Leadership: And Then There Was One


September 29, 2023: Russia once had four Il-80 command and control aircraft but now, due to a variety of circumstances, only one is operational and it can only stay in the air for an hour per flight because it is far over the weight of the original aircraft’s specifications and does not have aerial refueling equipment. The Il-80 is a militarized version of the Il-86 airliners. Its windows were removed and the window space was turned into part of the fuselage. A large dome was added to the top of the aircraft to house satellite communications equipment. This is essential because without it the heavier Il-80 can only stay in the air for about an hour without being refueled. Of the original four, one had most of its electronic equipment stolen while it was grounded for maintenance. The thief was one of the technicians working on the aircraft. He was later arrested but the stolen equipment was never recovered.

These aircraft were turned into command and control aircraft in the 1990s and are due to be replaced by two new ones based on the Il-96-400 airliner. Only two Il-80s are still operational but neither has aerial refueling equipment and one is grounded for maintenance.

Two Il-96-400VPU aircraft are being prepared to replace the Il-80s. The Il-96 was an improvement over the Il-96 but that was not enough to attract many buyers and only 22 were built. The Il-80 and Il-96 aircraft were meant to provide senior Russian leaders with a flying command post in case of a national emergency. There are beds and living facilities for the leaders and, with aerial refueling, they can remain airborne for days during a crisis. The Il-80s were never able to provide this service because of equipment problems. The two Il-96-400VPU aircraft are supposed to provide what the Il-80s could not.

The Ukrainians apparently attacked the airbase where special military aircraft are based but the explosives did not damage any of the command and control aircraft but did put at least one Il-20 electronic warfare aircraft out of action. The loss of this aircraft was more important for the Ukrainians because the Il-20 was effective in disrupting some Ukrainian operations.


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