Someone Broke Into Russia’s Doomsday Plane and Stole a Bunch of Hardware

The burglary raises serious questions about the security of Russian military facilities.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
russia, ilyushin, doomsday
A Russian Il-80 plane and MiG-29 fighter jets fly over Red Square. Photo: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP

Russian police are on the hunt for thieves who broke into and stole technical equipment from the government’s Doomsday Plane: a top-secret military aircraft designed for use during a nuclear war.

Officially known as National Airborne Operations Centers (NAOC), these planes are effectively flying command centres that would allow leaders and top officials like Vladimir Putin to issue orders from the sky. 


Russia’s equivalent, a modified Ilyushin Il-80 passenger airliner, is fitted with up to 300 units of on-board hardware including a dorsal SATCOM canoe, thought to house advanced satellite communications equipment; a trailing wire antenna for very low frequency radio signals, most likely to communicate with nuclear submarines; and antennas designed to block electromagnetic pulses. 

It is one of four planes designed to be used as airborne command posts for the Russian president in the event of a nuclear conflict, and one of the more advanced aircraft in the nation’s fleet.

But on Friday last week, while the plane was undergoing maintenance work at a base in Taganrog, in Russia’s southern Rostov region, officials inspecting the aircraft discovered signs of a break-in via the cargo hatch. Thirty-nine electronic units, with a total value of more than 1 million roubles ($13,600), had been removed.

Military experts suggested that the units had been plundered because some of them were assembled using precious metals like gold and platinum, according to Reuters. A search for the culprits is underway.

“Given such a serious incident, of course there will be an investigation and measures will be adopted to prevent this from happening again,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

The burglary raises serious questions about the security of Russian military facilities, and comes at a time when the Putin government is investing tens of billions of dollars into its defence arsenals amid heightening tensions with the West. 

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that spending on Russia’s military increased by 30 percent from 2010 to 2019. In comparison, America’s military spending fell by 15 percent over the same period, while China’s rose sharply by 85 percent.

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