Putin joins Kazan to unveil four deeply upgraded Tu-160M bombers

Recently, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, inspected the innovative operations at Kazan Aviation Plant [KAZ]. He personally experienced the complexities of the newly modernized Tu-160M strategic missile carriers. Video of him in the pilot’s seat of one of these carriers documented his visit.  

Putin’s trip to KAZ wasn’t a solo venture. He was accompanied by high-ranking officials such as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov; Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu; Tatarstan’s leader, Rustam Minnikhanov; Rostec’s CEO, Sergey Chemezov; United Aircraft Corporation’s General Director, Yury Slyusar; and Konstantin Timofeev, the First Deputy General Director of UAC and Managing Director of Tupolev AD. 

As for KAZ, they are currently preparing for the serial production of the Tu-160M, an upgraded version of the iconic Tu-160 strategic missile carrier. This advanced upgraded 160M model is almost ready to become part of Russia’s formidable combat aviation fleet.

Putin joins Kazan to unveil four deeply upgraded Tu-160M bombers
Photo credit: UAC

Tu-160M enhancements

Among the upgrades we see in the Tu-160M are the integration of cutting-edge avionics and the new state-of-the-art NK-32-02 engines, which demand less maintenance. These engines not only perform exceptionally well but also deliver exceptional flight performance and longevity. The Tu-160M is also equipped with an array of new weapons, with the Kh-101/102 cruise missiles leading the pack. 

Currently, a range of hypersonic armaments is being diligently developed for incorporation into this aircraft. In its inception, the plan was to have around 100 Tu-160s by the projected end of production in the 2000s by the Soviet Air Force

Putin joins Kazan to unveil four deeply upgraded Tu-160M bombers
Photo credit: UAC

However, the sudden collapse of the state led to an abrupt end of the program, leaving a significant portion of this fleet stranded in Ukraine. With increasing pressure from the West, Ukraine was coerced into destroying a substantial portion of the fleet prematurely. 

Today, Russia only has 16 of the original Soviet-built fighter jets. This is a significant drop from its initial fleet size. However, it’s expected that the rest of the fleet, a whopping total of 54 aircraft, will be newly built in the near future.

About the plant in Kazan

Putin joins Kazan to unveil four deeply upgraded Tu-160M bombers
Photo credit: UAC

The S.P. Gorbunova Kazan Aviation Plant operates as a subsidiary of Tupolev JSC [under the Rostec state corporation, and PJSC UAC]. It is widely recognized as one of the key players in the domestic aviation industry. 

In 2023, it boasts of employing an immense workforce of approximately 8,400 individuals. The factory floor has undergone an unparalleled modernization, which features the refurbishment of unique manufacturing and flight-test complexes, as well as a runway renovation. Their design center is now replete with cutting-edge equipment. An exclusive complex, famed as the world’s largest, has been revived for the processing of titanium products.

About the Tu-160M

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

Emerging from the stables of the Tupolev Design Bureau in the Soviet Union, the upgraded Tu-160M is a strategic bomber par excellence. This modernized version of the original Tu-160 features a heavy-duty variable-sweep wing capable of reaching supersonic speeds. Indicated by its ‘M’ suffix, the Tu-160M boasts state-of-the-art avionics and weapon systems.  

If we delve into the technical specifications of the Tu-160M, you’ll be amazed. Imagine a massive airborne beast, capable of reaching a maximum speed of 2,220 kilometers per hour [Mach 2.05] and ascending to heights of 16,000 meters. To lift off, this aircraft requires a maximum weight of a sizable 275,000 kilograms. Its size is also impressive, measuring a length of 54.1 meters, with a variable wingspan ranging from 35.6 to 55.7 meters depending on wing sweep, and reaching a height of 13.1 meters. 

Need to reach a far-off location? The Tu-160M has got you covered. It’s capable of covering distances up to 12,300 kilometers on a single tank. Extend that with mid-air refueling, and you’ve got an aircraft that can reach almost every corner of the planet.

Engine and armament

Let’s delve into the heart of the Tu-160M: it’s powered not by one or two, but four Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan engines! Each of these machines can generate force equivalent to 25,000 kilograms, accumulating to a total thrust of 100,000 kilograms. Given such power, it’s easy to imagine how this bomber accomplishes such high speeds and expansive operational range. 

The marvels of the Tu-160M aren’t limited to its speed and range alone. Equipped with cutting-edge electronic warfare systems and enhanced avionics, it showcases features like an innovative navigation system, an upgraded radar, and even a refuelling probe for in-flight refuelling, which further extends its range. 

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

In the context of demonstrating military strength, the Tu-160M is not to be underestimated. It carries an extensive range of weaponry, capable of loading up to 40,000 kilograms of free-fall bombs or a dozen Kh-55SM cruise missiles. The pièce de résistance? It can also be equipped with the new Kh-101/102 stealth cruise missile. With a range of up to 5,500 kilometers, these can be armed with either a nuclear or conventional warhead.

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