The Russian Air Force has tested a strategic cargo plane in bomber role

Russia has turned an Il-76 strategic cargo plane into bomber during recent trials

The Russian Air Force has conducted tests with an Il-76MD (NATO codename Candid) aircraft carrying  training bombs during trials organized in the Tver region, north of Moscow, Ilyushin announced on Jan. 30.

According to the company, the aircraft carried four 50-kg P-50T dumb bombs on hard-points under the wings.

T-50 bomb

The “attack run” would see the crew find the airfield, visually inspect it with flares and then drop the bombs ahead of landing on the field, located well behind the enemy lines.

The drops should be conducted with 500 km/h of speed (ca. 270 knots) and 500-1000 m (1650 – 3280 feet) of altitude.

Ilyushin claims that bombs will make it possible to employ the Il-76MD in operations which would involve airfields with unprepared or unfamiliar runways, located in a contested territory.

VVS aims to train 10 crews in the new “strike” role; teams that, according to IHS Jane’s, will be stationed in the Tver, Orenburg, Pskov, and Taganrog regions.

IHS Jane’s additionally notes another issue – the place where the specially trained crews are stationed, excluding the Orenburg region, which borders Kazakhstan, will make it possible for the transport jets to conduct strikes over Ukraine or the Baltic States.

Generally speaking, using bombs with a transport aircraft is not a new idea. One should take into account the (armored and heavily armed) U.S. AC-130 gunships which were fairly successful when employed as CAS (Close Air Support) platforms. U.S. Air Force has also used transport aircraft to drop GBU-43/B MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Blast, also known as the Mother of All Bombs) thermobaric weapons. These were dropped with the use of C-130 Hercules aircraft, mostly the MC-130E Combat Talon I or MC-130H Combat Talon II variants.

C-17 Globemasters were also said to be capable to deliver this armament.

Il-76 landing

Even though transport aircraft have been successfully transformed in bombers in the past, the heavy and scarcely maneuverable aircraft carrying weapons can only be employed during low-intensity conflicts, in areas where virtually no air-defenses exist. Otherwise, using a troop-carrier as a heavy bomber to drop dumb bombs through a SAM-infested airspace, as the one surrounding an enemy airfield, would be almost suicidal.

Il-76 taxi

Image credit: Ilyushin


About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.


  1. You buried the lede, Siminski: “using a troop-carrier as a heavy bomber to drop dumb bombs through a SAM-infested airspace, as the one surrounding an enemy airfield, would be almost suicidal.”

    • Maybe , with a really good distraction pattern ‘camo’ job. Something to get the AA gunners and rocketeers all laughing, maybe.

  2. I always wondered what the purpose of the windows in the front of the plane were, on the bottom. They look like WWII bombardier windows. And then there’s the tail gun….

    • Il-76 has been used for photogrammetry quite often. Also, the navigator’s seat is located down there.

  3. According to wiki the ability for some IL-76 models to carry bombs on external hardpoints is an established capability.

    Still, I wouldn’t want to be the aircrew tasked with conducting a bombing mission from one of these aircraft against a foe armed with modern air-defense systems (like Ukraine is known to possess).

    • And some carry bombs and other ammo inside. Usually to resupply tactical aircraft at a forward operating base.

