Russia expects 70 Tu-160M bombers, the first four already in 2023

In a notable development, the Russian Air Force is on course to procure four Tu-160M strategic bombers by the culmination of 2023. This acquisition propels the service into a distinctive position, given the magnitude of intercontinental range combat aircraft it is concurrently commissioning.

Confirmed: Russia has included the Tu-160 bombers in the war
Photo credit: Tupolev

It is worth mentioning that this move is unparalleled at this juncture, with neither the United States nor China embarking on similar procurement endeavors.  

Forecasts suggest that the Air Force will be equipped with an impressive arsenal of 70 Tu-160M bombers. The reports in January indicated a considerable surge in production.

The inaugural flight of the first Tu-160M, an advanced variant of the Soviet Union’s most potent strategic bomber class, the Tu-160, took place in January 2022. This marks a significant step forward from the original Tu-160 model, which first graced the skies in 1986. 

Tu-160M enhancements

The enhancements encompass the integration of cutting-edge avionics. The other innovation in the Tu-160M is the incorporation of NK-32-02 engines. These engines necessitate less maintenance. At the same time they providing exceptional flight performance and endurance. Tu-160M also includes an assortment of new armaments – the Kh-101/102 cruise missiles being the most prominent inclusion. 

Presently, an array of hypersonic weapons is being meticulously developed for the aircraft. In the initial stages, the Soviet Air Force was projected to amass around 100 Tu-160s by the time production was slated to reach its culmination in the 2000s.

Russian Tu-160M2 bomber flies with new engines for the first time
Photo credit: FlugRevue

However, the unexpected disintegration of the state truncated the program prematurely, resulting in the majority of the fleet being left stranded in Ukraine. Succumbing to the mounting pressure from the West, Ukraine subsequently orchestrated the destruction of a significant part of it.

Presently, Russia has in its possession a mere 16 of the originally Soviet-constructed fighter jets, a stark reduction from its former fleet. The remainder, a significant total of 54, are anticipated to be freshly manufactured in the imminent future. 

Largest and swiftest

Occupying the position of the world’s largest and swiftest bomber, the Tu-160 is widely acclaimed as the most competent in its league. Despite this, it is widely postulated that Russia lags significantly behind the United States and China in the race to develop a stealth bomber representative of the 21st century.

Confirmed: Russia has included the Tu-160 bombers in the war
Photo credit: Reuters

The American B-21 and the Chinese H-20, both slated for a prospective launch around the 2030 timeline, are speculated to hold considerable performance superiority over the Tu-160. 

It is widely believed that setbacks encountered in Russia’s ambitious endeavor to create a new generation strategic bomber, the PAK DA, significantly influenced the decision to channel investments towards reviving the production of the Tu-160. This course of action exemplifies a pragmatic approach in the face of unforeseen challenges within the realm of aerospace development. 

Tu-160M is important for Moscow

The Tu-160M emerges as a unique unit. The reason is the lack of intercontinental range bombers in China’s military arsenal. Another reason is the cessation of production of such aircraft in the US in the 21st century. It holds the unique distinction of being the only class of its kind currently in production. Thereby distinguishing itself conspicuously within its category.

Newest Tu-160M ​​supersonic Mach 2+ bomber arrives in mid-2022
Photo credit: Russian MoD

Underlining the global reach of the aircraft proves to be of utmost importance for post-Soviet Russia. An extremely important fact against the background of the lack of an ocean surface fleet. This situation starkly contrasts with that of the former USSR. Russia capitalized on an array of military assets to exert its influence beyond its borders. These assets also included destroyers and cruisers.

Despite their limited numbers, Tu-160s have consistently been at the forefront of political signaling, serving a pivotal role in global affairs. The scope of their operations extends from patrolling the vast expanses of the Arctic and the Indian Ocean to launching precision strikes against insurgent strongholds in Syria. 

In more recent times, these formidable aircraft have been employed in demonstrations of power in Venezuela. They have been involved in the execution of precision strikes against specifically identified targets in Ukraine. The varied deployments of the Tu-160s underscore their strategic importance.

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