Russia is on track and partly even ahead of schedule in restarting production of the Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber, vice-secretary of Defense Yury Borisov stated on Wednesday 6 April in Russian media. The new version of the Blackjack, designated Tu-160M2, should first fly in 2019.
Russia says it wants to order 50 new Tu-160M2 for its air force, pushing back the design and production of the totally new next-generation strategic bomber known as PAK-DA. That new design has been in development since 2009 but will likely not fly before 2023.
Moscow instead choose to restart production of a revamped Tu-160 Blackjack. Sixteen older models are already in service and represent the strong arm of Russia’s strategic bomber force. The type was also used of Syria recently.
UPDATED 20 November | For the first time the Russian strategic bomber fleet has been waging war in modern combat, launching long-range air strikes against targets / areas in Syria last night.
UPDATE | More footage has appeared of Russian bombers launching cruise missiles or dropping bombs, some of them under the watchful eye of -rather surprisingly – Iranian F-14 Tomcats. See here.
According to the Russian Ministry of Defence the attack fleet last night included 5 Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack”, 6 Tu-95MS “Bear”, 14 Tupolev Tu-22M3s “Backfire, 8 Sukhoi Su-34 “Fullback” and 4 Sukhoi Su-27SM “Flanker” all flying in from land-bases in Russia with flights lasting 4 hours and several thousands of miles. With at least the fighter aircraft probably supported by IL-78 “Midas” tanker aircraft.
Sources in Western capitals have acknowledged their governments were informed far ahead of the Russian operations this time, which included the launch of 34 cruise missiles. The attacks were concentrated on the Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor areas, as well as Aleppo and Idlib. The Russian planned 127 sorties against 206 targets, with 82 sorties against 140 objectives done. Syrian troops are said to have started a ground offensive about 15 to 25 miles from Idlib.
Part of the Russian Expeditionary Wing based at an Syrian military airbase near Latakia (Khmeymim) also went airborne. The wing now consists of eight fighter-bombers (4 Sukhoi Su-30SMs, 4 Sukhoi Su-34s), 12 strike/bombers of the Sukhoi Su-24M “Fencer” type, 12 close-air support and attack aircraft of the Sukhoi Su-25SM “Frogfoot” type, a dozen Mil Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters and 4 Mil Mi-8 “Hip” assault helicopters.
25 extra long-range aircraft
Moscow plans to augment the wing for now with 25 extra long-range aircraft (likely bombers and tanker aircraft), eight Su-34s and four Su-27SMs all operating from land-bases within the Russian Federation on lengthy strike missions to Syria against forces such as ISIL/Daesh.
Apart from Russia, French warcraft bombed targets they say are from ISIL/Daesh as well during the same night in Northern Syria, in what could may have been jointly co-ordinated attacks. France is stepping up its military operations in the area after ISIL has claimed responsibility of the terror attacks in Paris during the weekend. The attacks claimed the lives of at least 129 people. The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle – with on board Rafale multi-role fighters – is steaming towards the Eastern Mediterranean.
Russia is to restart production of the Tu-160 Blackjack long range strategic bomber in 2023, Russian press agency TASS reported on 17 July following a statement from deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov. Moscow earlier this year stated it intended to restart production, with factory equipment already being sought.
The newly built Tu-160s will be of the modernized M2 variant. The current fleet of 15 Blackjacks is now in the process of being updated, with the final aircraft expected to be ready in 2019. The Tu-160 is very similar to the US Rockwell B-1B Lancer.
Meanwhile, development of the next generation strategic bomber – known as PAK DA – is to be slow downed. This indicates Russia feels the need for a more immediate strengthening of its bomber fleet, instead of relying on a new design that will remain under development for many more years to come.
The Russian Tu-95 Bear long range bomber aircraft are grounded following an accident in which a fire erupted on board an aircraft, Russian media reported on June 9. The fire broke out in an engine and caused the aircraft to leave the runway at Ukrainka airfield, injuring several crew members.
The Russian Air Force’s Bear aircraft – 71 in total – will remain on the ground while an investigation into the fire takes place. The Bear is perhaps the most visibile example of Russian air power, since the type is regularly seen in the skies near Western Europe during military exercises. Many of last year’s NATO scrambles where direct at Bear bombers taking part in such exercises.
The very first prototype Bear, featuring massive contra-rotating propellers, first flew on 2 November 1952, only months after its US counterpart, the B-52 Stratofortress. With the Bears grounded, Russia falls back on its limited fleet of Tu-160 Blackjack bombers for its long range strike capability.
Russia wants to buy up to 50 newly produced Tupolev Tu-160 (Ту-160) strategic bombers, to have them serve next to the PAK DA stealthy bomber that the country from the year 2023 or later. Russian Air Force Commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev has said on Thursday 28 May that his country needs both aircraft – as confirmed in earlier reports.
The Tu-160 – NATO-reporting name Blackjack – can carry 24 cruise missiles and 40 tons of bombs and can be deployed with both a conventional as a nuclear load (or a combination). Only 35 of these strategic bombers were produced from 1984 to the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. The 13 to 16 Blackjacks still in service are currently modernized, the first two in 2014 and another three or four planned for 2015. The bombers will also be enable to fly the new Tu-160 Raduga Kh-101 cruise missile capable of hitting targets 6,000 miles (9,600 km) from launch point.
The PAK DA stealthy bomber is being developed since 2008, designed by Tupolev as well. Work on bringing the final design into life on the first prototype has started. Aim is to have the bomber fly at subsonic speeds, powered by four engines. Unlike the Tu-160s movable wings, the PAK DA will be more like “a flying wing” – with some similarities to the US B-2 bomber. To make matters easier the PAK DA will have stuff like avionics already in use in the PAK FA stealthy fighter. This jet is already flying, but still under development.
No word yet on how many PAK DAs Moscow intends to buy, but the Tu-160 strength is likely to gain numbers in the coming years judging the latest statements. Although the number of 50 new aircraft is probably not the first aim. Airheadsfly.com believes that if production has really started, the fleet will first grow to 24, then to 32 aircraft before a decision on more is made. They will serve besides about 60 “Bear” bombers upgraded to Tu-95MS standard and – in a later stage – the first PAK DAs.