Full production of the Russian Tu-160 bomber restarted after 30 years
Echoing the Cold War, Russia’s first newly manufactured Tupolev Tu-160M (NATO designation Backfire) supersonic nuclear heavy bomber completed its maiden flight on 12 January, reaching a height of 600 m (2,000 ft) during of his 30-minute trial.
Still awaiting its paint livery in its light green primer coat, the modernized Tu-160M took to the skies under the command of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) test pilots from Kazan Aviation airfield Plant where the bomber was assembled. The short test was intended to check the aircraft’s stability and controls before moving on to more ambitious test phases.
The test flight marks the start of renewed full production of the Tu-160M following the completion of testing of an all-new prototype bomber that first flew on February 2, 2020. Production will include a first 10-cell tranche under a state contract between the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia and Tupolev PJSC, a 100% subsidiary of majority-Russian state-owned company UAC, with a complete set of 50 units planned.
The relaunch of TU-160M production marks a significant shift in Russian military policy. Only 16 were reported to be in service in 2016. Now, after a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the aircraft is returning to full production of any new aircraft for the first time since the line closed after the fall of the ‘Soviet Union. .
This is important as the Tu-160 is notoriously expensive to build and several previous attempts to restart production have failed, pardon the pun, to take off and have generally only resulted in work on completion or upgrading. level of old cells from Russia or purchased from Ukraine, which inherited some of the bombers after the fall of communism.
Accordingly, the revival of the Tu-160 means the restoration of entire production lines and the relearning of old skills, such as titanium vacuum welding, as well as the introduction of digital technologies.
The Tu-160M, also known as the White Swan, is famous not only as a relic of the decades-long Warsaw Pact conflict against NATO and its allied powers, it is also in the record books as the combat largest and heaviest supersonic. aircraft, the fastest bomber ever flown and the largest and most powerful variable wing geometry supersonic aircraft ever built.
First flown in 1982, the Tu-160 was originally designed as a response to the US Air Force‘s supersonic B-1 Lancer bomber, designed to deliver nuclear bombs through Soviet air defences. Although the Americans reduced production of the B-1 and the B-1B variant, development and production continued on the Tu-160.
The result was an aircraft with a crew of four larger than the B-1B, and also faster and with a slightly greater combat range. At 54 m (177 ft) long and with a wingspan of 55 m (183 ft) when the swept wings are fully extended, the Tu-160 has a maximum takeoff weight of 275,000 kg (606,271 lb). It was originally powered by four Samara NK-321 afterburner turbofan engines, generating 55,000 lbs each and pushing the bomber to a maximum speed of Mach 2.05 and a cruise speed of Mach 0.9 at a distance of 12 300 km (7,600 miles), although these motors have now been replaced by a new series of NK-32 motors, which increase flight range to 1,000 km (620 miles).
Although capable of carrying 45,000 kg (99,208 lb) of gravity nuclear bombs in its two internal bays, the Tu-160 is more properly considered a missile carrier as its standard load is a rotary launcher for Raduga Kh-55SM /101/102/ 555 cruise missiles or 12 AS-16 Kickback short-range nuclear missiles. The Tu160M will also be able to field the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile.
In addition to new Tu-160M bombers, the existing Tu-160 fleet is being upgraded to Tu-160M standards, which includes new flight, navigation, communication and control systems, as well as new radar countermeasures and electronics.
The first of the new Tu-160M is expected to be delivered to the Russian Air Force in 2023.
“We restored the full production cycle of the Tu-160, but already in the M modification, using modernized engines, modernized aircraft control systems, navigation systems and weapons control systems,” said said Denis Manturov, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade. Federation. “The modernization of the Kazan Aviation Plant played an important role in restoring the production of unique aircraft: the equipment of workshops, the flight test base was updated, the largest world’s installation of electron beam welding and vacuum annealing of titanium has been put into operation Today we see significant prospects for the Tu-160 platform: further development will allow it to be used for new types of weapons, including promising weapons.