The A-50 was shot down shortly after being deployed on duty in the Kyrylivka area of Zaporizhzhia at 9:10 p.m. on January 14 local time.

RBC Ukraine quoted an anonymous source in the Ukrainian military on January 14 saying that Ukrainian forces shot down a Russian A-50 military aircraft over the Sea of Azov. Another Russian military aircraft, the Il-22M, was also said to have been attacked. The source said that the A-50 was shot down shortly after being deployed on duty in the Kyrylivka area of Zaporizhzhia at 9:10 p.m. on January 14 local time. The plane appeared to disappear from radar and stopped responding to requests from tactical aviation authorities.

According to sources, on the evening of the incident, the pilot of a Russian Su-30 fighter jet allegedly discovered a plane on fire and crashing. Meanwhile, the Il-22M aircraft was on duty in the Strilkove area before it was believed to have been shot down along the Azov coast at around 21:00 local time. RBC posted a recording of what it said was a conversation between a Russian pilot and an airport controller in Anapa, Russia. The pilot called for an evacuation as well as ambulance and firefighting.

Deputy Chairman of the National Security, Defense and Intelligence Committee in the Ukrainian Parliament, Yury Mysiagin, announced on Telegram that two Russian aircraft were destroyed on the evening of January 14. However, there is still no confirmation from Ukrainian military officials. Russia has not yet commented on this information.

The A-50 was deployed to perform a number of important tasks in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, such as detecting air defense systems, guided missiles and coordinating targets for Russian combat aircraft. The A-50 is an airborne early warning aircraft with command and control capabilities and the ability to track up to 60 targets at once. The cost of an A-50 ranges from 330-500 million USD depending on the version.

The A-50U is known as the “magic eye” and “giant airborne data processing center” with the ability to detect targets on land, air and sea. The A-50U is also famous for its ability to transmit changes to the command center on battlefields as well as direct combat and air attacks. Built on the Ilyushin Il-76 airframe, the A-50U can detect ground targets within nearly 300km and air targets within about 600km.

An Il-22M11 aircraft is a protected air command post that acted together with the A-50 during Russian air attacks against Ukraine. This is Russia’s second Il-22M loss during the war. The first such aircraft was shot down by fighters of the Wagner PMC during Prigozhin’s mutiny in the summer of 2023.

The Russian Air Force only has in its possession nine A-50Ms and A-50Us in upgraded versions. Supposedly one of these A-50s stationed in Belarus was damaged by Ukrainian forces or potentially their Belarusian counterparts in February. In the true case that these aircraft were shot down, Russia will face difficulties if they cannot promptly replace them. Russia operates the A-50 at a suitable distance from Ukrainian air defense systems. Therefore, if Ukraine shoots down an A-50 aircraft, this will be especially noteworthy information.

Notably, the Ukrainian military’s ability to engage in ground-to-air combat in the Sea of Azov region has come into focus. The Patriot PAC-2 long-range anti-aircraft system, which boasts a maximum range of 160 km, is an asset in Ukraine’s defense arsenal. In contrast, the Ukrainian S-300 anti-aircraft systems possess a limited stock of ammunition, with undisclosed specifics regarding their munitions. It is known, however, that these systems include missiles with a range of at least 75 km and potentially even exceeding 150 km.

For effective utilization, the Ukrainian military would have had to position a launcher on the front lines, covering a significant area above the north-western Sea of Azov. This strategic placement, while advantageous, also exposes the launcher to the risk of Russian artillery and drones, creating a complex tactical challenge.

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