What happened to Ukraine’s An-71 AWACS? once it was best in the world

Currently, Russia and Ukraine have been battling in the same room for months. In the past, brothers turned against one another, so Ukraine’s once-proud defence and military industry also lost the largest market. The Ukrainian Air Force was not equipped with early warning aircraft that could control air supremacy, but in reality, they built two early warning aircraft that were quite advanced at the time and could be compared to the American-made E-2 “Hawkeye.”

Near the international airport of “Igor Sikorsky” in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, there is a huge and extremely rich aviation museum, the National Aviation Museum of Ukraine, which houses a large collection of modern fighters made in the Soviet era, from the largest Tu-22M3 “backfire” strategic bomber to many fighters developed by various design bureaus.

The Products of the Antonov Design Bureau in Ukraine are also very rich, and one of the most strange-looking early warning aircraft is a treasure, that is, the An-71 early warning aircraft, and most of the early warning aircraft used disc-shaped radar antennas arranged on the back of the aircraft.

An-71 prototypes
An-71 prototypes

The An-71 was successfully developed in the 1980s, and unlike the rumored carrier-based early warning aircraft, this early warning aircraft was actually established as a new generation of early warning aircraft of the Soviet Air Force, and had nothing to do with aircraft carriers and the Navy, because the Soviet Homeland Air Defense Force used the Tu-126 early warning aircraft based on the Tu-114 passenger aircraft (derived from the Tu-95 strategic bomber) platform at that time, and the lack of detection capabilities for low-altitude targets was in urgent need of replacement.

In the end, the Soviet Union decided that the Taganrog Beriev Design Bureau would develop a second-generation long-range early warning aircraft code-named “Product A” based on the Il-76 large military transport aircraft platform, which was first flown in 1978 and put into use in 1985, which used the rotating early warning radar developed by the “Vega” Research Institute in Moscow for use of the Homeland Air Defense Force.

Upgraded A-50U of the Russian Air Force
Upgraded A-50U of the Russian Air Force

The Soviet Union’s A-50 was designed by Antonov as a whole, the future for use by the Soviet Air Force, the platform used is Antonov developed and first flew in 1977, put into production in 1982 a twin-engine turbofan power short take-off and landing multi-purpose transport aircraft – An-72, There if the A-50 is the benchmark with the US E-3 at that time, then in 1982 to launch a new generation of tactical early warning aircraft project

According to the An-71 indicators formulated in 1983, the aircraft is required to have an endurance of not less than 5 hours, the “quantum” early warning radar developed by the “Vega” research institute has a search distance of up to 360 kilometers, has the ability to track 120 targets at the same time, and has the ability to penetrate voice and other data under multiple command posts at the same time, and also the early warning radar to have the ability to find low-altitude small targets, such as the ABILITY of the US-made “Tomahawk” cruise missile, and at the same time, the carrier platform has the ability to operate in bad weather and various geographical environments. This is also the advantage of the An-72 platform because the aircraft itself is much smaller than the A-50, it has only 6 tactical command stations.

A total of 3 prototypes were built for the An-71, and by convention, prototype 2 was a static test aircraft. In July 1985, the first prototype of the USSR-780151 completed its first flight, and in February 1986, the prototype no. 3 with the number USSR-780361 made its first flight, but at that time, the West did not find the existence of such an early warning aircraft, until 1987, the figure of the An-71 appeared in a picture book of Soviet civil aviation, and the photo was taken by a Ukrainian photographer who did not know that “secrecy is to protect combat effectiveness” when Gorbachev inspected the security bureau in 1985. It was only the West that confirmed the existence of the An-71 for the first time.

The first public photo of an-71 in the Soviet civil aviation album
The first public photo of an-71 in the Soviet civil aviation album

The second  prototypes of the An-71 have undergone hundreds of test flights, of which the No. 1 prototype has 387 flights (650 flight hours), and the No. 3 aircraft has 362 flights (380 flight hours), in 1990, the project was stopped due to the drastic changes in the Soviet Union and lack of funds, after independence, Ukraine was even more unable to continue this project, two prototypes were once parked at The Antonov Airport, and after 2010, the first Prototype was moved to the National Aviation Museum. It is unclear whether Prototype 3 is still alive after a fierce battle.

It should be pointed out that the radar antenna of the An-71 is very high, it is completely impossible to cram into the aircraft carrier hangar, and it was not designed at the beginning of the ship-based early warning aircraft.

In contrast, the “Yak-44” developed by the Yakovlev Design Bureau, is the carrier-based early warning aircraft prepared for the nuclear carrier “Ulyanovsk”, which looks the same as the E-2, but uses two much more powerful D-27 paddle fan engines, which are also used by the An-70 new generation tactical transport aircraft, but the Yak-44 only made a full-scale model and never built a prototype.

In order to compete with the Yak-44, Antonov has proposed an An-75 carrier-based early warning aircraft program based on the An-74 platform, which shows that if the “Ulyanovsk” nuclear aircraft carrier is successfully launched and commissioned, Ukrainian aviation manufacturing companies will contribute as much as shipbuilding companies.

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