Over 30 radio station units were reported stolen on 4th December from one of the hatches of a Russian IL-80 plane also dubbed as the Doomsday plane. The plane was being repaired at the Beriev Taganrog Aviation Scientific Technical Complex, a Russian United Aircraft Corporation subsidiary. The technicians discovered the theft of 39 radio station units and five components from five similar but dismantled units. The Russians have not released any information on the stolen equipment.
The IL-80 is a modified Soviet-era Ilyushin IL-86 wide-body passenger jet airliner and there are four such IL-80 mobile airborne command and control aircraft in Russian service. The windowless plane is nicknamed “Doomsday” planes for their ability to survive a nuclear war. These planes are modified to transport the country’s high-ranking officials to safety and also act as an airborne command post.
Russia is building a new doomsday plane based on Ilyushin IL-96-400M quad jet long-haul wide-body airliner to replace the IL-80. The first plane was reportedly delivered in 2016. The Russian presidential plane is also an Ilyushin IL-96-400M.
The IL-80 planes are not being immediately retired. “Now we have started modernizing airborne command posts based on the Il-80 and Il-82. The Enterprise is the chief developer of the onboard communications and control system and has successfully wrapped up its experimental design work on its upgrade,” said the Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko on May 30, during his visit to the Polyot Research and Production Company. As per the minister, Polyot Research & Production Company is creating an airborne command post based on the Mi-38 helicopter. It is also reequipping the IL-22M11 airborne command posts and Tu-142MR communications relay aircraft.
This year also saw the death of Genrikh Novozhilov, the Soviet and Russian aircraft designer and former chief designer at the Ilyushin Aviation Complex (better known as Ilyushin Design Bureau). Genrikh Novozhilov was in charge of works on the IL-86, Russia’s first wide-body passenger plane, and its military modification IL-80. Other widely known planes created under his leadership are IL-76, IL-96, IL-14 passenger plane, IL-40 attack aircraft, IL-46 and Il-54 bombers. He also modified the IL-76MF and Il-76MD military transport aircraft. Another famous modification is the IL-76K plane which is used for training the Russian cosmonauts in transient zero-gravity conditions. The Il-76MD Skalpel flying hospital was also created under his leadership. IL-96-300, IL-96MO (with PW2000 engines), IL-96T cargo aircraft, IL-103 light multi-role plane, IL-114 and IL-114-100 aircraft.
Russia and the US are the only two countries known to possess the so-called ‘Doomsday” planes’. The US doomsday plane fleet consists of four Boeing E-4B Nightwatch airborne command posts. The other known US airborne command post is the Boeing E-6 Mercury (formerly E-6 Hermes). Boeing E-6 Mercury is a modified Boeing 707-320 which replaced the Lockheed Martin EC-130Q and is used to by the National Command Authority to communicate with the ballistic missile submarines. It fulfils the role of TACAMO (Take Charge And Move Out). The E-6B model deployed in 1998 can also remotely control Minuteman ICBMs using the Airborne Launch Control System. The US also considered the Northrop Grumman E-10 MC2A based on Boeing 767-400ER as a command and control plane. It was to replace the E-3 Sentry, E-8 Joint STARS, Boeing 747-based E-4B and the RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft in US service.