An early-warning surveillance aircraft used to guide Russian jet fighters to their targets in Ukraine was heavily damaged after being attacked by a drone, British military officials confirmed Thursday in their latest intelligence assessment of the battlefield.
One of the Kremlin’s few Beriev A-50 aircraft, a Cold War-era craft repurposed and now deployed for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was “almost certainly” attacked by what British intelligence officials described as a “small uncrewed air system.” The Beriev is known by NATO as “Mainstay” and has a mission similar to that of a U.S. Air Force Advanced Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.
British officials did not confirm who was behind the drone attack.
The British report came as Russia unleashed “a massive rocket attack” Thursday that hit critical infrastructure and residential buildings in 10 regions of Ukraine, the Associated Press reported.
Ukrainian officials reported at least six deaths across the country and numerous power outages in the largest such nighttime attack in three weeks.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the barrage that came while many people slept and knocked out power in cities across the country was an attempt by Moscow “to intimidate Ukrainians again,” the AP reported.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed this week that one of Russia’s small fleet of A-50 “Mainstay” aircraft had been struck. It was likely moved to a repair facility at an air force base in southeastern Russia, British officials said on Twitter.
“The transit flight reportedly took place at a lower-than-usual altitude, likely because of damage to the pressurized cabin,” British military intelligence officials said.
One likely function of the A-50 Mainstay was to guide MiG-31K jet fighters armed with the AS-24 air-launched ballistic missile, which Russia sees as a key strategic capability. The planes have had their internal radar removed to balance the airframe, requiring pilots to rely on the Mainstay to reach their targets, British officials said.
“It is a realistic possibility that joint Russo-Belarusian air activity will now be forced to rely on ground control and fighter escort until another ‘Mainstay’ can be deployed,” British officials said Thursday.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.