Russia to develop Ilyushin Il-96-400M into air command post

Air command posts of the Russian armed forces are to be carried by Ilyushin Il-96-400M aircraft rather than Il-80. It will considerably increase the on-duty time in the air and expand the coverage of army control, writes.

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Russia to develop Ilyushin Il 96 400M into air command post Ilyushin Il-96-400M (Picture source: Wikimedia)

An aircraft industry source told TASS the air command posts would move from Il-80 to Il-96-400M. Such command posts are designed for the Russian president, the defense minister and other top military brass in case of a nuclear war if ground command posts are destroyed or damaged.

Il-80 (Il-86VKP) was designed in late 1980s by the Ilyushin Company on the basis of passenger Il-86 which is a four-engine wide-body medium-range aircraft. It was serially produced in 1980-1997 by Voronezh aircraft plant. 106 aircraft (102 Il-86 for Aeroflot Airlines and four Il-80 for the Soviet Defense Ministry) were produced. Il-80 differs from Il-86 by the absence of windows, an air refueling capability, and an additional equipment compartment in the nose. Open sources said Il-80 has to evacuate the top military leadership in a period of threat and simultaneously control the armed forces in any conflict, including a nuclear war.

NK-86 engine was designed for passenger Il-86. It is a deeply upgraded NK-8 engine for Il-62 and Tu-154B aircraft. The engine was to blame for an early decommissioning of Il-86. NK-86 consumed a lot of fuel, was excessively noisy, and did not provide the required thrust. The size of Il-86, its glider and chassis made a change of the engine impossible. As a result, Il-96 was designed. Il-86 did not operate for a long time. Noisy NK-86 engines were the reason for massive decommissioning of the aircraft since early 2000s. The EU noise limitations barred Il-86 from flying to most European airports.

Il-80 is equipped with communications, life-support systems and power sources. The crew includes equipment operators and military officers. Detailed information about the aircraft is a state secret. Four Il-80 have been produced. They all operate in the 8th special air division and are deployed in Chkalovsky airfield.

E-4B Nightwatch is the U.S. analog of Russian Il-80. It can refuel in the air and fly for a week. All the onboard equipment is protected against the impact of a nuclear explosion. Each aircraft can carry a hundred people. One of the four E-4Bs is permanently ready to take off within a few minutes. The aircraft accompanies the U.S. president on foreign visits. The four aircraft are operated by the 1st squadron of the 55th Wing deployed in Offutt Air Base, Nebraska.

In February 2017, it was announced that Russia's United Aircraft Corporation had signed a contract with its subsidiary Ilyushin Aviation Complex for the development of a new version of Ilyushin Il-96-400 wide-body passenger airliner. Il-96-400M is the passenger version of the Il-96-400T cargo aircraft. Its fuselage is 9.65 m longer than the existing Il-96-300 passenger variant. The planned seating capacity is 390 passengers. In 2017, the Russian Government injected ₽3.6 billion ($57.4 million) into the Ilyushin Il-96-400M. The aircraft plant in Voronezh assembled the first fuselage of Il-96-400M in late September 2019. The aircraft has to become the main long-range vehicle for Russian airlines. By January 2020, the first test-flight airframe was in final assembly and the wing and fuselage were joined, to be finished at the end of 2020 before a first flight in 2021.

Il-96-400M is a deep upgrade of Il-96-300. It is 9.5 meters longer. It is 64 meters long, 15.7 meters high and has a wingspan of 60.1 meters. The upgrade increased the size and the takeoff weight by 20 tons to 270 tons and fully replaced the navigational equipment. Il-96-400M is powered by PS-90A1 engines.

“Actually, there is nothing extraordinary in the replacement of Il-80 by Il-96-400M. Il-80 is exhausting the resource. Besides, it did not fit for an air command post from the very beginning, as it was created as a passenger airliner for medium distances. It does not fit for an air command post which has to fly as long as possible without air refueling,” a high-ranking source in the aircraft industry said. He believes Il-96-400M is better fit for an air command post by all characteristics. The main advantage is a much longer range than Il-80.

The Russian military earlier rejected Il-96-400M as an air tanker because of a high price. However, it satisfies them as an air command post.

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