Sunday, 19 May 2024

Satellite imagery shows possible damage to a Russian surveillance plane in Belarus.

A Belarusian opposition group said that an attack seriously damaged a Russian military aircraft at a Belarusian air base over the weekend and rendered it unable to operate. Satellite images collected on Tuesday showed possible damage, but could not confirm the extent.

The images clearly show the plane, an A-50 early warning and control aircraft, is structurally intact. However, they also show a new dark spot on the plane’s large radar disc, indicating possible damage. The satellite images do not conclusively show whether the plane was still functional.

The A-50 aircraft is a critical asset in Russia’s air operations against Ukraine. The opposition group, Bypol — formed after a disputed presidential election in 2020 — said on Sunday that the Russian military surveillance aircraft was attacked with drones at the Machulishchy air base south of the capital, Minsk. It hinted that “Belarusian partisans” were responsible, but did not elaborate.

The British Ministry of Defense tweeted on Tuesday that if the airplane were confirmed lost, it “would be significant as it is critical to Russian air operations for providing an air battle space picture.” It said Russia would likely only have six of such planes left.

In 2020, the British think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies listed nine of these types of aircraft in the inventory of the Russian Air Force.

For its analysis, The New York Times reviewed three different satellite images, captured over the span of 90 minutes on Tuesday morning, and compared them with a series of archival satellite images and a video of the plane from recent weeks.

An A-50 airplane has regularly been at the airfield in Belarus since at least December 2022. In Tuesday’s imagery, the plane can be seen 3,000 feet south of its usual parking position.

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