Everything We Know About Russia's New Update To The World's Largest Bomber

Gear
A Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber takes off from Kubinka in May 2016
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Early next year in February, the first of Russia’s new production Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers will take to the air.


The new bomber is essentially a prototype of a next-generation variant of the venerable Blackjack, the first generation of which was built during the 1980s in the last days of the Soviet Union. Russia operates 16 of the surviving aircraft as long-range cruise missile carriers as a key part of its strategic bomber force. The aircraft has performed well during Russia’s Syria campaign acting as launch platforms for the stealthy MKB Raduga H-101 cruise missile, which is thought to have a range between 4,500 and 5,500 km.

"The plane with the factory number 804 based on Soviet aircraft breakthroughs will be rolled out of the final assembly workshop of the Kazan Aviation Enterprise and delivered to the flight testing station in November this year,” a Russian defense industry source told the Moscow-based TASS news agency. “The plane is expected to perform its debut flight from the enterprise’s aerodrome in February next year.

According to the Russian defense industry source, the newly built Tu-160 will initially be capable of performing the same missions as the existing Blackjack fleet when it rolls out the factory in Kazan next year. However, the aircraft will subsequently be modified to the upgraded Tu-160M2 standard.

“The 804th plane will be subsequently upgraded to the Tu-160M2 variant," the defense industry source told TASS.

The timeline for the first flight of the Tu-160M2 seems somewhat more optimistic than previous statements by the Russian defense ministry—and could slip by a few months, which is fairly normal in the defense industry. “The first Tu-160M2 is expected to take off by the end of 2018, followed by full-scale production in 2021,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Air Force told the state-owned RIA Novosti news outlet last year.

Indications are that the Tu-160M2 will be Russia’s primary bomber modernization effort.

Photo via United Aircraft Corporation Russia/YouTube

Russia rolls out the Tupolev Tu-160M2, the latest upgrade of the world’s largest supersonic strategic bomber, on Nov. 16, 2017

“The Tu-160M2 program is one of the known line items in the upcoming GPV 2018-2025 (state armament program) that's due to be signed by the end of this year,” Michael Kofman, a research scientist specializing in Russian military affairs at the Center for Naval Analyses told The National Interest.

“A new line of Tu-160s is also no small challenge since it involves relearning the original manufacturing process for the bomber and establishing a production line for something Russia's defense industry had not made in quite some time.”

The Tu-160M2—though it more or less retains the same airframe—is practically a new aircraft under the hood. The new bomber will feature completely new mission systems and powered by upgraded versions of the existing Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan. The modernized engines are more fuel-efficient and more reliable than the original motors.

“The new engine is the NK-32 02 series, which is supposed to be much more fuel efficient,” Kofman noted. “The original NK-32 engine had issues.”

Related: Did Russia Just Drop Its ‘Father Of All Bombs’ In Syria? Here’s What We Know »

The Russians plan to buy about fifty of the new Tu-160 variant. It is also likely that the 16 original model Tu-160 airframes will be upgraded to the new standard. Moscow can make do with the upgraded Tu-160M2 for its strategic bomber force because unlike the United States Air Force, the Russian Air Force does not expect the massive aircraft to penetrate into enemy airspace to deliver its payload. Instead, the Tu-160—which is capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0—would dash into position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles. As such, stealth is not considered to be particularly important. Indeed, one of the advantages of a highly visible strategic bomber is that it enables nuclear signaling.

Russia is also allegedly working on the development of the Tupolev PAK-DA stealth bomber. However, that project is not likely to materialize anytime soon. There does not seem to be a pressing need to build such an aircraft nor are the resources readily available to develop such a machine. “Rather than pour money into an entirely new bomber design, like the PAK-DA, Russia will instead modernize and build a new an upgraded variant of the Tu-160,” Kofman said.

This article originally appeared on The National Interest

Read more from The National Interest:

WATCH NEXT:

US Marine Corps

The Marine lieutenant colonel who was removed from command of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion in May is accused of lying to investigators looking into allegations of misconduct, according to a copy of his charge sheet provided to Task & Purpose on Monday.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump just can't stop telling stories about former Defense Secretary James Mattis. This time, the president claims Mattis said U.S. troops were so perilously low on ammunition that it would be better to hold off launching a military operation.

"You know, when I came here, three years ago almost, Gen. Mattis told me, 'Sir, we're very low on ammunition,'" Trump recalled on Monday at the White House. "I said, 'That's a horrible thing to say.' I'm not blaming him. I'm not blaming anybody. But that's what he told me because we were in a position with a certain country, I won't say which one; we may have had conflict. And he said to me: 'Sir, if you could, delay it because we're very low on ammunition.'

"And I said: You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general," Trump continued. "No president should ever, ever hear that statement: 'We're low on ammunition.'"

Read More Show Less

At least one Air Force base is waging a slow battle against feral hogs — and way, way more than 30-50 of them.

A Texas trapper announced on Monday that his company had removed roughly 1,200 feral hogs from Joint Base San Antonio property at the behest of the service since 2016.

Read More Show Less

In a move that could see President Donald Trump set foot on North Korean soil again, Kim Jong Un has invited the U.S. leader to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday, as the North's Foreign Ministry said it expected stalled nuclear talks to resume "in a few weeks."

A letter from Kim, the second Trump received from the North Korean leader last month, was passed to the U.S. president during the third week of August and came ahead of the North's launch of short-range projectiles on Sept. 10, the South's Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.

In the letter, Kim expressed his willingness to meet the U.S. leader for another summit — a stance that echoed Trump's own remarks just days earlier.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

On April 14, 2018, two B-1B Lancer bombers fired off payloads of Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles against weapons storage plants in western Syria, part of a shock-and-awe response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against his citizens that also included strikes from Navy destroyers and submarines.

In all, the two bombers fired 19 JASSMs, successfully eliminating their targets. But the moment would ultimately be one of the last — and certainly most publicized — strategic strikes for the aircraft before operations began to wind down for the entire fleet.

A few months after the Syria strike, Air Force Global Strike Command commander Gen. Tim Ray called the bombers back home. Ray had crunched the data, and determined the non-nuclear B-1 was pushing its capabilities limit. Between 2006 and 2016, the B-1 was the sole bomber tasked continuously in the Middle East. The assignment was spread over three Lancer squadrons that spent one year at home, then six month deployed — back and forth for a decade.

The constant deployments broke the B-1 fleet. It's no longer a question of if, but when the Air Force and Congress will send the aircraft to the Boneyard. But Air Force officials are still arguing the B-1 has value to offer, especially since it's all the service really has until newer bombers hit the flight line in the mid-2020s.

Read More Show Less