The United States and Russia want new air command posts in the event of a nuclear war. However, so far the main efforts are associated with the modernization of previously built aircraft.
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The specter of nuclear war has been hovering over the world since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the post-Soviet space, this action is often viewed as a demonstration of the "criminal intentions of the United States." But the Yankees did not seek to destroy the USSR - their ally in World War II - otherwise they would have done it long before the appearance of the atomic bomb.
Stalin did not actually see the birth of the Soviet "miracle weapon": this happened already under Nikita Khrushchev. The initially problematic, but still adopted in 1960, two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile R-7, to which huge interest overseas has always been riveted, could get the territory of the United States. Washington's worries were not in vain: strikes against the United States and the death of the country became a reality - as well as the destruction of military infrastructure, in particular command centers, as well as the death of the military and political leadership, of course.
The Soviet Union first tested its own atomic bomb - RDS-1 - on August 29, 1949. However, then he did not yet have a carrier that could effectively "work" in the United States. In turn, the West had not only advanced strategic bombers (the giant Convair B-36, for example), but also bases in Europe from where it was possible to bomb the Land of the Soviets.
This is how the idea came about to create a doomsday plane: a winged machine, from the side of which you can control the army and even the whole country. In theory, anyone could play its role, but in theory, it is impossible to be in the sky "forever". And even a simple flight from point "A" to point "B" in wartime conditions can become a big problem. I had to create specialized machines.
The United States commissioned an air command post (VCP) in 1962, upgrading the KS-135A tanker, which in turn was an upgraded passenger Boeing-707. The first modern (with some reservations) aircraft of this class was the Boeing E-4, now known as the Nightwatch. As expected, the aircraft received large working rooms, which were equipped with the most advanced communication and information processing equipment. The E-4's working area is 429.2 square meters, which is approximately three times the same figure for the EC-135C aircraft, one of the versions of the VKP.
Boeing E-4 took to the skies on June 13, 1973. Here, however, it is necessary to clarify: these aircraft should not be confused with the presidential aircraft, which are also equipped with the latest technology and have the highest level of protection. The latter include the modern American Boeing VC-25, or Air Force One. In total, the US has built two VC-25s since 1986.
As for the E-4, they initially created three E-4A and one E-4B: the former were then brought to the level of a later modification. The E-4B can be distinguished from the old version and in general from almost all other existing aircraft by the large fairing, where the satellite communications antennas are located.
The well-known four-engine long-range double-deck wide-body passenger aircraft Boeing 747 was used as the basis for the E-4A and E-4B. one of the most reliable passenger aircraft in history. Sixty-three cars lost in accidents are not that many against the background of 1,500 produced over the years.This, of course, is not a top three in terms of security, but it is quite a decent indicator.
What is so special about the E-4B itself? First, the price. According to data from open sources, one such machine costs approximately $ 220-250 million. Of course, it is far from the level of the B-2 strategic bomber with a price tag of two billion greens. However, it is estimated that the Doomsday aircraft occupies an honorable second position. It is pertinent to recall that the fifth-generation fighters F-22 and F-35, after being launched into full-scale serial production (by the way, the F-22, by the way, have already stopped production), have become much cheaper and have not cost as much as they cost before.
A more interesting question concerns possibilities. Again, according to data from open sources, the plane can be in flight for a week - of course, provided that it will be refueled. To fully refuel the E-4B in the air, two KC-135 tanker aircraft are needed. In a nuclear war, no one can guarantee even this, but if these conditions are met, then formally, the time spent in the air is limited only by the service life of the oil in the engine oil systems. By the way, all equipment on board is protected from the damaging factors of a nuclear explosion. For all that, on board, depending on the situation, there can be 60-144 people.
If we take a closer look at the plane, we will see that the E-4B has three decks: upper, middle and lower. The cockpit is located on the upper deck. Behind it there is a recreation area, where, among other things, there are sleeping places for the flight crew and other crew members.
On the middle deck, there is another seating area, a technical control area, a control area, a work area, a meeting room and a projection room. There are also areas of aviation equipment, communications and communications, a command meeting room, a work and rest area for the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense and other important persons. In addition, the middle deck houses a forward area with a kitchen, refrigerators, freezers, food supplies and much more that is needed to keep the crew members working.
As for the lower deck, there is a towed antenna area, a lower rear technical area and a lower forward technical area. In the towed antenna compartment, there is a coil of an eight-kilometer towed VLW antenna designed to be able to communicate with submarines in any situation. In the technical areas, space communications equipment is located, as well as many other equipment: for example, electric ladders for getting on and off the plane.
Soviet and Russian aircraft
It would be blasphemy to devote the material to the American machine alone: besides the United States, there is another country that has a similar aircraft at its disposal. It's Russia. Moreover, there are several similar machines, and if we look deep into history, we will see a whole "collection" of flying command posts. At first, the Land of Soviets had Il-22, Il-22M-11, Il-22M-15 based on the Il-18 passenger aircraft - a relatively small four-engine turboprop low-wing aircraft that made its first flight back in 1957.
Of course, its appearance does not strongly match the image of the Doomsday plane. But you need to understand that, unlike the States with their Boeing 747s, the USSR did not have its own serial passenger wide-body winged aircraft until the 1980s. There was nothing to build an analogue of the E-4A / B. Fortunately, in the 80s, it was possible to launch the serial production of the Il-86, albeit not the most modern (by world standards), but quite reliable aircraft of this class. It was he who became the basis for the main Russian air command post - the Il-80 aircraft, or Il-86VzPU. For all the time, four Il-80 and two Il-76SK were built, which were supposed to solve similar problems. Both vehicles can be immediately recognized by their characteristic "hump", where various electronic equipment is located. However, there is one important difference: the Il-76SK was created not on the basis of the Il-80, but on the basis of the transport Il-76.And this car is much smaller.
