The Beriev A-50 (NATO codename: 'Mainstay') serves the modern Russian Air Force in the Airborne and Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) role - commonly recognized in U.S. speak as 'AWACS'. The framework is that of the Soviet Ilyushin IL-76 'Candid' transport aircraft of the Cold War period with modifications completed by the Beriev concern to produce a new aircraft for the AWACS role. The most distinguishing feature of the A-50 series is its radome which sits over the rear dorsal section of the fuselage. Service introduction of the aircraft occurred in 1984 and production spanned from 1978 to 1992 to which some forty examples were completed. The A-50 remains in active service (though in modernized forms) with the Russian Air Force as well as the Indian Air Force - the only two global operators of the type.
The A-50 was developed as a successor to the aging Tupolev Tu-126 ('Moss') aircraft line which first appeared in 1962 (service entry followed in 1965). The Tu-126 was converted from the Tu-114 commercial airliner and became the Soviet Union's first AEW platform. In 1971, a prototype Ilyushin IL-76 recorded its first-flight and saw introduction in 1974 with nearly 1,000 units made over the life of its production run. This aircraft proved a multirole performer for the Soviet Empire and thus was selected by authorities for conversion to the AWACS role in the late 1960s with work continuing into the early-to-mid 1980s.
A first-flight of an A-50 prototype was had on December 19th, 1978 and twenty-four examples were delivered for service in 1984.
Beyond the obvious external structural additions, the internal landscape of the transport was reworked to take on crew stations with the total crew complement numbering fifteen. The 'Liana' surveillance radar system was fitted as a suspended saucer-like structure over the rear of the fuselage and this powerful system allowed for target tracking out to 650 kilometers for aerial threats (300 km otherwise). The radar was to assist in both intercept and ground-attack missions as well as provide valuable battlefield surveillance and air traffic control.
The aircraft sports dimensions that include a length of 152.7 feet, a wingspan of 165.5 feet and a height of 48.4 feet. Empty weight is 165,400lb against an MTOW of 365,000lb. Power is from 4 x Soloviev D-30KP turbofan engines developing 26,500lb of thrust each, providing speeds nearing 560 miles per hour and ranges out to 4,000 miles (a built-in air refueling capability is seen in modernized forms for extended operational ranges). The aircraft's service ceiling is approximately 40,000 feet.
While A-50 marks the standard initial production forms, several modernized variants have emerged since including the A-50M and A-50U. The M-model adds the aforementioned in-flight refueling capability and the U-model of 1995 features extensive updates to its equipment (primarily the Vega-M radar fit, giving simultaneous tracking of 50 targets out to 125 nautical miles) replacing original first-run models in service. The Indian Air force operates the A-50E/I variant which includes Israeli EL/W-2090 series radar as well as Aviadvigatel PS-90 A-76 series turbofan engines, the same as fitted to the Ilyushin IL-76 family as well as the Tupolev Tu-204 narrow-body airliner and Ilyushin IL-96 wide-body airliner breeds.
The A-50I was a planned variant for the Chinese Air Force to be outfitted with Israeli radar but pressure put on the Israelis by the Americans forced the cancellation of this design.
Several 'one-off' aircraft have also been developed: Izdeliye-676 and Izdeliye-776 both were designed along the lines of 'telemetry and tracking' platforms. Izdeliye-976 (SKIP) was added as a cruise missile support vehicle (serving missile tracking). Izdeliye-1076 became a 'special mission' aircraft.
The Russian Air Force has about 22 x A-50M models currently (2017) in service with another 4 x A-50U on hand. The Indian Air Force maintains a stable of five and these serve with No.50 Squadron out of Agra Air Force Station in north-central India.
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October 2017 - The A-50 Mainstay series is set to be succeeded by the in-development A-100 AEW platform sometime in 2020.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Special-Mission: Airborne Early Warning (AEW)
Specially-equipped platform providing over-battlefield Command and Control (C2) capability for allied aerial elements.
✓Special-Mission: Electronic Warfare (EW)
Equipped to actively deny adversaries the ElectroMagnetic (EM) spectrum and protect said spectrum for allied forces.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
Serving Special Forces / Special Operations elements and missions.
162.7 ft (49.60 m)
165.7 ft (50.50 m)
48.4 ft (14.75 m)
165,347 lb (75,000 kg)
374,786 lb (170,000 kg)
+209,439 lb (+95,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Beriev A-50 (Mainstay) production variant)
4 x Soloviev D-30KP turbofan engines developing 26,500lb of thrust each.
None. Mission equipment carried for battlespace direction.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
A-50 'Mainstay' - Base Series Designation
A-50M - Modernized variant; inflight refueling capability.
A-50U - Modernized Russian Air Force variant
A-50I - Proposed variant for China; fitted with Israeli-originated radar; cancelled.
A-50E/I - indian Air Force model with Israeli EL/W-2090 series radar fit and 4 x Aviadvigatel PS-90 A-76 turbofan engines.
Izdeliye-676 - Telemetry and Tracking (T&T) platform; single example.
Izdeliye-776 - Telemetry and Tracking (T&T) platform; single example.
Izdeliye-976 (SKIP) - Airborne Check-Measure-and-Control-Center (ACMCC) platform; six examples including single prototype.
Izdeliye-1076 - Special mission platform; single example.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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Image from the Russian Ministry of Defense; Public Release.
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Image from the United States Department of Defense imagery database.
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