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    Russia Air Force to get new Tu-160 strategic bomber in April

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    A new Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber will enter service with Russia' Air Force by the end of this month, the Air Force chief said on Tuesday.

    MONINO (Moscow Region), April 22 (RIA Novosti) - A new Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber will enter service with Russia' Air Force by the end of this month, the Air Force chief said on Tuesday.

    "We hope that the 121st heavy bomber regiment [based at Engels airbase in the Saratov Region] will receive a new Tu-160 plane on April 29," Col.Gen. Alexander Zelin said.

    "It is a fully upgraded plane, adapted to new weapons systems," he said.

    He added that another three to four such bombers will enter service before the end of the year.

    The Tu-160 Blackjack is a supersonic, variable-geometry heavy bomber, designed to strike strategic targets with nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation.

    The aircraft has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes. Its two internal rotary launchers can each hold 6 Raduga Kh-55 cruise missiles or 12 Raduga Kh-15 short-range nuclear missiles.

    The plane bears a strong resemblance to the U.S. B-1A Lancer strategic bomber, although it is significantly larger, and with far greater range, up to 11,000 miles without refueling.

    According to official reports, there are at least 15 Tu-160 bombers in service with the Russian Air Force. Russia plans to upgrade the existing fleet and build at least one new bomber every one-two years to increase the number of available aircraft to 30 in the near future.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights last August, saying that although the country had halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, other nations had continued the practice, and that this compromised Russian national security.

    Although it was common practice during the Cold War for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to keep nuclear strategic bombers permanently airborne, the Kremlin cut long-range patrols in 1992. The decision came as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ensuing economic and political chaos.

    However, the newly-resurgent Russia, awash with petrodollars, has invested heavily in military technology, and the resumption of long-range patrols is widely seen among political commentators as another sign of its drive to assert itself both militarily and politically.

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