The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) has warned that a Russian Soviet-era spy plane appears to have been primed to be used against Ukrainian forces.
The Myasishchev M-55, or Mystic B, was developed in the USSR, following the United States (US) dominance in the field of reconnaissance during the 1950s.
At the time the US was deploying spy balloons above Russia and China and gathering crucial intelligence from over 60,000 feet, out of the reach of Soviet aircraft.
The USSR in turn tried to develop an aircraft that would reach the same heights as the reconnaissance balloons so they could be destroyed.
When a US U2 spy plane, itself capable of flying at 70,000 feet, was shot down in 1960 over the USSR, the Soviets were able to gain vital knowledge in high-altitude spy plane technology.
Rather than developing a combat aircraft the USSR set about developing its own spy plane which eventually produced the M-55.
However, since the Cold War M-55 aircraft (of which five were reportedly made) have been deployed to carry out earth-sciences research rather than any military missions.
The MOD’s latest warning has advised that an M-55 has been observed carrying a “military reconnaissance pod” and that Russia is likely considering bringing the high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft back into service.
In an update on November 19, 2023 the MOD said: “A critical flaw in Russian procurement strategy has been its failure to establish an adequate Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. This is critical for the timely and accurate prosecution of targets by air, sea, and ground forces.”
The MOD continued: “There is a realistic possibility that the M-55 will return to frontline service to bolster Russia’s limited ISTAR capabilities over Ukraine. Operating at high altitudes enables the sensors to work at considerable stand-off range. It is almost certain that the aircraft will conduct missions against Ukraine from the relative safety of Russian airspace.”