Russian A-50U Mainstay

A-50U shot down
File photo of an A-50U (Image credit: In the boxes, a screenshot from one of the videos circulating online and a map posted on Telegram.

The Ukrainian Air Force has reportedly shot down another Russian A-50U over the Sea of Azov.

On Feb. 23, 2024, “as a result of a joint operation of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine and the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, another valuable Russian A-50U aircraft was shot down over the Sea of ​​Azov”.

Several videos have appeared on Telegram and then on X, showing the A-50, releasing flares and then being hit by a surface to air missile.

Other clips show the burning wreckage of the aircraft.

It’s not clear how the Ukrainian Air Force managed to hit the aircraft near Yeisk, situated on the shore of the Taganrog Gulf of the Sea of Azov; someone suggested the A-50U was victim to friendly fire.

The loss of one of the few A-50U, few weeks after another one was shot down, is huge: the Russian Aerospace Forces operate just a handful of such Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft whose unit price is around 350/400M USD. Moreover, Russia has lost two entire aircrews in little more than one month: replacing them in the short/mid-term is impossible and this is an even more significant blow.

Here’s what we wrote when an A-50U Mainstay was shot down on Jan. 15, 2024:

The Beriev A-50 Mainstay is an incredibly important asset in the Russian Aerospace Forces inventory. It’s an Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, used for long range radar detection and surveillance roles. One A-50U was deployed to the Machulishchy Airbase, Belarus in January 2023. Although on Feb. 26, 2023, the Belarusian partisan group, BYPOL, carried out a drone attack on the radar jet that caused some damage to the aircraft on the ground, the A-50 has remained quite far from the front line until November 2023, when the UK MOD reported that Russia, for the first time, had started using its Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, to identify targets over Ukraine for its SA-21 long-range ground-based air defence missile system, adding to the Mainstay’s core mission of co-ordinating fighter aircraft.

“Compared to SA-21’s usual ground-based radar, MAINSTAY can use its radar to spot adversary aircraft at longer ranges because its altitude allows it to see further around the curvature of the earth. Russia has likely expedited integrating MAINSTAY and SA-21 partially because it is concerned about the prospect of Ukraine deploying Western-provided combat aircraft.”

In order to carry out the new mission, “there is a realistic possibility that Russia will accept more risk by flying MAINSTAY closer to the front-line in order to effectively carry out its new role,” the British intelligence report hightlighted.


About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.