Russian military sources have confirmed the country is working on what is known as a “Doomsday” plane, an aircraft that can serve as a flying command center in the event of a nuclear-armed conflict.
The reports went public amid an increase in superpowers' bragging about their military strength. While NATO forces keep performing exercises such as the one led by the US Navy's 6th Fleet since Friday in the North Atlantic Ocean together with France, Canada and the United Kingdom, Russian President Vladimir Putin staged earlier this week a full scale demonstration of his sea units of all sizes and calibers.
According to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency, the new aircraft is under development in Voronezh and it consists basically of a modified version of the Ilyushin Il-96-400M airliner, which is also the country's presidential airplane.
The Russian Government is expected to receive at least two of the new aircraft, one of which is already in production.
“Doomsday” planes, as these aircraft are commonly called, are airborne command and control aircraft that can be used to evacuate top officials in an emergency and are equipped with the technology to direct the armed forces in the event of a disaster like a nuclear war.
The new Russian planes are expected to replace the older Il-80 aircraft, which are militarized versions of the Il-86 passenger planes. Unlike the airliners on which they are based, “Doomsday” planes are windowless, to shield those inside from a nuclear blast.
Information on the new plane is limited, but RIA Novosti reports that it will have a longer range than its predecessor and be able to communicate effectively with strategic nuclear forces within roughly 6,000km.
Russia's “Doomsday” plane is rarely in the news, but the aircraft was, however, made international headlines last December when thieves broke into one of the planes while it was undergoing maintenance and stole some of the equipment.
The US military's “Doomsday” plane is the E-4B, a militarized variant of the Boeing 747-200 passenger jet. The US Air Force says that the plane is protected against electromagnetic pulses and shielded against nuclear and thermal effects. Satellite technology also offers worldwide communication capabilities. At least one E-4B is on alert at any given time, according to the service.
The American and Russian 'Doomsday' planes were first built during the Cold War and were designed for worst-case scenarios, but these aircraft also have other purposes and regularly fly as part of routine operations.
Russia's plan to upgrade its fleet comes as the country invests in new nuclear weapons, some of which have been referred to as “Doomsday” weapons. A recently disclosed Pentagon manual warned last year of the “increased potential” for nuclear war, citing in part Russian developments.
US President Joseph Biden had said Tuesday that an actual war with guns and bullets could not be ruled out given Russian and Chinese ciberattacks.
In this scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw earlier this week the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg on July 25. The Russian Navy today has everything it needs to guarantee the protection of our country and our national interests, Putin said then. We can detect underwater, surface, or aerial enemies and target them if a lethal strike is necessary, he added.
Another naval parade was held by Russia's Black Sea Fleet off Sevastopol, a region Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.