Radio equipment stolen from Ilyushin-80 aircraft designed to protect Putin and top officials
The Ilyushin Il-80 is a mobile command post designed to keep top Russian officials alive and in command of the military during a nuclear conflict. Photograph: Ransport-photo.com
Andrew Roth in Moscow – The Guardian
Thieves have targeted a Russian “doomsday” plane, the military aircraft that would be used by top officials, including Vladimir Putin, in case of a nuclear war.
The robbery of the Ilyushin-80, a mobile command post specially designed to keep officials alive and in command of the military during a nuclear conflict, took place at an airfield in southern Russia, state media reported.
The thieves managed to open the highly classified aircraft’s cargo hatch and make off with 39 pieces of radio equipment. They have not been caught.
Interior ministry officials in the city of Taganrog confirmed that a plane at Taganrog Aviation Scientific and Technical Complex was robbed, although they did not specify which one.
Ren-TV, a Russian television station, reported that police had found shoe and fingerprints aboard the aircraft.
Russia has just four Ilyushin-80 planes, modified Il-86s that are specially equipped to protect those aboard in the event of a nuclear war. The plane does not have any passenger windows, to prevent passengers from being blinded by atomic explosions.
The planes also carry specialised communications equipment to maintain contact with the country’s armed forces, including missile forces capable of launching nuclear strikes. A miles-long retractable antenna dragged from the rear of the aircraft can maintain communications with ballistic-missile submarines.
In the event of a conflict, it is expected that Putin and other political and military officials would board the planes and command the country’s defences while remaining airborne, possibly for several days (with refuelling).
Some of the details of the Ilyushin-80 are kept secret by Russia. It is not yet clear how sensitive the radio equipment that was stolen may be.
The planes have been in service for 15 years and are due to be replaced by an aircraft with greater range – the Il-96-400M. The new planes, designed to withstand electromagnetic pulses released by nuclear explosions, and include better shielding have updated electronics and communications systems.
The US maintains four Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Posts, modified Boeing 747-200s that would be carry the US president and other top officials in case of a nuclear war.