Russian Doomsday Radios Go Missing

Normally we like hearing about old military gear going on the surplus market. But if you encounter some late-model Russian radio and crypto equipment for sale you might want to make sure it isn’t hot (English translation). If you prefer not picking through the machine translation to English, the BBC also has a good write-up.

The Russians maintain four large planes set up as flying command and control bunkers in case of nuclear war — so-called “doomsday planes.” Like the U.S. ABNBC (better known as Looking Glass) fleet, the planes can provide the President or other senior leaders a complete command capability while in flight. As you might expect, the radios and gear on the plane are highly classified.

According to reports, the plane was in for maintenance and upgrades at the Tanganrog Aviation Scientific and Technical Complex (TANTK). An inspection at the end of November noted nothing unusual, but sometime after that, unknown thieves opened a side compartment and made off with 39 radio units and boards from some radios that were already removed from the plane.

There appears to be a lot of physical evidence left behind and a technician reported a suspicious man at the airfield claiming to be a radio operator. We are glad we aren’t one of the 12 people responsible for guarding the super-secret aircraft.

We doubt these radios will really wind up on the surplus market, but it does make you wonder if buying a mystery box at the next hamfest with some Cyrillic lettering on it could turn your life into a Jason Bourne movie.

No one wants a nuclear war. The effects of the few explosions that have already occurred made lasting changes to our Earth. We like to think these flying command posts on both sides are relics of the cold war and will never see actual duty.

42 thoughts on “Russian Doomsday Radios Go Missing

      1. Without regard to the perception of the “politics” of The Atlantic… What WAS the missing equipment for? Why did the article here call them “doomsday radios”? The Doomsday system described in the article was extremely troubling.

  1. They were relatively ancient, such that I’d assume all western intelligence agencies already have the schematics, updates and repair notes. I would imagine that they could have parts valuable to nations who got the latest kit from the Soviets who have now fallen into disfavour, or just can’t find the parts on eBay for their 3 decade old Mig or Sukhoi junk.

      1. At that point it was only 1-2 decade old Mig junk, and the murricans helped by forgetting everything they learned about air combat in WWII and Korea and failing to equip aircraft with anything but a handful of missiles initially. (No cannon until later)

  2. ren TV (after google translate): “39 radio station units and five more boards from five of the same dismantled units disappeared from the aircraft compartments.”
    bbc news: “It is unclear when the incident took place, but 39 units of equipment and five radio boards were taken.”
    bloomberg: “equipment worth more than 1 million rubles ($13,600) was stolen”
    pravda: “Thirty-nine radio station blocks and five mother boards from five similar dismantled blocks went missing from the compartments of the aircraft.”

    I’m going to pick pravda (this time) for the most accurate information (probably).

    1. The same sentence that you are quote with “few explosions” cites the number directly in the link provided at 2,100. The word “few” here is refers to damage done per explosion (“made lasting changes to our Earth”).

  3. “but it does make you wonder if buying a mystery box at the next hamfest with some Cyrillic lettering on it could turn your life into a Jason Bourne movie.”

    Hah! Joke’s on you: No fests and markets for the past year or so and probably not for the forseeable future.



  4. Other than maybe some big chonkey power amplifiers for radio or microwave not sure what I would do with a Russian crypto rig when I have no idea how to set it, the radios are probably many steps in cool/fun/usability/features behind an Icom or Yaesu. Probably the only real advantage these have is EMP hardening.

    It always comes up as an end of the world scenario and nuclear war would be bad, but everyone imagines an exploded planet or a cobalt-blue On the Beach sterilized Earth scenario.
    Reality is that in the counterforce warfare the US and we assume Russia(and USSR) plan for remote missile fields in Siberia and North Dakota will take many hits and leave a fallout plume worse than Chernobyl; some long runways like Spokane and Anchorage Metro hits and naval bases will get it too so farewell to some of Seattle and San Fran metro areas. Subs at sea and most Russian mobile ICBMs would survive but Russian reliability to get from launch to destroy target is an issue both land and sea mobile. The boomers(1950s) grew during a nuclear war against ourselves and they seem fine, at least physically….
    We have left the megaton era and while strategic nukes are still big the strategic and population and economic impact of a full US/Russia exchange might be no more than 4-10x COVID-19. It will suck and there will likely be big maneuvers like border crossings but at least North America will not see much physical change six month post, political and social who knows but it is not like the Russians are ready to burst through the Fulda Gap or do any expeditionary warfare against NATO anyways.
    Only smaller powers like France still target population centers for deterrent, though with low reliability the Russian deterrent is perhaps more in line with France, China, Israel, or UK since nobody knows how many birds are really ready to fly. It is not the forces you have, it is what your opponent believes can and will actually be used, so much game theory.
    I wonder between stories like this and knowing Russia how many missiles are even ready to fly on short notice much less make it to the target and detonate.

  5. If it wasn’t cryptological hardware, then yawn. However, if it was and since its theft is known, changes would be made although that could cost a lot more than 1 million rubles if the same equipment is widely used in other military systems.

    1. Would they really still be using anything they can’t just re-key? It wouldn’t still be ancient analog scrambling stuff, would it be? I thought cryptography was designed assuming the enemy has your full schematics already?

      1. Depends on how old the technology is. Older crypto equipment usual had software keys (often in the form of punch cards or tape) and a hardware component (namely a crib containing cross connects between pins, rotor on the Enigma type machines). That way you had to lose the daily tape as well as a piece of hardware to derive the entire code. Newer equipment is generally unclassified on the hardware side however losing the hardware does give the enemy insights as to how your system works and could reveal flaws in its implementation that can be exploited. As far as this loss, not much about radios is a big secret, only the encryption would be. I think the biggest mystery here is how incredibly bad the security is on this supposedly high value base. Someone has so splainin to do.

    1. There is so much sigint capability at this level that operating frequencies and anything else that can be captured with a spectrum analyzer would be well known by now. It is not hard to correlate flights of these aircraft with the signals that are emitted by them. If you are a superpower you have to assume all that info is out there. Only the encryption is left to protect a radio transmission.

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