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M-55: Russia resurrects Soviet-era spy plane for Ukraine surveillance

According to a U.K. Defence Intelligence review post on X, Russia is rumored to be gearing up to return its Soviet-era M-55 "Mystic B" spy plane into service over Ukraine.

The M-55 will return to help bolster Russia's flagging Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities in the ongoing conflict, according to a report by European Pravda on Sunday.

If true, the return of the M-55 will significantly increase Russia's ability to identify, track, and surveil Ukrainian military assets on land, sea, and air.

Back to the Future

"Russia is likely considering bringing the Soviet-era M-55 MYSTIC B high altitude reconnaissance aircraft back into service," the ministry's post reads. "With an operating ceiling of over 70,000 feet, the aircraft 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 U.K. Defence Intelligence post states.

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"A critical flaw in Russian procurement strategy has been its failure to establish an adequate Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability," the U.K.'s defense ministry added. "This is critical for the timely and accurate prosecution of targets by air, sea, and ground forces," the statement concluded.

The Myasishchev M-55 was developed in the 1980s and flew in August 1988. Two Soloviev D-30 engines power it with a maximum speed of 466 mph (750 kph). The M-55 has a wingspan of over 122 feet (37 meters) and is 73 feet (22 meters) long.

With its distinct twin-boom fuselage, the plane was developed around the same time as the Lockheed ER-2, a variant of the U2 U.S. spy plane with similar capabilities. Interestingly, NASA recently used one of its ER-2 planes to create mineral maps of the U.S. Western Desert Region. This mission was carried out in the interests of national security by providing a way to potentially reduce foreign reliance on critical minerals such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel.

The company behind the plane, Myasishchev Design Bureau, was a Soviet-era manufacturer founded in the 1950s and underwent various transformations before integrating into United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). Nicknamed the "Mystic B" by NATO members, the M-55 aircraft has an impressive operating ceiling of more than 70,000 feet (21,336 meters) and has recently been utilized for Earth sciences research.

According to Simple Flying, the M-55 can carry up to 3,307 pounds (1,500 kg) of sensors, significantly enhancing Russia's ability to gather intelligence from the sky. To support its claim, the U.K. Defence Intelligence also noted that it was observed carrying a military reconnaissance pod, which can be attached externally to enhance the reconnaissance capabilities of military aircraft.

Dusting off the antiques

But, even with the reinstatement of the M-55, it may not be enough, as Russia will have to confront a new challenge in the form of Ukraine's recently acquired modern fighter jets. The Ukraine Air Force is currently introducing F-16 fighter jets into its fleet with the assistance of international support.

Pilots will be trained to operate the jets at a specialized training center in Romania, inaugurated last week. In response, Russia has bolstered its ground defenses and readied its Beriev A-50 AWACS aircraft in preparation for their arrival.

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