Russia has begun work on a new ‘Doomsday plane,’ state media announced on Monday, in a report that fed into fears the arms confrontation between the world’s pre-eminent nuclear powers is far from over.
Like Washington, Moscow currently runs four Airborne Command Posts, as they are officially called, capable of keeping top officials in the air following a catastrophic conflict and destruction of ground infrastructure.
The report said the new plane would be an adapted version of the Ilyushin-96-400M passenger jet, and will be built in Voronezh, on Russia’s western border with Ukraine. A Ria Novosti military source suggested two new aircraft would enter service "shortly."
Like the current Ilyushin-80s, which began flying at the end of 1980, the top-secret plane will have a reinforced fuselage, special lines of communications, and protection against radiation fall-out (which means no cabin windows).
But the new plane will also offer a much greater range than its ageing predecessor
The update, codenamed ‘Zveno 3S’ represents the latest chapter of a massive 12-year modernisation programme in Russian aviation, which followed decades of post-Soviet under-investment and perceived poor performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
The announcement is not totally unexpected, with a modernised plane first mooted as early as 2016. Earlier reports suggested its maiden flight would be completed this year. It is not clear if construction schedules will fall in line with those predictions.
For all the protection the project supposedly offers against extreme external threats, Russia’s doomsday infrastructure has not always been watertight in the face of traditional threats at home.
In December 2020, the supposedly top-secret plane made headlines after it was revealed that a thief had broken in and stolen important equipment from the cockpit.
In total, 39 communication units and five radio boards disappeared.
Embarrassed military chiefs, who insisted the equipment was not key to the functioning of the plane, admitted the stolen technology was worth at least a million roubles (£10,000).