Espionage is one of the possibilities behind the theft of radio equipment from the inside of a Russian IL-80 specialized aircraft containing top-secret equipment required for the plane to function as a command post during a nuclear war.
A group of burglars broke stole radio equipment placed inside the cargo hatch of a Russian "Doomsday plane" at Taganrog-Yuzhny airfield. “We found radio equipment missing from the Il-80 aircraft that was undergoing maintenance,” a source was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.
One version of the reason behind the theft is espionage as the aircraft contained “sensitive” equipment. Another version says the thieves could want special parts, especially those containing rare metals.
The aircraft was transferred to the Taganrog Aviation Scientific and Technical Complex (TASTC) for modernization work in the summer of 2019. The Russian Aerospace Forces expects to return the aircraft to service in 2021-2022.
According to a TASTC representative mentioned by a Russian website, Topwar.ru, when the plane was last inspected on November 26 all the instruments were found to be in place. TASTC employees then sealed the cargo compartment hatch, the main entrance to the aircraft besides three emergency entrances.
The theft was discovered on December 7 and could have happened anytime since the last inspection date. Law enforcement officers have found suspects' fingerprints on the abandoned switchgear cover and their shoe prints in the plane cargo compartment.
It is suspected that the theft of the equipment was committed by someone who had access to the facility and to the aircraft.
Airborne Command Posts were nicknamed Doomsday planes in the United States, as they are designed for use in the event of a nuclear war or a major disaster that destroys ground-based command infrastructure.
The Russian aircraft with radio equipment missing was derived from Il-80. First third-generation Doomsday plane was delivered in August 2016. Russia reportedly has 4 such planes with service life of 25-30 years currently in service.
Russia is currently building a new Airborne Command Post on the basis of an Ilyushin Il-96-400M quadjet long-haul wide-body airliner.
Best known jets of this class are US-made E-4B, based on Boeing 747, and Russian Il-80, based on Il-86 passenger jets. Other aircraft of comparable roles and configuration include Boeing E-6 Mercury and Northrop Grumman E-10 MC2A.