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."
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."
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."