19:15 GMT16 June 2021
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    Russian military officials have announced that the Tu-160M2, a thoroughly modernized upgrade of the well-known Tupolev Tu-160 supersonic heavy strategic bomber, will make its first flight in 2018. Commenting on the prospects for the new plane, National Interest magazine defense editor Dave Majumdar explained what it was that makes it so special.

    On Thursday, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces Commander-in-Chief Viktor Bondarev told reporters that the first Tu-160M2 would take off "by the end of 2018," with full-scale production beginning in 2021. This is two years ahead of an earlier Defense Ministry estimate, which assumed that production would begin only in 2023. The Defense Ministry plans to purchase at least 50 Tu-160M2 aircraft for the country's air force.

    What's so special about the new aircraft?  A lot of things, says National Interest magazine defense editor Dave Majumdar.

    The journalist began by pointing out that while the Tu-160M2 "more or less retains the same airframe" as its predecessor, it's really "practically a new aircraft under the hood."

    "The new bomber will feature completely new mission systems and possibly be powered by upgraded versions of the existing Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan."

    Russian Aerospace Defense Forces' Su-30SM fighter escorts a Tu-160 bomber which fired cruise missiles at Daesh targets in Syria. Still from video published by the Russian Defense Ministry.
    © Sputnik / Russian Defence Ministry
    Russian Aerospace Defense Forces' Su-30SM fighter escorts a Tu-160 bomber which fired cruise missiles at Daesh targets in Syria. Still from video published by the Russian Defense Ministry.

    Moreover, media reports had earlier indicated that the plane would be equipped with advanced integrated modular avionics, a new on-board defense system, new weapons controls and electronic warfare systems, new fuel use monitoring systems, and a gimbal-less inertial navigation system, improving the latter's reliability and lowering costs.

    Majumdar noted that many analysts believe that the new aircraft is set on becoming "the backbone of the Russian strategic bomber force of the future." Moreover, according to the journalist, "Moscow can make do with the upgraded Tu-160M2 for its strategic bomber force because unlike the United States Air Force, the Russian Air Force does not expect the massive aircraft to penetrate into enemy airspace to deliver its payload."

    "Instead, the Tu-160, which is capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0 – would dash into position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles. As such, stealth is not considered to be particularly important. Indeed, one of the advantages of a highly visible strategic bomber is that it enables nuclear signaling."

    At the same time, Majumdar pointed out that the Tu-160M2 is not going to be introduced to attempt to replace the Tu-95, NATO codename 'Bear', a strategic bomber which has served as the workhorse of the Soviet and Russian air forces' heavy bomber fleet for over 60 years, and has seen several iterations and many substantive upgrades since its initial appearance. The Tu-95 is now being upgraded to carry the new Kh-101 and Kh-102 cruise missiles, the former armed with 400 kg of high explosives, and the latter with a 250 kiloton nuclear warhead. This, the journalist noted, is sufficient evidence that the plane is not going to be retired any time soon.

    Accordingly, Majumdar noted that the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces' basic approach to its strategic bombers considers the payload capability of the cruise missiles onboard the aircraft to be "far more important than the bomber itself."

    "The stealthy new Kh-101, which proved itself over Syria, and its Kh-102 nuclear-tipped variant are both designed to penetrate into heavily defended enemy airspace –allowing the bomber to strike from afar. Both missiles have ranges well in excess of 1,800 miles [others estimates say 3,400 miles] and will comprise the primary armament for the Russian strategic bomber fleet."

    Ultimately, the upgraded Tu-160M2 will be a welcome addition to the Russian strategic bomber fleet.

    "As for the Tupolev PAK-DA stealth bomber," the brand new stealth bomber expected to be on par with the best US analogues, Majumdar noted that this plane is "not likely to materialize anytime soon."


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    military analyst, analysis, Tu-160, Tu-160M2, Tu-95, Tu-160 Blackjack, Tu-95MS strategic bomber, Russia
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