UK Defense Ministry: Russia likely grounds its A-50 aircraft fleet

Russia has likely stopped flying its A-50 early warning and control planes in support of operations in Ukraine after the downing of the second aircraft, the U.K. Defense Ministry said in its March 2 report.

The Russian Air Force has recently lost two of its A-50 planes, one in January and another on Feb. 23, reportedly due to Ukrainian attacks. One such aircraft costs around $330 million.

The A-50 plane provides several critical functions for the ongoing war in Ukraine, such as detecting air defense systems, guided missiles, and coordinating targets for Russian fighter jets.

Ukraine's Air Force spokesperson Yurii Ihnat said on Feb. 27 that Ukrainian forces have not detected an A-50 aircraft for days since Feb. 23.

Russia will likely keep the planes grounded during internal investigations into the failure to protect this highly valuable asset, the U.K. Defense Ministry said.

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"This is a capability gap Russia can ill afford over the contested airspace of eastern and southern Ukraine," the ministry believes.

The loss of A-50 support will likely degrade the situational awareness of air crews and force Russian warplanes to take greater risks to support ground forces, the analysis read.

Russia recently experienced a string of airpower losses, including 10 Su-34 fighter bombers and two Su-35 fighter jets in the last two weeks of February. One more Su-34 was reportedly shot down on March 1.

According to the U.K. Defense Ministry, Russia may attempt to refit older A-50 airframes to offset the losses, as there are likely only a few aircraft currently in operation. Ukraine's military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said that Russia's A-50 fleet currently includes only six operational planes.

Read also: Ukraine destroyed 13 Russian military aircraft in 2 weeks. How?

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