MOSCOW, December 23 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Air Force plans to begin test flights of a new strategic bomber in 2019, the commander of the long-range fleet said Monday.
“Work on the bomber has been ongoing for less than a year, but the planning stage is now complete. Development work will begin in 2014, and the first test flights are scheduled for 2019. I think the aircraft should enter service in 2025,” Anatoly Zhikharev said in comments aired by television news network Rossiya-24.
The new bomber, known as PAK-DA (an acronym meaning “future long-range aircraft”), is planned to carry hypersonic missiles, a source told RIA Novosti in August. The bomber is also to feature modern stealth technology and be built by the Tupolev company in the Russian city of Kazan.
Zhikharev added that the air force’s existing long-range bombers would be overhauled with advanced avionics and electronic warfare systems in a two-stage process. Two Tu-160s have already been upgraded and are now entering service.
Russia’s strategic bomber force comprises one leg of its nuclear triad and consists of 63 Tu-95 variants and 13 supersonic Tu-160s, which combined can carry more than 850 cruise missiles. Russia also flies the intermediate-range Tu-22M, which will be included in the modernization program, Zikharev said.
The Tu-95MC is expected to remain in service until at least 2040. The Tu-95 first flew in the Soviet Union in 1956 and is powered by four NK-12 engines based on a Nazi wartime project and the most powerful propeller engine ever built.
Russia will also field a new tanker aircraft in 2018, Zhikharev said.