Russia Inks Contract For New Supersonic Bombers
The Russian Federation has finalized a contract worth 160 billion rubles (2.85 billion USD) that will deliver a batch of ten modernized strategic bombers to the Russian Air Force by 2027. In remarks made at the announcement of the new contract on Jan. 25, 2018, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, declared that the deal serves as a “serious step towards developing [Russia’s] high-tech sphere and strengthening the country’s ability to defend itself.”
Specifically, the defense contract is for Tupolev Tu-160M long-range supersonic strategic bombers; which have an operational range of 12,000 kilometers (7,500 miles) of non-stop flight and are capable of carrying and delivering 12 cruise missiles or 12 short-range nuclear missiles. With the assistance of the Ilyushin-78 aerial refueling tanker plane, the Tu-160M will be able to strike at any designated target around the globe.
The Tu-160 bomber series, the largest combat aircraft in present-day operation, was designed during the Soviet era, with the first Tu-160s entering service in the 1980s. Russia inherited the planes after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and maintains at least 16 rapidly aging Tu-160s. These old Tu-160s were most recently seen in the Russian air campaign in the ongoing Syrian Civil War, where Tu-160s launched long-range cruise missiles against anti-government targets.
The Tu-160M will be the first commercially produced massive modernization of the aging bomber series, including an overhaul of the electronics: navigation, communication, radar and radio equipment and measures to increase engine capabilities. Fuel efficiency modifications will boost the “effectiveness” of the Tu-160M by “60%” compared to its predecessor, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
President Putin’s announcement of the new bombers was at the aircraft plant that is contracted to manufacture the Tu-160Ms. The Russian President also noted that plans to modernize the Ilyushin-78 aerial refueling tanker aircraft were also underway, with trial flights for prototype upgraded Ilyushin-78s commencing at the end of Jan. 2018 — a sign, President Putin proclaimed, “that [Russia’s] aircraft manufacturing industries continue to develop.” Concurrently, a statement issued by Russian state-controlled aircraft manufacturer United Aircraft Corporation confirmed that a civilian supersonic passenger jet “that may incorporate solutions and technologies already used in the Tupolev-160 bomber” was under development, seemingly in accordance with President Putin’s earlier suggestion on building a supersonic civilian aircraft after seeing test flights of the Tu-160M.
Russia’s move to order its first batch of new supersonic bombers materialized as Moscow takes an increasingly assertive stance in foreign relations, including active participation in several regional conflicts and repeated confrontations with the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member-states. Russia-watchers have noted that this batch of bombers is certainly not the last, with at least another forty Tu-160Ms slated to enter service with the Russian Air Force after this initial batch of ten bombers is delivered by 2027. President Putin’s push to build more upgraded Tu-160s may also be related to delays and rising costs of the PAK DA project, which seeks to produce the next-generation stealth bomber to succeed Russia’s aging fleet of nuclear-capable strategic bombers.