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By Arie Egozi
The US cruise missiles attack on a Syrian base some weeks ago prompted Moscow to enhance its capability to see what is happening far away, very far from the Syrian airspace.
According to press reports, the Russian air force has deployed an airborne early warning and control (AEW) aircraft to Syria. According to local sources, the AEW aircraft arrived the Hmeimim airbase in the town of Jableh a few days after the US missile strike on the Al-Sha’irat airbase.
The aircraft, the sources say, is the upgraded version of the A-50 equipped with the Vega Shmel-M radar, capable of detecting the launch of a missile or a fighter jet within the range of 650km. The detection range for ground targets is 300km.
The A-50 can perform command and control air operations, guide friendly fighters and track multiple enemy fighters at the same time. The aircraft can remain in the air for more than 8 hours and has the ability to detect ground targets and ships.
Last week, Sergey Rudskoy, Head of the Russian General Staff Main Operations Department, announced that Russia had deployed a multi-level control system in Syria that controls the entire Syrian airspace from the Hmeimim airbase.
The deployment of the A-50 in Syria is believed to be aimed at improving the ability to detect hostile aircraft and missiles, expanding the air defense capabilities of Russian forces.
According to reports, the previous deployment of such a plane in Syria took place in 2015.
Israeli sources say that with the A-50 in Syria, the Russians cover the total Israeli airspace and beyond.
The A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) was developed and manufactured by the Beriev Aircraft Research and Engineering Complex Joint Stock Company based at Taganrog in the Rostov region of Russia. The A-50 aircraft was developed from the llyushin IL-76MD military transport aircraft manufactured by the Ilyushin Aviation Complex Joint Stock Company based in Moscow.
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.
The A-50 aircraft detects and identifies airborne objects, determines their coordinates and flight path data and transfers the information to command posts. The A-50 also acts as a control center, guiding fighter-interceptors and tactical air force aircraft to combat areas in order to attack ground targets at low altitudes. The role of the A-50 is comparable to that of the US’s E-3 AEW system developed by Boeing.