Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bomber infographic
Graphic shows upgrades planned for the Tu-160M2 bomber.


Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bomber

By Ninian Carter

April 20, 2018 - Russia plans to build a fleet of 50 upgraded Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers. Swing-wing M2s, armed with new stealthy cruise missiles, give the Kremlin a global aerial strike capability.

The Tu-160 is nicknamed the White Swan due to being painted in anti-flash white to protect the aircraft from thermal radiation.

The Swan can fly at speeds above Mach 2 (2,220km/h, 1,340mph), reach heights of 16,000 metres (more than 50,000ft) and has a combat range of 12,300km (7,640 miles) without the need to refuel in-flight.

Conceived at the height of the Cold War the Swan was the Soviet counterpart America’s B1-B Lancer. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the upgrade of Russia’s 16-strong Swan force due to delays in the next-generation strategic stealth bomber project, codenamed PAK DA (Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation).

Reports suggest that all avionics, sensors and communications equipment are new, including the addition of astro-navigation equipment. The latter is acting as a backup in the event of an attack on Russia’s navigation satellites.

The aircraft is also intended to be re-engined with four new, upgraded Kuznetsov NK-32 02 Series turbofan engines, each generating some 222,410 Newtons of thrust (55,000 pounds) in afterburner mode. In comparison, America’s Lancer uses General Electric F101s which have an output of just under 137,900 Newtons thrust (31,000 pounds) at full afterburner.

The Tu-160M2 will still perform the same strategic and conventional missions as the older Swans, armed with low-observable, long-range, air-launched, high-explosive Kh-101 and nuclear Kh-102 cruise missiles, fired at a stand-off distance of up to 5,000km (3,000 miles) to try and avoid enemy integrated air defences.

In November 2015, two Tu-160s flew some 12,900km (8,000 miles) from the Kola Peninsula above the Arctic Circle, out over the Atlantic before turning east to fly over the Mediterranean toward Syria to launch Kh-101s.

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