Ukrainian media on Sunday evening reported an A-50 radar early-warning plane was downed on Sunday evening shortly after take-off over the Sea of Azov in the Kyrylivka area of Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine.
A Russian Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post was also damaged in an attack and forced to make an emergency landing in Anapa on the Russian side of the Sea of Azov.
Sources in Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence (HUR) confirmed to Kyiv Post that the two aircraft had been hit, saying “we confirm the fact” but added: “We do not comment on the means used.”
HUR did not provide further details and it is not known what weapons downed the two planes.
Later on Monday, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny, said in a post on social media: "soldiers of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine" destroyed the plane, adding: "Thanks to the Air Force for the excellently planned and conducted operation in Azov region! Glory to Ukraine!"
He also released radar footage of the planes' flight paths.
The Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed the russian A-50 long-range radar detection aircraft and the Il-22 enemy air control post.— Saint Javelin (@saintjavelin) January 15, 2024
Thanks to the Air Force for the excellently planned and conducted operation in Azov region!
Glory to Ukraine!
— Zaluzhnyi pic.twitter.com/7S8Pd2085h
According to RBC-Ukraine, the A-50 radar early-warning plane disappeared from radars and stopped responding to radio calls, with the pilot of a Russian Su-30 fighter jet confirming the aircraft had been hit.
Just a few minutes earlier, a Russian Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post was damaged with RBC posting what it claimed was an SOS call made by the crew of the aircraft, in which they said: “Urgently requesting ambulance and fire crew.”
A few hours ago, someone apparently attacked two Russian aircraft over the Azov Sea: A-50 early warning and control and Il22-M command and control aircraft. The former is claimed to now be scuba diving, while the latter, well... the following audio recording emerged which… pic.twitter.com/SJScgH6doo— WarTranslated (Dmitri) (@wartranslated) January 14, 2024
According to open-source data, Russia had just nine A50 planes in service, and 30 IL-22Ms.
File photo of Russsian Ilyushin Il-22 airborne command post. PHOTO: Wikicommons.
The loss of two command planes in a single day would mark the worst 24 hours for Russia’s air force since the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The previous record would be a day last month when Ukraine downed three Russian supersonic Su-34 strike aircraft.
As in Sunday’s attacks, the weapon system used were not disclosed but speculation suggested the possible use of the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system.
How might the planes have been downed on Sunday evening?
Immediately after reports of the downing of the two aircraft were received milbloggers and mainstream media began to speculate on what happened.
The question on everyone’s keyboard was how Ukrainian air defense had been able to hit targets well beyond the range of their known positions.
One theory voiced by Forbes and others was that, because in recent weeks Ukraine had been able to step up its use of electronic warfare to impede Russian air and missile activity, the planes had inadvertently strayed outside of their usual “safe zones” bringing them into range.
Another suggestion was that an intrepid Ukraine pilot or pilots had managed to stage a “sneaky” hit and run attack using air-to-air missiles before returning to safety over Ukrainian held territory.
A third suggestion made on a Ukrainian Telegram channel was that the IL-22 had actually been hit by its own air defense assets deployed to protect the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to mainland Russia.
One theory that has yet to be voiced, as the reports said the A-50 had been hit “shortly after take-off,” was that one of Ukraine’s special forces teams or a partisan group had got close enough to use a man-portable air defense (MANPAD) missile or other weapon to hit it.
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