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Beriev A-50 Mainstay - Operations

The previous aircraft, the Tu-126, tried to fly lower in order to "illuminate" the target from below with the beam of the onboard radar. The new one also "takes" them against the background of the Earth. Therefore the planes twists gigantic "figure-8's" at an altitude of almost 10,000 m. If the centers of the "figure-8" paths are joined, they produce a straight line 100 km long. It has a far better electronic and sensor fit than the Tu-126, and fitted with a new IFF system and a comprehensive ECM suite, the Il-76 is equipped for inflight refuelling to achive maximum endurance. Intended to direct Soviet fighter aircraft over battlefields in Europe or Asia, the Il-76 controlled MiG-29 and MiG-31 interceptors.

The Mainstay is not as sophisticated as its western counterpart, the E-3 Sentry, but provides Russian Fighter Regiments with an airborne control capability over both land and water. The A-50 aircraft and the American aircraft can be considered analogs in purpose, composition and even the number of crew members, but there are differences in the design and implementation of what was conceived, and the difference in the level of electronics tells above all. The Americans took ready-made, off-the-shelf computers for their long-range radar acquisition system, but the Soviets were forced to order them anew, start from scratch, and use hybrid microcircuits in place of monolithic ones. Indicators were also fabricated anew for this development. The A-50's fabricators created a unique system despite objective obstacles. While inferior to the AWACS in target acquisition range and number of automated intercept control frequencies, the A-50 is claimed to surpass the E-3A in the level of target discrimination against the background of the signal's reflections from Earth. Data on satellites via which it is possible to relay information to Earth are stored in the memory of the long-range radar acquisition system's onboard computer.

The A-50, in the words of one of the inspectors from the Air Forces Main Staff, is a modern means of raising the combat effectiveness of aviation through the creation of a continuous radar field and the achievement of maximum continuity and automation of the processes of command and control in the course of performing the basic tasks by aircraft crews in various branches of aviation. It remains, of course, to undertake no small effort to obtain the full impact of the capabilities inherent in the A-50, but even a simple listing of the tasks it performs and the composition of its systems is sufficient to see that the A-50 is far more than just a flying radar station like the Tu-126. A recconaissance-strike complex may use the Il-76 Mainstay as an airborne command post. Its look-down radar is capable of detecting and tracking the movements of ground troops, aircraft, and cruise missiles flying at low altitudes within a 100-km range. The Mainstay is primarily intended to operate with MiG-29s, MiG-31s, and Su-27s. The Il-20 Coot-Bs and a version of the Mi-6 Hook-C helicopter are used as airborne command posts.

The A-50 can serve as an airborne vectoring post, radar post and even command post, if people invested with appropriate powers are in it. In contrast to traditional radars where only the specks of targets as well as range marks light up, the A-50 long-range radar acquisition system screens are mottled with signs, symbols, and in some modes also tables. A computer outputs results to the screens both in alphanumeric and panoramic form. It "stitches" interceptor data on the display's fluorescent disk: number, heading, altitude, speed, and fuel remainder. This vast, precise information is necessary for reliable vectoring to the target.

The number of fixed automated vectoring channels largely determines the A-50's capabilities, which can be expanded significantly by also using voice vectoring, i.e., by giving commands over the air. Everything depends on the intercept controller's expertise. Information is transmitted (or "dumped" - a term used by the crew more often) to the ground over telecode channels and displayed in color on system screens according to the mock battle principle of "Blue" - "Red." The A-50 also sees itself in dynamics of movement relative to Earth reference points-datum points.

The experience of using long-range radar acquisition in large-scale exercises involving different branches of the Armed Forces permits stating confidently that such an aircraft is necessary. The combat capabilities of the A-50 are the long-range radar detection of airborne and naval targets, including airborne targets at very low altitudes, over terrain with any relief; determination of the national affiliation of the targets; transmission of information to the ASU [automatic command and control system] on the trajectory of their movement; and, the guidance of the aircraft at the disposal of the Air Forces, Air Defense and the Navy to targets and to aerial refueling, among others. The A-50 is equipped for those purposes with a high-coherence pulse-Doppler radar with large illumination capacity, equipment for the digital processing of the radar information, recognition and control of fighters, radio communications with aircraft and ground ASUs, including a satellite network, the monitoring and documenting of information, workstations for the crew mem-bers with a system for depicting information, a computersystem for information processing and control of theoperation of all on-board apparatus, and a high-precision piloting and navigational system as an aggregate of interconnected inertial, aerometric, electronic and computer devices.



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