The IL-80 is conceptually close to the E-4 - and not only externally. Initially, the aircraft was developed for the evacuation of the country's top military leadership while maintaining the capabilities of simultaneous command of the Armed Forces. This also applies to the nuclear conflict. Of course, the car has everything you need to make people on board feel safe. Unfortunately, it is impossible to voice the characteristics of the Il-80 and Il-76SK due to the secrecy that accompanies the aircraft from their very birth.
However, some details are publicly available. It is known, in particular, that the Il-80 should have a failure rate ten times lower than other military aircraft. It must be assumed that even if this is an exaggeration, it is not far from the truth.
Experts point to the obvious shortcomings of the aviation complex. So, like the basic version, the car has a large mass, is difficult to control and requires a long runway. All this in one way or another concerns the American E-4. By the way, both cars suffer from another class of problems that can be summed up by the phrase "obsolescence." However, both the United States and Russia intend to resolve this issue.
Modernization and new aircraft
In general, the fate of American Doomsday planes could be unenviable. Back in 2006, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield announced that the E-4B fleet would be decommissioned starting in 2009. Either the completely deteriorated relations with Russia influenced the plans of the United States so much, or the strengthening of China, but all the aircraft both served and are.
Moreover, in 2018, the Pentagon announced a tender for the modernization of the Boeing E-4B. As part of it, the on-board electronics must be updated. "The work covers: support / modernization of software / hardware systems of national communications and communications with the nuclear forces (N2CS), flight support, technical support, support and modernization of N2CS systems, design of systems and modifications of N2CS", - said in a statement …
The E-4s are assigned to the 1st Squadron of the 55th Air Wing, based at Affet, Nebraska. Crews and Ground Handling are part of the United States Air Force Combat Air Command liaising with Strategic Command, or USSTRATCOM. At least one of the E-4B aircraft is always on duty and ready to take off.
This is only the first stage. Although American aircraft traditionally have a solid resource (much more than Soviet aircraft), it is also not unlimited. And Boeing planes need to be changed for something. Aviation Week reported in December that an event will be held at Hanscom, Massachusetts, US Air Force Base in February to educate the industry on aspects of the acquisition strategy for the new aircraft. So far, relatively little is known about this. Such an aircraft should be based on a commercial aircraft. The military wants a single platform that would replace both the E-4B and the Boeing E-6 Mercury, a naval command and communications aircraft developed from the passenger Boeing 707-320.
"SAOC (Survivable Airborne Operations Center. - Ed.) Will be a key component of the National Armed Forces Management System for the President, Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff," said the US Air Force's December 4 notification. "In the event of a national emergency or the destruction of ground command centers, the SAOC will provide a highly reliable command, control and communications platform for commanding US forces, following military emergency orders, and coordinating civilian actions."
Now no one will undertake to name the total cost of the new program, but it is known that starting from 2021 they plan to allocate up to $ 100 million annually for it - a solid amount even for the States.
On the whole, the United States' interest in this topic is clearly increasing.And what about Russia? So far, the Russians, like the Americans, have conventionally "old" aircraft. However, they may soon be substantially updated. “Experimental design work on the modernization of air command posts (VCP) based on the Il-80 and Il-82 aircraft has been completed, said Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko during his visit to the Polyot Research and Production Enterprise in Nizhny Novgorod. After modernization, the Aerospace Forces will receive the second generation of such aircraft. The project developers previously stated that the third generation will be created on the basis of the Il-96-400, "RIA Novosti wrote in May 2019.
That is, in addition to the modernization of old machines, there will be new aircraft. Now there is a preliminary design of the third generation VKP. By the way, the Il-96-400 is a modification of the Il-96, which became the development of the Soviet Il-86, on the basis of which the Il-80 was built. In a narrower sense, the Il-96-400 airliner became a deep modernization of the Il-96-300 with PS-90A-1 engines with 17,400 kgf thrust and improved avionics. The fuselage was "borrowed" from the Il-96M.
This continuity of technical solutions can facilitate the operation of command posts. The choice is, in fact, small. In addition to the Il-96, the basis for the third-generation VKP, in theory, can only be the Russian-Chinese wide-body passenger aircraft CR929 - or, as it is also called, SHFDMS (wide-body long-range aircraft). However, so far this is only a project: today there is not a single prototype or technology demonstrator.
Thus, the composition of the Russian VKP for the foreseeable future looks like this:
The first generation: the Il-80 and Il-82 aircraft developed in the Soviet years (based on the Il-86 and Il-76, respectively);
Second generation: their upgraded versions;
Third generation: a vehicle based on the Il-96-400.
They can be supplemented by a command post based on the Mi-38 multipurpose helicopter: this option is now being actively worked out. Since the key capabilities for the VKP (range, flight duration) in this case are incomparably lower than the capabilities of the Il-86 or Il-76, they, of course, will not be able to completely replace the aircraft.
Russia's renewal of the Doomsday aircraft fleet has already become a topic for discussion in the world media. According to the well-known Chinese agency Sina, among the main goals of modernization is to increase communication capabilities and noise immunity of communications, since the main "weapons" of such VKPs are communications. Note, by the way, that both Russian and American aircraft do not carry aircraft weapons. Their protection rests on the shoulders of the fighters.
On the other hand, all these actions should not be taken as preparation for the Third World War. In the end, the very existence of Doomsday planes suggests that no one believes in the possibility of victory in a nuclear conflict.