Ilyushin Il 80 in 2008
The Il-80 Maxdome (Image credit: Kirill Naumenko/Wiki)

Some new details about the theft of equipment from Russia’s Il-80 Doomsday Plane have just emerged.

On Dec. 7, 2020, we reported the news that thieves had broken into an Il-80 Maxdome and stole radio equipment from the plane undergoing maintenance at Taganrog-Yuzhny airfield, in the Rostov Region, Russia: signs of break-in on the cargo hatch had been noticed during a routine inspection on Dec. 4, 2020, and the subsequent check had revealed that radio equipment (described as 39 radio stations and 5 electronic boards) was missing from the plane.

The investigation has eventually led to the arrest of a man, currently held in the Taganrog jail, accused of committing theft from the aircraft. His lawyer, Olga Boyarkina, told TASS news agency that the suspect is being taken into custody even though the court’s arrest decision was appealed.

For the moment, it’s still not clear if other people were involved in theft of equipment worth more than 1M rubles (about 14K USD), even though it seems more than likely: military expert, reserve colonel Andrei Koshkin said to URA.RU that the theft was probably committed by people working on the aircraft at the facility. It also seems reasonable to believe that it was a planned operation and that the Il-80 was not just a “target of opportunity”.

Either case, the somewhat bizarre incident still needs to be fully explained, considered the high-profile of the aircraft. Here’s why (from our previous article on the subject):

The aircraft involved in the incident is one of the four Il-80 aircraft, heavily modified Il-86 airliners used as airborne command center in a role similar to that of the U.S. Boeing E-4B since the mid-1980s.

In service with the 8th Special Purpose Aviation Division, at Chkalovsky Airport, near Moscow, the Il-80 is designed to keep the top Russian officials, including the President, alive and safe, and able to communicate with the Russian forces in case of nuclear war: for this reason, the Maxdome does not feature any external windows (other than the cockpit windshield) and it is equipped with domes, bulges and antennas meant to block EMP, RF pulse, and to shield against nuclear blasts while ensuring the ability to communicate with other assets including ballistic missile submarines when the ground infrastructure is heavily damaged or destroyed.

An Il-80 took part in the flypast for the 65th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War, over Moscow on May 9, 2010.

In May 2019, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko said that research and development work on the modernization of air command posts based on the Il-80 and Il-82 aircraft had been completed in Russia, and work had begun on the re-equipment of existing aircraft. The Il-80 that was robbed in Rostov region was, according to some sources, being modernized.