Russia’s Modernized Tu-160M Bomber Makes Its Flight Debut

On 12 January, the press office of Russia’s state defense industry corporation Rostec stated that a Tu-160M strategic bomber, built from the ground up as part of a thorough modernization program, flew for the first time.

The first newly manufactured Tu-160M strategic bomber made its maiden flight from the airport of Kazan Aviation Enterprise, a subsidiary of Tupolev, according to a statement from the press office.

The freshly built strategic bomber flew for nearly 30 minutes at a height of 600 meters. According to a statement from the Tupolev’s press office, the test pilots executed maneuvers that allowed them to evaluate the aircraft’s stability and controlled operations in the air. The necessary testing of the updated systems and equipment installed as part of the comprehensive modernization of the aircraft were carried out before the maiden flight, according to the crew report, and the systems and equipment functioned without any problems.

In a statement, Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, said, “We completed the Tu-160’s full production cycle as the ‘M’ modification, which includes upgraded engines, control systems, navigation systems, and weapon control systems. The Tu-160 platform offers great opportunities, the continuation of the modernization program will make it possible to use new generation weapons on this aircraft,”

“The fundamental significance of today’s event is that the new aircraft is built completely from scratch,” Yury Slyusar, President of United Aircraft Corporation, remarked. “The new vehicle features 80% new systems and equipment.”

The Tu-160 is a supersonic heavy bomber developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s in response to the United States’ Rockwell B-1 Lancer Supersonic strategic bomber. The plane, which took to the skies for the first time 40 years ago on 18 December, 1981, went into mass production in 1984 and entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1987.

A Tupolev Tu-160 of the Russian Air Force at MAKS in 2007.

Production of Tu-160 aircraft was discontinued at the end of the 1990s. However, in May 2015, at the suggestion of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the Kazan Aviation Enterprise began preparing for the resumption of production of at least 16 Tu-160 aircraft, which are in the service of the Russian Air Force’s Long-Range Aviation branch, as part of a thorough modernization program.

On 25 January, 2018, the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense and Tupolev signed a contract for the supply of the first ten aircraft, each worth 15 billion rubles ($270 million). It was announced at the time that Russia intended to order more of these planes.

Air-to-air with a Tupolev Tu-160 / Image taken from the official website of Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation / Copyright: (CC BY 4.0)

The Tu-160M is an improved version of the Tu-160, dubbed “Blackjack” by NATO and “White Swan” by Russian aviation pilots. In terms of aerodynamic design, the Tu-160M is virtually identical to the Tu-160. The main differences are that the aircraft is outfitted with cutting-edge systems such as new computing and onboard systems, control and navigation equipment, an electronic warfare system and a weapon control system, advanced air defense and anti-interference systems. The aircraft is also outfitted with a newly developed Kuznetsov NK-32-02 Turbofan jet engine.

The new Tu-160M taxiing (Rostec)

With a height of 13.1 meters and a length of 54.1 meters, this aircraft can fly 13,000 kilometers without refueling, reach a speed of 2,200 kilometers per hour, and reach an altitude of 18,000 meters. The Tu-160M can carry both nuclear and conventional missiles. The aircraft will be armed with Kh-101 cruise missiles in two internal compartments, turbojet-powered Kh-55MS missiles with a range of 2500 kilometers, and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.