Russian PAK DA (Izdelie 80) stealth strategic bomber is too slow

Unlike the customary approach to combat aircraft design that prioritizes speed, Tupolev – the accomplished Russian aircraft designer — is charting a different course with the PAK DA. This subsonic bomber is designed not to exceed Mach 1.0 in contrast to the contemporary notion of ‘faster is better’. 

Izdelie 80 or Russian 'B-2 Spirit' is in the final development stage
Video screenshot

Tupolev, a critical cog in the machine that is the United Aircraft Corporation — known globally for its assembly of monolithic aviation brands including Sukhoi and Mikoyan-Gurevich, is no stranger to pioneering large-scale aircraft designs. 

The company etched its mark into aviation history in the 1930s, boasting the record for the largest aircraft of its time: the ANT-20 Maxim Gorky. This achievement served as a stepping stone for the company, as it went on to create iconic designs such as the Tu-95 strategic bomber, which despite its introduction in 1956 continues to serve today, the popular short-haul jet – Tu-154, and the groundbreaking Tu-144, the first supersonic commercial airliner. 

It is too slow

The PAK DA project, currently under Tupolev’s wing, is slated to be Russia’s maiden stealth bomber. 

The inception of this stealth bomber has been long in the making for the Russian Air Force. Preliminary requirements were laid out in the 1990s, paving the way for Tupolev to commence design work in the early years of the new millennium. 

Contrary to the mainstream mantra that ‘faster is better’ in combat aircraft design, the PAK DA is an embodiment of Tupolev’s divergent strategy – this upcoming design is envisioned as a subsonic bomber, limiting its speed to no more than Mach 1.0. 

The focus, instead, has been shifted towards stealth capabilities in this design. The goal is to approximate the functionality of the B-2 Spirit bomber from the U.S. Air Force that relies upon low observability, rather than speed, for survival.

A copycat? 

The PAK DA, seemingly drawing inspiration from the B-2 Spirit, combines aspects of stealth technology with a distinctive “flying wing” design. This unique structure forgoes traditional aircraft elements, such as a fuselage, wings, and tail assembly packed with numerous stabilization and flight control surfaces. Instead, a complex flight control computer compensates for the absence of these components, ensuring the aircraft remains stable in flight. 

Izdelie 80 or Russian 'B-2 Spirit' is in the final development stage
Video screenshot

The innovative design also adds a stealth factor, as the missing tail assembly significantly reduces the radar cross-section, adding an extra layer of invisibility to the aircraft. 

Though much about the PAK DA remains shrouded in mystery, it has been established that the aircraft is configured to carry a variety of payloads – conventional, nuclear, and hypersonic weapons. The ability to launch high-speed ordnance eliminates the necessity for high-speed flight. 

The aircraft is poised to revolutionize warfare through its stealth capabilities, confusing enemy air defenses while hypersonic missiles penetrate targets. 

Storage of weapons

One challenge faced by stealth aircraft is the storage of weapons. Conventional combat aircraft store weapons on pylons or “racks” attached to the wings and fuselage, but this method increases drag and makes the aircraft more visible. Consequently, stealth aircraft are configured to store their armament internally, which theoretically could limit payload capacity. Nevertheless, the PAK DA reportedly circumvents this difficulty with a rumored payload capacity of 30T, exceeding the B-2’s 20T limit. 

Interestingly, Tupolev, the company behind PAK DA, has reportedly built at least one full-scale mockup and several smaller models for wind tunnel testing. Anticipation is high for the rollout of prototypes in the upcoming years, with the maiden flight anticipated for 2025. 

As per Russian Deputy Prime Minister Denis Maturov, there are no plans to incorporate foreign parts in this project. However, it will be interesting to observe if the Western Sanctions, owing to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, will affect the development of this new bomber in any way.

Izdelie 80 or Russian 'B-2 Spirit' is in the final development stage
Video screenshot

Unclear funding

“Unquestionably, Russia harbors a desire to procure the PAK DA. That said, it remains unclear how they could financially sustain such an acquisition. Moreover, it bears mentioning that due to the sanctions imposed about the Ukraine conflict, they lack the requisite microchips and technology to operationalize the PAK DA. Presently, it would seem that the PAK DA remains, for the most part, a conceptual aspiration,” elucidates a retired aviation authority formerly affiliated with a prominent U.S. defense contractor.

Final stage

British officials have recently disclosed that Russian engineers are entering the closing stages of constructing a cutting-edge, fifth-generation PAK-DA bomber, colloquially known as “Izdelie 80” in the English vernacular. 

Izdelie 80 or Russian 'B-2 Spirit' is in the final development stage
Photo credit: Dzen.ru

Providing his insights, British Armaments Secretary, James Heappey, remarked, “Russia retains a diverse range of bombers across its numerous air bases, always set for deployment. The prototype for the PAK-DA, bearing a striking resemblance to the American B-2 bomber, appears to be nearing its completion.” 

Currently, Russia deploys an array of strategic bombers and missile carriers, including models like the Tu-95, Tu-22, and Tu-160. The front line is equipped with the efficient Su-34. A recently modernized and constructed new Tu-160 has also been added to their fleet. The “Izdelie 80” registers as a genuine stealth bomber, representing the newest generation of the Russian Aerospace Forces or VKS.

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