Russia’s ‘High-Value’ Command Aircraft Have Been Staying Out of Ukraine’s Reach to Keep Them Safe — Only to Have Wagner Shoot One Down at Home

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  • Wagner forces downed several Russian military aircraft during their short-lived armed rebellion.
  • Among those losses was a valuable Ilyushin Il-22M airborne command-post aircraft. 
  • British intel said the Il-22M is a “high-value asset” because it can avoid Kyiv’s air defenses.

The Wagner Group’s armed rebellion last weekend may have been short-lived, but the mercenary organization still managed to inflict significant damage on Russia’s military, Western intelligence sources said.

Before the mutiny was called off, Wagner Group fighters closed in on Moscow and shot down several Russian military aircraft, including an Ilyushin Il-22M airborne command-post aircraft. Photos and videos shared to social media showed the plane engulfed in a fireball as it plummeted from the sky, before ultimately crashing into a field and leaving behind a huge pile of debris. 

All 10 crewmembers aboard the aircraft were reportedly killed. 

The Il-22M is a valuable special-mission aircraft that Russia’s military has relied on heavily for aerial command and control during its invasion of Ukraine. Britain’s defense ministry wrote in a Thursday intelligence update that Moscow operates a small fleet of 12 Il-22Ms, but they are “high-value assets” because they can fly safely within Russia’s airspace and out of reach of Ukraine’s air-defense network while coordinating air and ground operations.

Russia has demonstrated that it can outperform Ukraine above the battlefield, boasting an edge in several categories, including the overall size of its air force, missile and radar capabilities, technical attributes, and electronic equipment. But airspace still remains contested, and losing an important aircraft like the Il-22M is a blow to Moscow’s forces, making Wagner’s reported actions deeply problematic.

“The loss of this aircraft is likely to have a negative impact on Russian air and land operations. In the short term, the psychological shock of losing a large number of aircrew in this manner will almost certainly damage morale within” Russia’s air force, Britain’s defense ministry wrote.

“In the longer term, there is a possibility that current tasking levels may have to be reduced to safely manage the remaining fleet,” the intelligence update said. “This will likely undermine Russia’s ability to command and coordinate its forces, particularly during periods of high tempo operations.”

Losing one of its limited supply of Il-22M aircraft comes at a critical time for Russian forces, who are currently tasked with defending against a Ukrainian counteroffensive in several directions along the front lines. Kyiv’s forces have mobilized a large influx of advanced weaponry from the US and its NATO allies — including tanks and armored fighting vehicles — to make small territorial gains in the eastern and southern regions.

The Il-22M is not the only aircraft that Russia’s military lost during the historic and chaotic armed rebellion over the weekend. Wagner Group fighters also managed to shoot down several electronic-warfare and attack helicopters, eventually leading Yevgeny Prigozhin, who founded the notorious mercenary organization, to express remorse.  

“We regret that we had to hit air assets, but those assets were dropping bombs and launching missile strikes,” Prigozhin said on Monday in his first public statement since calling off the mutiny. The Wagner chief has since been cast into exile in neighboring Belarus thanks to negotiations with the Kremlin that were brokered by Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this week that Prigozhin’s fighters can either return to their homes, sign contracts with Russia’s defense ministry, or leave the country and go to Belarus.

Source Business Insider