Russia deploys its aging Beriev Be-12 ASW amphibious aircraft against Ukraine naval drones

According to information published by the UK MoD on October 3, 2023, the aging Beriev Be-12 amphibious aircraft, originally in service since 1965, was sighted participating in operations against Ukraine.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Russian Beriev Be-12 ASW amphibious aircraft. (Picture source: VK)

Following Russia's strategic repositioning of its Black Sea fleet from Crimea to Novorossiysk, there's been a notable shift in the instruments of warfare. With naval capabilities reduced, aircraft, especially the Su-24 and the anti-submarine Be-12, are now at the forefront of operations.

The Be-12, an aircraft tracing its lineage back to the mid-20th century, has found a renewed purpose: patrolling and intercepting Ukrainian naval drones. This resurgence in activity is in line with a reported surge in drone operations, as noted by the Ukrainian President.

Originating from Taganrog, a locale historically intertwined with Ukraine, the Be-12 made its inaugural flight on October 18, 1960. Conceived at the "Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex named after G.M. Beriev," it was intended to succeed the Be-6 seaplane. While engineered to launch from both land and water, contemporary pilots predominantly prefer airstrips, prioritizing safety.

In its Cold War heyday, the Be-12 was a formidable presence. It had the capability to bear nuclear payloads and its impressive specs, such as a top speed of 530 km/h and a range of up to 4,000 kilometers, set it apart.

Armed with a capacity to hold up to 1,500 kilograms of equipment, including torpedoes and depth charges, the Be-12 was renowned for its dual turbo-prop engines and advanced detection systems that effectively countered enemy submarines. The aircraft's legacy is punctuated by a staggering 46 world records.

After the fall of the USSR, the Be-12's adaptability came to the fore, with many units being retrofitted as firefighting tankers. However, the current geopolitical climate has seen Russia repurpose these venerable aircraft for more aggressive roles, particularly over the Black Sea.

Amidst these shifts, there's evident repurposing of the Be-12 from its original maritime patrol function. It's now actively undertaking reconnaissance missions over Ukrainian regions, with a focus on locating what Russian intelligence terms "Ukrainian saboteurs."

This has led defense analysts to postulate the Be-12's pivotal role in orchestrating attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, notably ports and grain facilities, which have become targets of Russian artillery and aerial assaults.

Records from 2012 highlighted that Russia had 5 active Be-12s, with another 24 on standby. In contrast, Ukraine had 4 operational Be-12s, 3 in reserve, and one as a museum exhibit near Kyiv. Some believe that during the 2014 Crimea annexation, a few Ukrainian Be-12s might have been seized by Russian forces.