Ukraine said on Monday it had destroyed a Russian Beriev A-50 spy plane and an Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post in the Sea of Azov area, dealing a blow to Russian military operations in occupied southern Ukraine.
“Ukraine’s Air Force destroyed an enemy A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and an enemy IL-22 air control centre,” army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
“I am grateful to the Air Force for the perfectly planned and executed operation in the Azov Sea region!”
Reuters was unable to verify the statement independently.
The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.
The Ukrainian defense ministry valued the A-50 aircraft at $330 million.
Kyiv’s statements did not say how the planes had been destroyed.
The A-50, which first came into service near the end of the Soviet era, is a large Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft that can scan an area several hundred kilometers across for enemy aircraft, ships and missiles.
Some Russian military bloggers said the downing of the aircraft would be a huge loss for Russia’s air force, since there was a limited number of the planes in service.
“It will be another dark day for the Russian Aerospace Forces and Air Defense,” wrote Rybar, a blogger with nearly 1.2 million subscribers that supports and provides running commentary on Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“There are not many A-50s. And the specialists operating them are generally rare. If an aircraft of this type is hit, the crew will not be able to escape.”
It was not clear how many A-50s Russia has in service.
London-based think tank IISS said in a 2021 report that Russia had nine A-50 aircraft in operation, including four modernised A-50U planes.
The Russian defence ministry said early last year that the modernised A-50U had been carrying out missions during the war in Ukraine.
The aircraft, which goes by the NATO reporting name of Mainstay, can detect more than 300 targets simultaneously, it said.
It can detect and track a missile launch at a distance of 800 km (497 miles) and ground and sea targets at 300 km (186 miles).