- Photos appear to show a Soviet-era M-55 aircraft equipped with an external military reconnaissance pod.
- The aircraft was designed for high-altitude reconnaissance missions.
- Bringing the aircraft back into action would improve Russia’s limited reconnaissance abilities in Ukraine.
Russia is likely considering bringing the Soviet-era M-55 Mystic B aircraft back into service to help carry out accurate strikes on targets in Ukraine, the UK Department of Defense said in an intelligence update on Sunday.
The aircraft, which was designed for high-altitude reconnaissance missions, would bolster Russia’s currently limited capabilities in Ukraine, the department said.
Russia’s failure to establish an adequate Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability has been a “critical flaw in Russian procurement strategy,” according to the UK department.
The M-55 has an operating ceiling of over 70,000 feet and has recently been used for earth-sciences research.
It has recently been observed carrying a military reconnaissance pod, the UK department noted, which can be attached to military aircraft externally to enhance their reconnaissance capabilities.
Photos that circulated online appear to show an M-55 with a container under its wing, likely containing radio reconnaissance equipment, Defense Express reported.
The aircraft is based in the Ramenskoe airfield near Moscow, the outlet said.
The M-55’s ability to operate at high altitudes allows it to work at “considerable stand-off range,” the UK department said.
It will almost certainly be used for missions in Ukraine from Russian airspace, where it will be relatively safe from Ukrainian attacks, the update added.
Improving Russia’s ISTAR capabilities will be essential for its air, sea, and ground forces to quickly and accurately find targets, per the department.
The M-55 was initially developed in the 1980s to combat the US’s high-altitude spy balloons and was later used primarily for reconnaissance and research roles.