The Beriev A-50U airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft is a modernised version of the A-50. The Beriev A-50 is a Soviet airborne early warning and control aircraft based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport. The aircraft is known in the West by the Nato codename Mainstay. Beriev aircraft normally carry the Russian designation Be- followed by the number, however, the A-50 aircraft retained the well-known A-designation which Beriev allocated to the original prototype. Developed to replace the Tupolev Tu-126 “Moss”, the A-50 first flew in 1978. It entered service in 1984, with about 40 produced by 1992. Currently, 16 aircraft are operational in the Russian Air Force. In November 2011, the new version A-50U entered in service in the Russian Air Force. The role of the A-50 is comparable to that of the US’s E-3 AEW system developed by Boeing.
The improved Beriev A-50U, featuring the Vega Shmel-M radar designed by MNIIP, Moscow, and produced by NPO Vega. The Shmel radar works in a quasi-constant search mode for tracking aerial targets out to 600 kilometers, and in a pulse mode to track surface targets out to a range of around 300 kilometers. For processing, the A-50U carries digital computers, instead of the analogue systems that supported the earlier E-821 Shmel/Izdeliye R. Data displays on LCD screens instead of the earlier CRTs. The Vega Shmel-M radar is capable of tracking up to 150 targets simultaneously within 230 kilometers. The A-50U is fitted with a self-defence system when flying en-route and over patrol zones. The self-defence system ensures protection from guided and unguided weapons of the enemy’s fighters attacking the aircraft from its front and rear hemispheres. The aircraft radio and electronics systems are robust against hostile jamming and provide good combat performance in dense electronic countermeasures environments.
The A-50 AWACS is equipped with a flight control and navigation system used to ensure air navigation at all flight stages, in VFR and 1FR conditions, by day and night, in any season and in all latitudes. The aircraft is also fitted with the NPK-T flight control and navigation system used to ensure air navigation during all flight stages in all-weather day and night and all-year operations performed at all geographical latitudes. The A-50 AWACS is motorized with four Aviadvigatel PS-90A turbofan, 157 kN each. The maximum flight range of the aircraft is 5,000km and the flight endurance is seven hours 40 minutes. At a range of 2,000km, the A-50 can remain on patrol for up to one hour 25 minutes. The A-50U carries out patrol missions at an altitude of 5,000m to 10,000m. The patrol service ceiling is 10km. The aircraft is manned by five flight crew and ten mission crew. The maximum take-off weight of the aircraft is 170,000kg. It can travel at a maximum speed of 800km/h.
In late December 2015, the A-50 started operations over Syria, flying from Russia, in support of the Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. Israeli satellite photographs confirmed the presence of a single A-50 on the apron of Hmemmem air base south of Lattakia on May 3, 2017. The aircraft deployed in Syria is the latest version to enter service, the A-50U. The Russian air force, apparently received four such aircraft between 2011 and 2017. The A-50U deployment could be part of the Russian response to the U.S. attack that demolished Shayrat air base in Syria on April 7, 2017. The Americans launched cruise missiles in retaliation for the regime using chemical weapons against Khan Sheykhoun on April 4.