Russian President Vladimir Putin has directed the construction of two new so-called “Doomsday” planes that would function as command and control centers in the event of a devastating nuclear conflict.
The aircraft are meant to ferry Russia’s top leadership to safety in the event of an attack and allow them to remain in touch with the armed forces. The planes are accompanied by fighter jets and are windowless save for the cockpit.
The state-run news agency RIA-Novosti reported Monday that construction on the first of the two aircraft is underway in the central Russian city of Voronezh. The report noted that the construction of a third aircraft is also a possibility.
The new planes will be modified Ilyushin Il-96 airliners and replace the existing Doomsday Ilyushin Il-80s, which have been in service since the late 1980s. RIA Novosti reported that the new planes are expected to have twice the flight range of their predecessors and will enable the Kremlin’s top brass to give orders to land-based, submarine and airborne nuclear missile launchers within a range of more than 3,700 miles.
This past December, one of the current Doomsday planes was broken into and stripped of electronic equipment while undergoing maintenance at an airfield in Taganrog in southern Russia. While authorities suspected the crime was committed by common thieves who sought precious metals — like gold and platinum –contained in the equipment, the theft was an embarrassing security breach for the Kremlin.
Word of the construction of new Doomsday planes came hours after Pentagon press secretary John Kirby tweeted video of the mid-air refueling of a US Air Force E-4B command and control aircraft.
“An E-4B refuel mid-flight simply never gets old,” Kirby gushed. “My goodness, the skills it takes! Great flying by these aircrews. Thank you so much.”
Meanwhile, American and Russia representatives are set to meet in Geneva, Switzerland Wednesday for the first round of nuclear arms control talks agreed to by Putin and President Biden at last month’s summit meeting.
The US delegation to the talks will be led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, a key negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.