The Tu-160 (Image © Tupolev)

Russian Tu-160 bombers will fly new cruise missile

The Tu-160 (Image © Tupolev)
The Tu-160 (Image © Tupolev)

Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 (Ту-160) strategic bombers will fly the new Raduga Kh-101 cruise missile, its long-range fleet commander confirmed to Russian journalists this week.

The Kh-101 is capable of delivering a payload of up to 880 pounds (400 kg) at a distance of 6,000 miles (9,600 km) after being launched from the belly of the Blackjack, NATO’s reporting name for the Tu-160.

Russian AF Gen. Lt. Anatoly Zhikharev says that in 2014 other nations will not only notice more than last years 15 cruise missile tests, but will also see the 16 Tu-160s still in service more often on long-range patrol with stops in befriended nations all over the world. He didn’t say anything about any payload on those missions, but the Tu-160s are tasked with carrying conventional and nuclear weapons.

To tease and test the response Tu-160s and the smaller Tu-22Ms have been training against targets in North America, Europe and US-allied nations like Sweden and Colombia last year a couple of times. On their international power show – the first of the scale in five years time – Tu-160s landed in Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The Blackjack has a wingspan of 55.7 metres and a length of 55.7 metres. Its four turbofans give it an operational maximum speed of 971 knots (1800 km/h or Mach 1.5) and can bring the plane up to an altitude of more than 42,000 feet.

The Tu-160 is the world’s biggest combat aircraft, the largest supersonic aircraft and the largest plane which can move its wings in horizontal position (variable sweep) to accommodate high speeds. The plane can carry up to 40,000 kg (88,185 lb) of bombs and missiles in two internal bays. Although weapons can be attached externally, it is not often done – partly in order to lower the radar cross-section (visibility to enemy radar) of the aircraft.

First flight of the Tu-160 was in 1981, with the type entering Russian Air Force service in 1987. Thirty-six aircraft were built. Moscow is slowly upgrading the current fleet, with money allocated for three of the remaining 16 Blackjacks. The improvements will include comm/nav gear and better engines.

Tu-160s are based at Engels Airbase near Saratov in the heart of the former Soviet Union, relatively close to the Russian border with Kazakhstan. The Blackjacks fly with a crew of four.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger