Russia’s loss of a second Beriev A-50 surveillance aircraft within as many months during operations near Ukraine will place additional pressure on its airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) capability, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) says.

In an intelligence update published on 27 February, the UK MoD says the Ilyushin Il-76-based asset was destroyed on 24 February, “almost certainly by a surface-to-air missile”. The engagement occurred while the aircraft was operating “south of the Sea of Azov, over the Russian territory of Krasnodar”, it adds.

“There is a remote chance that the Russians inadvertently shot down their aircraft while attempting to protect it,” the report also notes, without providing supporting evidence.

Russian A-50

Source: AirTeamImages

Downed aircraft has been reported as RF-50610 (pictured), which entered service in 1989

A Cirium accident report identifies the downed A-50 as registered RF-50610, with the asset having entered service in 1989.

On 17 January, another Russian air force A-50 – registered -50601 – crashed into the Sea of Azov, with Ukraine believed to have targeted it using a western-supplied ground-based air defence system.

The most recent loss “has demonstrated a continued Russian inability to protect high-value air assets”, and “brings into question the efficacy of Russian air planners”, the MoD alleges.

While suggesting that the Russian air force inventory includes another seven operational A-50s, the UK intelligence report notes: “The loss of two specialist mission crews in as many months is highly likely to induce further strain and combat fatigue in the remaining force if they are to sustain constant operations.

“It is likely that the Russian air force will again consider different operating locations, but Ukraine is demonstrating an ability to adapt quickly and continues to pose a threat,” it adds.

The UK is providing equipment and other support to Kyiv during its war against invading Russian forces. This also includes providing basic training for its air force pilots.

“The first cohort of Ukrainian pilots to receive training from the Royal Air Force [RAF] are now learning to fly [Lockheed Martin] F-16 fighter jets, having completed a basic programme of training in the UK,” the RAF announced on 24 February.

Involving six experienced Ukrainian fighter pilots, the activity – which included English language and flying instruction – began in the UK last August. The support forms part of its contribution to the international Air Capability Coalition for Ukraine, which is working to equip Kyiv with donated F-16s from later this year.