  4. +1. There are so many IL-76/78 used for logistic purpose in Europe and Africa, that you could actually “bomb along the way” anything you want while filling and IFR flight plan as a commercial operator.
    Regarding vulnerabilty to SAMs, basically Manpad don’t do the job if you’re flying along a standard Airway, and I wouldn’t be sure that most russian-built medium to long range SAM systems would be well maintained (and especially that Moscow would allow shipment of spare parts to Kiev).
    VVS have had more than a year to test out Ukrainian Air Defenses over “Novorossia” with Helos and Su-25. You heard about Ukrainian aircraft being shot down, not quite Kiev claiming the shooting of any “separatist/terrorist/russian” plane in the meantime.
    Look at the nose of the “military” variant : it features at least TWO radars : the nose radar for meteo-scanning purpose I guess, but you could put an AESA radar to detect incoming intruders at least and take evasive actions, if not playing the role of a mini-Awacs in the mean time to coordinate with russian fighter aircraft or more probably russian/separatist Long-Range SAMs).
    The chin/belly radar clearly is here for ground work (the russians must be capable of ground mapping in a SAR/GMTI function, as well as providing means of terrain following).
    Add some GLONASS-guidance of the ordnance (all you need is a separatist or Spetznatz with a radio and/or a mobile phone with its own Glonass receiver to transmit coordinates to the bomber) and the rear gun turret for self-defense (manned, but radar-controlled), it makes for more than a sitting-duck to shoot down, if not against unlikely long-range SAMs, at least for Ukrainian or Western interceptor : although some of the Airspace over Ukraine has been closed to civilian operations since the shooting of the Malaysia Airline Boeing last year, there is no such thing as a “state of war” (there never is one anymore) between Kiev and anyone else, therefore, any suspect “radar contact” on the scopes of civilian or military controllers must be treated as a peacetime case, triggering manned Interception following ICAO procedures, which require Visual ID of the Aircraft.
    Kiev authorities themselves would not allow beyond-visual range shooting given the political risk either.
    So this makes in fact for a clever move from Moscow : doing whatever they want over Ukrainian territory, while pretending they’re doing something else, and putting Kiev in a very uncomfortable position. Ukrainian SU-27 might try to intercept the IL-76, one of them might be shot-down by the IL-76 turret…or not at some point, but the russians will then switch onto something else they already have in mind (they’re chess players “russians don’t go to the toilets whithout a plan”), and they’ll have bought Time to be in a favorable position for negociation with Kiev and the West.
    Bear in mind that with long-range precision rockets such a the Smerch system and the infamous, highly maneuverable, long-range and low-on-the-horizon (mostly endo-atmospheric flying) Iskander precision missile (not the 500kg – 300km MTCR-compliant export version, but the Russian-only type), they don’t actually NEED to be un Ukraine to provide precision strike and air-support to the separatists. Firing from russian Mainland or Kaliningrad might just do the job. And you’d think twice to take them out with an airstrike, since YOU would violate russian Airspace, and you’d know they’re covering their mobile launchers with state-of the Art S-300PMU /S-400 systems. But I guess this is more like protecting your queen on the chessboard for a possible later move, the IL-76/78 bombers are more like Bishops or Towers supporting the separatist Pawns and Speztnaz Knights on the ground…
    In my opinion, the IL-76 with its radars, long-range and rear turret would also make for a formidable “pirate ship” to intercept, hijack and divert airliners anywhere in the world to a remote airfield. Imagine being an airline pilot and seing an aircraft coming in front of you with two guns pointing at your cockpit, jamming your HF radio and transponder, and a presenting you a “contact 121.5” sign….That would make for a far better job than a short-legged and hard to maintain fighter, especially over remote area (oceans, desert, jungle etc…). Well, that’s another story, but still in the “fifty shades of grey” area we live in, regarding world security.
    There is no such thing as “war time” or “peace time” anymore. Enemy fighter planes and bombers hide in the middle of airliners (unlike in Nato exercices), Civilian and Humanitarian planes might not be what they seem, and your BVR systems don’t make for a panacea when innocent lives might be at stake and your authorities are asking you to confirm V-ID : does the IL-76 has a Turret and bomb racks ? What level of risk do I accept as the interceptor to find out ? etc…

    • I would like to point out that the skies over eastern Ukraine are closed, so it could not overfly the warzone on a civil route. I personally doubt that Russia would use them for humanitarian supply because of the close proximity. The trucks can come and go in a day or two and are very cheap to operate. Additionally, they are a low risk when compared to flying in.
      P.S. The reason why the trucks are filled with low stacked pallets is the same reason the mailman does not pack his vehicle to the prime (except at Christmas) and try to do the entire city from one truck. All the big white Russian trucks have to do is drop a pallet at a location then proceed to the next drop spot. They can unload a pallet with as little as 4 men and forgo the need for a loading dock or a forklift, both of which my be hard to come by at a given location. They minimize the amount of time the deliverers are near a combat zone.

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