The two prototypes of Il-96-400M, the canceled Russian wide-body airliner, are going to become doomsday planes.

Previous reports indicated that the planes were to be turned into VIP transporters for carrying Russia’s top officials. 

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 doomsday planes, flying command posts to be used in the event of nuclear war.

“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.

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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 the Russian president Vladimir 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. 

The decision to turn Il-96-400Ms into airborne command posts signifies the second critical change in the turbulent history of this aircraft. It also brings a significant upgrade to the aging fleet of Russia’s doomsday planes. So far, Russian Aerospace Forces operate four Il-80 aircraft in this role; all of them are based on Il-86 airliners introduced in the early 80s.

In December 2020, one of the Il-80s was broken in and robbed while undergoing maintenance at Taganrog Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex. The event brought attention to the state of those aircraft, some of which are reported to be no longer operational.

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