After Testing In Syria, Russia's New A-50U Reconnaissance Aircraft Is Ready To Rock

Mark Episkopos

Key point: Like many Russian weapons, the AU-50U saw testing over Syria's many battlefields.

Russia’s Beriev A-50U reconnaissance aircraft is rapidly moving along in serial production, according to the Beriev Aircraft Company.

"On December 6, the Beriev Aircraft Company delivered another A-50U serially modernized long-range radar surveillance plane (side number “red” 45) to the Aerospace Force of Russia. After passing all the necessary trials, the plane was transferred to an Aerospace Force crew and made a successful flight from Taganrog to the place of its permanent basing," the manufacturer announced earlier this month.

The A-50U is a modernization of the Soviet A-50, an Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft. One of the many Il-76 variants produced over the 1980s, the A-50 is equipped with a Liana surveillance radar system that enabled the live tracking of up to ten targets.

The A-50U’s major improvement is its new Shmel-M radar: "While upgrading the A-50U aircraft in order to improve its combat and flight characteristics, the Vega concern has modernized the on-board Shmel radar through the use of advanced software and hardware," announced a subsidiary of Rostec.

But what exactly is the new “advanced software and hardware” that the manufacturer is touting as a major advancement over the A-50’s tracking technology? The Shmel-M is a rotating, dome-shaped radar tracking system that gives the A-50U its characteristic appearance, often referred to as the “mushroom plane” within the Russian military.

While the design and dimensions of the A-50U are still based off the Il-76 and therefore remain largely unchanged from the A-50, the manufacturer claims that the radar dome itself is lighter due to the modern components of the Shmel-M. It is also more effective, with the ability to track air targets at a distance of up 650 km and ground targets at 300 km. It can track around 300 ground or forty air targets simultaneously.

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