A drone strike has disabled one of Russia’s few surveillance planes. The A-50U, which was very conspicuous because of its radar, was parked quite carelessly at a base near Minsk.

Heavy blow for Putin. A Beriev A-50 Shmel aircraft was badly damaged at an airport in Belarus. Allegedly by Belarusian partisans of the Bypol group. They are said to have attacked the surveillance jet with two drones, severely damaging the front and middle fuselage segments and the radar mushroom structure.

Bypol is not an opposition political activist, the organization is run by former security officials. Not only the loss of the jet, but the attack itself changes the threat situation for the Russian military. Belarus has so far been a largely safe deployment area. This is where Russian troops train and the Air Force starts its missions. Not at risk, because Kiev cannot be interested in counterattacks that could lead Belarus to actively enter the war.

Carefree parking

The situation is different with actions by Belarusian resistance fighters. For a drone attack, the commando only needs to get close enough to the airport. “We found that A-50U is quite a convenient target due to its large fiberglass dome (more than 10 meters in diameter), which houses a rotating antenna of the Shmel radar system,” reads a tweet from the Belarusian Hajun- project. Satellite photos show the – well-known – carelessness of the Russian military at the base Machulyshche. The jets are parked at short intervals in a long line. The MiG-31K carrying the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles also operate from this base. Machulyshchy is only 12 kilometers from the capital Minsk. Approaching it was not a problem, there is a highway nearby. Checks were carried out there after the attack. Belarusian security forces later found a bag with the control modules of the drones.

Few modern specimens

The Beriev A-50 Shmel is a surveillance aircraft – Awacs – like the American Boeing E-3 Sentry, which is usually referred to in the West only by the generic name Awacs. The Russian jet is based on the Ilyushin Il-76MD military transport aircraft and is easily identified by the large search radar that rises above the fuselage in a mushroom-shaped structure. The first flight took place in 1978, the first use in 1982. The original equipment is now obsolete and has since been replaced. At the beginning of the war, the Russian armed forces are said to have had only about 15 of these aircraft at their disposal. Some of them are the slightly improved version A-50M. Seven jets are said to have been extensively modernized. Among other things, the main radar and all electronics were replaced on the A-50U. Not only does this make the aircraft more powerful, but it has also greatly reduced the weight of the aircraft.

surveillance from above

Why are these planes so important? A ground-based radar can only detect objects to which a straight line (line of sight) can be drawn from the radar. Bumps, hills or even mountains create a shadow that the radar cannot see into. Low-flying drones and cruise missiles take advantage of these conditions to approach their target undetected. In addition, there is the curvature of the earth – a conventional ground-penetrating radar cannot see beyond the horizon. At a viewing height of ten meters, that would only be about twelve kilometers.

The situation is different when the radar looks down from above. From a bird’s-eye view, it can spot every movement, depressions and ravines no longer offer any protection, and the effect of the earth’s curvature is practically negligible. In this way, surveillance aircraft can effectively monitor the airspace and even explore movements on the ground.

Special situation in war

In a war between the major military powers, these surveillance aircraft would be a primary target – whether in the air or on the ground. The situation in Ukraine is special. Kiev does not have any aircraft of this type itself, but it is an open secret that the Ukrainian military is supplied with data from US AWACS. They constantly patrol either the airspace adjacent to NATO countries or international territory. Unassailable for Russia if you don’t want to provoke a conflict with the US. The Russian planes stay away from the territory of free Ukraine, since Kiev does not have long-range air defense systems, they are safe so far.

The Russian armed forces are lagging behind in information warfare and reconnaissance because Kiev is benefiting from Western intelligence. The loss of one of the few own scouts is likely to exacerbate this situation. In addition, the West intends to provide Kiev with longer-range missiles. In order to capture their launch position and take countermeasures, the Kremlin needs the few Beriev A-50U Shmel.

Quelle: Reuters, Euroasiantimes