|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||Jun 12, 2017 09:39 PM EDT|
(Photo : Russian Aerospace Forces) Tupolev Tu-160M supersonic strategic bomber.
Russia will resume production of the supersonic and variable-wing Tupolev Tu-160M strategic heavy bomber instead of continuing development of its already much delayed stealth strategic bomber, the Tupolev PAK DA.
Production of the Tu-160, which is capable of lofting nuclear weapons, ended in 2008 and only 27 bombers were produced for use by the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). Only 15 of these aircraft, designated Tu-160M, are on the rolls and are being upgraded to keep them viable.
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"The first deeply modernized Tu-160M will appear in 2021. The share of new components in it will be 60%," said Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces to Russian media.
Of the15 Tu-160M supersonic strategic bombers, 11 are fit for frontline service. The original version of the TU-160, nicknamed "White Swan," ("Blackjack" to NATO) entered Russian service in 1987.
The new production version of the bomber -- designated the Tu-160M2 -- will carry both conventional and nuclear long-range cruise missiles.
Russia plans to buy from 30 and 50 of the Tu-160M2. The version will serve as a cruise missile launch platform.
It will mount the Kh-555 subsonic air-launched cruise missile with a maximum range of 2,500 km and the Kh-101 (conventional warhead) and Kh-102 (thermonuclear warhead) cruise missiles with a maximum range of 5,500 km. The Kh-101 and Kh-102 are derivatives of the Kh-555.
One new feature of the Tu-160M2 will be the capability to launch precision-guided munitions (PGMs). The first Tu-160M2 is slated to fly in 2018, with serial production scheduled for 2021.
As for the PAK DA, Russia initially planned to begin testing the bomber between 2019 and 2020. Plans for resuming serial production of the Tu-160 delayed the PAK DA program.
The PAK DA project was almost cancelled in 2012, partly as a result of funding shortfalls.
PAK DA, which will replace both the turboprop-powered Tupolev Tu-95 "Bear" and the Tu-160, is being developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau. PAK DA stands for "Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Dal'ney Aviatsii" literally, "prospective aviation complex for long-range aviation."
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