A few days ago, domestic media reported about the start of construction of the first air command post (VKP) based on the Il-96-400M aircraft. This machine is intended to support the activities of the country's top military and political leadership and in the future will have to replace the existing VKP Il-80.
Road to construction
At the turn of the eighties and nineties, the forces of the OKB im. Ilyushin and related organizations, a strategic air command post of the first generation Il-80 with an onboard complex of radio equipment "Link" was created. After its adoption, work began on the creation of a modernized complex "Link-2". For various reasons, the completion of this work was delayed, and the first VKP with a new complex was tested only in 2015.
In the same year, it became known that the United Instrument-Making Corporation was already carrying out development work for Zveno-3C. Its purpose was to create a new version of the radio-technical complex for the strategic VKP of the next model.
It soon became known that the new control aircraft could receive the designation Il-96VKP. The promising airliner Il-96-400M, which at that time was at the design stage, was chosen as a platform for placing special equipment. Other details were not disclosed. In addition, over the next several years, no new messages about the Il-96VKP were received.
On July 26, 2021, RIA Novosti, citing a source in the military-industrial complex, announced the start of the construction of new equipment. The source indicated that the Ministry of Defense ordered two promising VKPs at once. The first of them is already being built by the Voronezh Aircraft Manufacturing Company (VASO). In the future, an order for a third aircraft is possible.
According to RIA Novosti, the new Il-96VKP will replace the cash Il-80 in the future. Due to the new platform in the form of the Il-96-400M, such command posts will have higher flight technical and operational characteristics.
In terms of its functions, the promising VKP as a whole will not differ from its predecessor. Its task will be to evacuate the country's top military and political leadership and ensure its activities during a threatened period and during a full-scale conflict, incl. with nuclear missile strikes. The on-board radio-technical complex will provide a full-fledged data exchange and command and control of troops, including strategic nuclear forces.
According to known data
The composition, functions and characteristics of the Zveno and Zveno-2 onboard complexes used on the Il-80 aircraft are classified due to their special role and importance for national defense. The same applies to the promising Zveno-3C project. It is only known that the Zveno / Il-80 projects provide for the installation of various means of communication, control and data processing, and various antenna devices appear outside the carrier aircraft. In addition, residential and utility compartments will appear on the plane to accommodate crews, operators and dignitaries.
Apparently, the Il-96VKP will not fundamentally differ from the previous VKP. It will receive the most up-to-date digital equipment with high performance and wide control capabilities for all branches of the armed forces. In addition, external radome antennas will again be used to give the aircraft its distinctive appearance.
The IL-96-400M aircraft became the platform for Zvena-3S. This is a wide-body long-haul liner, which is the latest modification in its family at the moment. Due to a number of innovations, the main technical and operational characteristics have been increased, as well as compliance with modern requirements has been ensured. The construction of the new Il-96-400M began in 2018 at VASO.
The new "400M" aircraft differs from the base IL-96-300 in an elongated fuselage of a larger volume, which makes it possible to increase the payload. In addition, modern avionics have been used to reduce the workload on the pilots. Thanks to this, the flight crew of the Il-96-400M and Il-96VKP is reduced to 2 people. The aircraft also receives new PS-90A1 engines with improved performance.
To transform into an Il-96VKP, the base aircraft must undergo certain modifications. Probably, during the design, the glider was strengthened and part of the general aircraft systems were rebuilt. In particular, a command post with a lot of electronics needs special power supplies. Measures are also needed to improve the reliability of all systems. Taking into account the specifics of the application, the VKP needs an in-flight refueling system.
The platform in the form of the Il-96-400M, having higher characteristics, can provide the VKP with new capabilities. Thus, the payload of the later modifications of the Il-96 reaches 58 tons versus 42 tons for the older Il-86. The flight range of the Il-96 with a maximum take-off weight exceeds 8-8.5 thousand km; for the Il-86, this parameter was less than 4 thousand km. The availability of refueling means will further increase the flight range and duration of duty.
According to known data, the park of the strategic VKP of the Russian armed forces is not very large. The aerospace forces have only four Il-80 aircraft. One or two of these VKPs were modernized with the installation of a modern complex "Link-2". The rest still retain the equipment of the previous version, but the possibility of their modernization cannot be ruled out. Also in the ranks there is a pair of Il-82 (Il-76VKP) aircraft, the equipment and tasks of which are generally similar to the Il-80.
Of the four existing Il-80s, only three are ready for operation and use. The fourth last year was sent for repairs to the TANTK im. Beriev. While at the airfield, this Il-80 was attacked by malefactors who boarded and stole part of the secret equipment. The further fate of this aircraft has not yet been revealed. It will probably be rebuilt according to the original or modernized design.
According to the latest news, the Ministry of Defense has ordered two new Il-96VKP aircraft. Construction of the first has already begun, and the second will begin to be assembled in the foreseeable future. It is also possible that an order for the third VKP of the new model will appear. The timing of the completion of construction and testing is not specified, but it is clear that this work will take several years. The first Il-96VKP will be able to enter service no earlier than the middle of the decade.
The appearance of two or three new aircraft will seriously renew the fleet of the existing VKP. In addition, new technical and operational capabilities will be obtained, which should positively affect the solution of strategic management problems. It will also be possible to decommission the oldest aircraft, which by that time will become obsolete and have worn out their service life.
At the moment, the Russian Aerospace Forces have at their disposal a fairly large and developed fleet of strategic air command posts that meet current requirements and challenges. At the same time, measures are being taken to develop it - a project for the modernization of existing equipment has been implemented and a completely new model has been developed.
Thanks to this, in the short and long term, the fleet of domestic strategic VKPs will be able to maintain the required size and appearance, ensuring the fulfillment of all assigned tasks. At the same time, the characteristics of specific samples will grow, increasing the overall efficiency and stability of the strategic control loops of the armed forces - with obvious consequences for national security.