President Biden has one — the so-called “Doomsday Plane” — which can carry out the destruction of the world, if Washington gets hit.
Designed during the Cold War, each E-4B “Nightwatch” aircraft (there are four of them) is built to endure the immediate aftermath of a nuclear detonation. During peacetime, the plane is used to transport the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his staff.
Known as a “backup Pentagon,” there is always one on alert, ready to go 24/7.
Likewise, Russian Aerospace Forces operate four aging Il-80 doomsday planes — all of them based on Il-86 airliners introduced in the early 80s.
That is about to change.
In keeping with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s obsession with putting his country on a solid war footing across the board, a significant upgrade is in the offing.
Previous reports indicated that the planes were to be turned into VIP transporters for carrying top officials, an Air Force One equivalent.
But on July 26, 2021, RIA Novosti announced that, according to anonymous sources within the company, Voronezh Aircraft Production Association was working on the project “Zveno-3S” – the construction of two so-called poomsday planes, flying command posts to be used in the event of nuclear war, Aerotime reported.
“Russian Aerospace Forces are going to receive two airborne command posts based on the Il-96-400M. One of them is currently in production,” the source said.
The work on the first prototype of the Il-96-400M has been ongoing for several years.
Based on the Il-96, a long-range passenger aircraft that first flew in 1988, the jet was supposed to become the Russian wide-body airliner of a new generation.
It was intended to be both the stop-gap measure before the Chinese-Russian CR929 entered service, and a competitor to the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 long-range airliners, Aerotime reported.
In April 2021, it was announced that the idea to mass-produce the airliner was canceled and only two prototypes were going to be built.
According to the newspaper Vedomosti, which quoted an anonymous source in Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), the only two Il-96-400Ms were to become a part of the Special Flight Detachment “Rossiya.”
The detachment is tasked with transporting officials of state and already operates a fleet of Il-96-300s that are usually seen carrying President Putin.
The last VIP Il-96-300 was introduced in April 2021, likely replacing the oldest jet of the same model in the detachment’s lineup, Aerotime reported.
While not much is known about the new Russian doomsday plane, we do know what the Americans have.
There is nothing quite like the US Air Force’s E-4B aircraft.
Born and bred for battle, the modified Boeing 747s are nearly six stories tall, equipped with four colossal engines and designed to survive a nuclear attack.
And much like Air Force One, its sister aircraft with the same recognizable paint job, most of the E-4B’s capabilities are classified.
The identical planes, which are based at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, have been in operation since 1980.
The noticeable hump on top of the plane is called a “ray dome” and houses some of the nearly 67 different satellite dishes and antennas.
The dome is one element in the E-4B’s communication portfolio that gives those aboard the ability to pass launch orders from the president to ICBM silos, nuclear submarines and flying bombers.
And thanks to aerial refueling and the E-4B’s massive fuel tanks, the plane can stay aloft for several days.
The three-deck aircraft can support a crew of up to 112 people.
It has 18 bunks, six bathrooms, a galley, briefing room, conference room, battle staff work area and executive quarters.
The E-4Bs — whose nickname alludes to the Cold War-era flick Dr. Strangelove — recently underwent upgrades and maintenance, including avionics, wiring, communication equipment, and other components.
Embossed with the words “United States of America,” the plane stands out, particularly overseas. “It has ramp cred,” said a former aide to a recent US defense secretary.
“A high point for me came in Munich when we spotted President Putin’s pilots in the cockpit of his plane taking pictures of ours,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote of the E-4B in his memoir “Duty.”
Sources: Aerotime Hub, Al DeFaiya, Defense One, YouTube, Department of Defense