Spies or simple thieves, the truth is that a group of people have aimed high at their criminal objective and have looted one of the secret Russian military planes designed to evacuate President Vladimir Putin and the government and military leadership in the event of a nuclear disaster. Russian authorities and a special military committee investigate the robbery at a Ilyushin-80, known as “the plane of the end of the world” or “plane of the last judgment”, while it was parked in the airfield of Taganrog-Yuzhny, a restricted technical scientific center located in the south of the country. The thieves took at least 39 electronic equipment from the aircraft, although the final loot data, as well as the specific design of the plane, is classified. The Kremlin, upset over the serious security breach and the leak, has stressed that action will be taken.
Russia has four aircraft of this type (also known as the advanced airborne command post, which is what they have on board). The Ilyushin-80 (known by NATO as Maxdome) has specialized communication equipment to maintain contact and control of all the country’s military forces; Also, access to command of missile systems, including submarine ballistic missiles through a retractable antenna. The secret plane has no windows for passengers in its fuselage, to try to preserve them in the event of a nuclear explosion, and it is shielded against electromagnetic impulses.
The mysterious robbery at a restricted facility has caused controversy in Russia, where analysts and military experts have wondered about the security of military facilities; and more so in a time when tensions with the West are intense. Aerodrome employees have been questioned, but there are still no detainees or suspects. Mikhail Jodorénok, an expert in military and security issues, believes that the thieves were organized, but that they did not seek to steal military secrets, but only to use the stolen devices to extract the precious metals that they usually contain. However, that does not mean that some seasoned buyer can also take advantage of if he knows what he is buying, says Jodorénok, an analyst at Gazeta.ru.
The thieves entered – it has not been said when, the first news was had on Tuesday – to the “plane of the final judgment” through the cargo hatch and from there they moved through the device, according to sources of the investigation have told the state agency Tass. They weren’t very careful: Investigators have found fingerprints and shoe prints. The authorities have opened a criminal investigation for theft of military material worth more than one million rubles (11,200 euros), although the figure is approximate because not only is it unknown what is missing, but it is very difficult to calculate the value of the pieces of the Ilyushin-80, which are created by modifying the Il-86 airliner.
The “doomsday plane” was at the Taganrog science facility, known as GM Beriev, for a landing gear overhaul. Accessing the heavily guarded airfield is not easy for unauthorized persons and neither is it easy to leave with a rather heavy and valuable cargo, such as the one taken from the Ilyushin-80, which like the other aircraft of its type has been in service for more 15 years old and are on the list to be replaced by more modern ones. Putin has increased military spending by 175% between 2000 and 2019, according to data from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
It is not the first scandal of the GM Beriev center, which in addition to repairing military aircraft develops surveillance systems and prototypes such as the famous Be-200 amphibian aircraft. Two years ago about twenty of its workers were injured by thallium poisoning, an incident that has not yet been clarified.