Russian Air Force Shows Upgraded Awacs, and Plans New One

 - September 6, 2013, 11:05 AM
Russia’s second upgraded A-50U Awacs was on static display at the Moscow Air Show. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

At MAKS 2013 the Russian air force exhibited Red 33, its second upgraded Beriev A-50U Awacs aircraft. Built in 1984, it was modernized from the A-50M standard last year and redelivered in February this year. 

Target detection and tracking values for the A-50U are classified but described as “vastly improved” over those of the A-50M. In particular, the A-50U is better at detecting cruise missiles, helicopters and other low-flying aerial targets. The baseline A-50M has a detection range of about 185 miles for land and 400 miles for aerial targets, and can track up to 300 targets simultaneously.

Work on the A-50U began in 2008. Aerial trials followed in 2009 on the industry-owned prototype Side 37. The defense ministry certified the improved aircraft in November 2009, and the Russian air force accepted its first A-50U (Red 47) in October 2011. The defense ministry plans to upgrade the entire A-50 fleet–said to be 26 strong–to the new standard. The aircraft operate from Ivanovo airbase.

Modernization centers on replacement of outdated analogue subsystems of the A-50’s Shmel radar set with digital components having higher performance, lower weight and better reliability. Operator work stations are now furnished with large-screen LCDs in place of cathode ray tubes. All processing is digital. The weight of the radar system has been considerably reduced, increasing range at the same mtow. Satellite-aided navigation improved accuracy. Automated control for interceptor aircraft is provided by radio commands transferred via secured datalink.

The new standard also differs in having a crew rest area, a canteen and a comfortable toilet–the lack of which had long been a bitter complaint of A-50M crews.

Speaking to AIN at MAKS 2013, Beriev general manager Victor Kobzev noted that work continues on “a brand-new Awacs aircraft”, obviously referring to the A-100 Premier. “We must provide a replacement for the aging A-50. The defense ministry has presented us with its vision and specification. It calls for the new aircraft to be far better than any of the in-service types in Russia and abroad. We are working hard to meet their requirements,” Kobzev told AIN. The A-100 will use the Il-476 platform and an all-new active phased-array radar from the Vega company. This aircraft is expected to fly in 2016.

Regarding potential exports, Kobzev said that some countries could be interested in the Russian Awacs aircraft. Kobzev noted that India already operates three customized A-50EIs (the suffix standing for Exportable, Indian). The A-50EI carries an Israeli Phalcon radar system in place of the original Russian Shmel. In the contract that India signed with Israel and Russia, there are options for more aircraft, which Kobzev expects to be firmed up soon.