Another One Of Russia’s Prized A-50 Radar Planes Shot Down, Ukraine Claims

Ukraine claimed today that Russia lost another A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft — which would be the second such loss of the conflict so far. Among the first rumors of the incident to circulate came from Russian military bloggers, saying that the Mainstay was a victim of friendly fire over the Sea of Azov. Meanwhile, Ukrainian accounts suggested that the aircraft was shot down in a joint operation by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian intelligence services.

Subsequently, the Ukrainian Air Force and Ukrainian Defense Forces posted separately on X stating that an A-50 had been destroyed, the Air Force noting that this had occurred at around 7:00 P.M. local time, while the Defense Forces quoted the unit cost of the aircraft, said to be $330 million.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, or GUR, also says it was involved in the operation to bring down the A-50 and has released maps, seen below, showing the approximate location of the claimed shootdown.

While these various claims are yet to be independently verified, videos have appeared on social media showing what is said to be the burning wreckage of the aircraft.

Some of those videos claim that the aircraft came down in the village of Trudovaya Armenia, in the Krasnodar region, in southern Russia, close to the Sea of Azov.

Whether the A-50 fell to Russian or Ukrainian air defenses, videos purporting to show the A-50 releasing infrared countermeasures prior to it coming down certainly point to the likelihood of it having been engaged by some kind of surface-to-air missile. However, unless it was being fired upon by an infrared-guided missile, which is highly unlikely, the flares would have had no effect on the weapon targeting it.

In the previous incident, on January 15, 2024, another A-50 was reportedly shot down (and an Il-22M radio-relay aircraft damaged) after being engaged by Ukrainian air defenses over the Sea of Azov, according to officials in Kyiv.

After that loss, we expected to see these surveillance aircraft pushed farther back from Ukrainian territory, which would, in turn, degrade the quality of intelligence and command and control they provide. However, if this latest A-50 was shot down by Ukrainian fire, that would suggest that Russia may have done little to change its operational tactics.

As of 2021, Russia was estimated to have nine A-50s, including a number of improved A-50Us, in active service. Another one of these aircraft was damaged in a drone attack while on the ground at a base in Belarus last year, and its current status is unknown.

The reported shootdown of the A-50 today comes amid a spate of Ukrainian claims that it has destroyed several other Russian aircraft recently. Just since February 17, the Ukrainian Air Force says that it has brought down five Su-34 Fullback and two Su-35 Flanker-E combat jets. The War Zone cannot independently verify these claims.

This also follows reports that Ukrainian forces are specifically using Patriot surface-to-air missile systems provided by the United States and other foreign partners to deny Russian aircraft access to key operating areas.

Whatever the case, the loss of a second A-50 in the conflict — if confirmed — will be a significant blow to Russia.

This is a developing story. Stay with The War Zone for updates. 

Update, February 24, 1:00 a.m. PST: The Ivanovo News website, a Russian media portal that covers the region in which the A-50 fleet is home-based, has confirmed that a Mainstay crashed in the Krasnodar region.

Citing military correspondents, the outlet says the A-50 came down in the Kanevsky district, around 85 miles from Ostrov. 

There have been Russian media reports stating that two aircraft crashed, at around 8:00 p.m. local time, on farmland at Trudovaya Armenia. However, this seems to be a misidentification of the wreckage, which actually consists of a single aircraft.

According to Ivanovo News:

“Upon the arrival of fire departments, it was established that the aircraft and reeds were burning, the fire area was approximately 250 square meters. There is no threat to residential buildings, and there are no casualties among the village residents. The fire is currently being extinguished. 40 people and 14 pieces of equipment were involved. Law enforcement and special services are also onsite.”

Other reports in the Russian media suggest that 10 crew members were killed when the A-50 came down. Those personnel are said to have comprised five majors, three captains, an ensign, and a lieutenant.

At this stage, it remains very much a mystery how the A-50 may have been shot down. Based on the maps published by the GUR, the Mainstay was brought down outside the engagement range of the Patriot — around 120-140 miles behind the closest front lines.

Some reports in the Ukrainian media suggest that the Soviet-era S-200 (SA-5 Gammon) long-range surface-to-air missile may have been used, although the status of this system (in an air defense capacity, at least) remains unclear.

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Thomas Newdick

Staff Writer

Thomas is a defense writer and editor with over 20 years of experience covering military aerospace topics and conflicts. He’s written a number of books, edited many more, and has contributed to many of the world’s leading aviation publications. Before joining The War Zone in 2020, he was the editor of AirForces Monthly.