Ukraine downs Russian A-50U surveillance aircraft over Sea of Azov, entire crew lost

On 23 February 2024, Ukraine shot down a Russian A-50U early warning and control aircraft over the Sea of Azov, an asset estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The downed Russian A-50U aircraft's entire crew of ten perished in the incident, reports Ukrainska Pravda, citing sources within the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. As reported by Hromadske, the ranks of those on board the long-range radar plane are still being verified. However, Ukrainska Pravda notes that the crew comprised five Russian majors, three captains, one warrant officer, and a lieutenant.

Russia's air force reportedly has a total of seven long-range radar detection aircraft. The cost of an A-50 is more than $350 million, with only a few such planes remaining in Russia's arsenal.

The downing of a Russian A-50U, an airborne long-range radar detection and control aircraft, sparked panic within Russian air force, prompting the emergency landing of five Russian Air and Space Forces jets due to a perceived threat, reported the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine's Defense.

According to the Ukrainian intelligence agency, the A-50U took off from the Ahtubinsk airfield at 3:50 pm on February 23, embarking on its final flight and conducting operations in the war against Ukraine when it encountered an "incident." About two and a half hours after takeoff, near the town of Primorsko-Akhtarsk on the coast of the Sea of Azov, the aircraft was struck by an unknown surface-to-air missile system and crashed.

The Intelligence Directorate noted that around 6:45 pm, they detected that an operative radar system "Shmel," installed on the aircraft suddenly went silent.

The destruction of the plane was later confirmed by intercepted radio communication from the crew of a Su-35 fighter that was supposed to provide cover for the airborne radar command and control craft. "First a flash, then explosions!" the pilot of the Su-35 reported.

According to the pilot, he observed an air defence system activity. A further sign of the operation's success was the cancellation of missions for two Su-35s and three Su-34s of the Russian air force, which had been flying near Millerovo. Some of these jets had been planning to conduct airstrikes near Avdiivka, the Intelligence Directorate said.

The Russian war bloggers now insists that the A-50 was allegedly shot down by friendly fire. However, the Ukrainian side maintains that it was the result of a joint special operation by Ukrainian military intelligence and the Air Force. While specifics have not been disclosed, media reports suggest that a long-range S-200 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system could have been used to down the Russian aircraft.

The Russian Telegram channel VCHK-OGPU, which is believed to be linked to Russian intelligence agencies, claims that the remains of 10 crew members have already been found at the A-50U crash site.

  War in Ukraine, Sea of Azov, Russia