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Ukraine conflict: Russia may return Soviet-era ISTAR aircraft to service, UK MoD

The Myasishchev M-55 ‘Mystic-B' high-altitude aircraft may be returned to service by Russia to fill an ISTAR gap over Ukraine. (Janes/Paul Jackson)

Russia may be about to return to service its Soviet Union-era Myasishchev M-55 ‘Mystic-B' high-altitude aircraft as it looks to fill an intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability gap, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has ascertained.

The UK MoD said in its Defence Intelligence update on Ukraine on 19 November that “Russia is likely considering bringing the M-55 aircraft back into service”, noting “a critical flaw in Russian procurement strategy has been its failure to establish an adequate ISTAR capability. This is critical for the timely and accurate prosecution of targets by air, sea, and ground forces”. For the MoD, ‘likely' represents a 55–75% probability.

“With an operating ceiling of over 70,000 ft, the [M-55] has been recently employed as an earth sciences research platform. However, it has been observed carrying a military reconnaissance pod, developed for employment on Russian fighter aircraft,” the MoD said. “There is a realistic possibility that the M-55 will return to front-line 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.” ‘Almost certain' denotes a 95–100% probability, according to the MoD.

As noted by Janes All the World's Aircraft: In Service

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