Somebody broke into Russia’s ‘Doomsday Plane’ and stole a bunch of radios

Russia Il-80 MiG-29 St. Basil's cathedral
A Russian Il-80 plane and MiG-29 fighter jets fly over St. Basil’s cathedral during the Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 9, 2010.

  • A weird incident has occurred with Russia’s “Doomsday Plane,” the Il-80 Maxdome airborne command post.
  • According to state media, the aircraft was undergoing maintenance when signs of a break-in were found.
  • An investigation found that radio equipment was missing from the plane.
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Unidentified persons stole equipment from an Il-80 Maxdome, Russian media outlet RIA Novosti, reported on December 7, 2020.

According to the Russian state-owned news agency, the aircraft was undergoing maintenance at Taganrog-Yuzhny airfield, in the Rostov Region, when the morning activities on the Il-80 highlighted signs of a break-in on the cargo hatch. The subsequent investigation revealed that radio equipment (described as 39 radio stations) was missing from the plane.

“The Aircraft Operations Engineer said that the TANKT was replacing the lubricant on the landing gear rods. According to him, all on-board instruments were in place at the time of the aircraft acceptance. After the completion of the work, the main entrance, cargo compartment hatch, three emergency exits were sealed. The last time they were examined on November 26, all the seals were intact,” said the source to the Russian REN-TV according to BBC Russian Service.

Military expert, reserve Col. Andrei Koshkin said to URA.RU that the theft may involve people who directly work at the facility.

“It is possible that the preparatory information that would ensure the execution of this crime was collected from the lips of those who directly work there,” Koshkin suggested. The reserve colonel stressed that this was a planned operation. He noted that such cases occur, but then investigations are carried out, the reasons are clarified and all the shortcomings that were identified in the security of the facilities are eliminated.

The aircraft involved in the incident is one of the four Il-80 aircraft, heavily modified Il-86 airliners used as airborne command center in a role similar to that of the US Boeing E-4B since the mid-1980s.

In service with the 8th Special Purpose Aviation Division, at Chkalovsky Airport, near Moscow, the Il-80 is designed to keep the top Russian officials, including the president, alive and safe, and able to communicate with the Russian forces in case of nuclear war: For this reason, the Maxdome does not feature any external windows (other than the cockpit windshield) and it is equipped with domes, bulges and antennas meant to block EMP, RF pulse, and to shield against nuclear blasts while ensuring the ability to communicate with other assets including ballistic missile submarines when the ground infrastructure is heavily damaged or destroyed.

An Il-80 took part in the flypast for the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, over Moscow on May 9, 2010.

In May 2019, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said that research and development work on the modernization of air command posts based on the Il-80 and Il-82 aircraft had been completed in Russia, and work had begun on the re-equipment of existing aircraft. The Il-80 that was robbed in Rostov region was, according to some sources, being modernized.

In October 2020, TASS reported that the Airborne Command Post role was planned to be transferred from the Il-80 to the Il-96-400M.

As already explained in a previous article here at The Aviationist, the American counterpart of the Il-80, is the US Air Force E-4B, a modified B747-200 that serves as National Airborne Operations Center. Four such aircraft (based at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska) are responsible to keep the US Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top personalities alive in the event of Armageddon (a nuclear war, a terrorist attack, a zombie revolution or an alien invasion).

The E-4B is an airborne command, control and communications center to direct nuclear (and conventional) forces, by receiving, verifying and relaying EAM (Emergency Action Messages). Its backup is the US Navy E-6B TACAMO (TAke Charge And Move Out): the E-6 “Mercury” relay instructions to the fleet ballistic missile submarines in case of nuclear war but can also act as ABNCP (Airborne Command Post) platforms as E-4B back-ups.

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