Tu-160s performed flights over the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean

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In a meticulously planned 8-hour operation, two Tu-160 strategic missile carriers were observed soaring through the airspace over the neutral waters of the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. This information was formally disclosed by the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense. Accompanying this announcement, they shared a brief video clip on their Telegram channel, providing a visual supplement to the news. 

Photo credit: Tupolev

Providing combat escort to this operation were the skilled crews of the Su-35S aircraft from the Russian Air Force. Lieutenant General Sergey Kobylash, the commander of long-range aviation, assured that the flight adhered strictly to international rules governing the use of airspace.

He further emphasized that pilots of long-range aviation are frequently involved in flights traversing the neutral waters of various global regions. These include the Arctic, the North Atlantic, the Black and Baltic Seas, and the Pacific Ocean. Such operations serve to emphasize the regular and extensive scope of their activities.

What are these “planned flights”?

Russian Tu-160 bombers conducting scheduled flights over neutral waters can have several reasons and tactical objectives. One reason could be to showcase Russia’s military capabilities and assert its presence in the international arena. By conducting such flights, Russia can demonstrate its ability to project power beyond its borders and potentially intimidate other countries. Additionally, these flights can serve as a training opportunity for Russian pilots and crew members to practice long-range missions and improve their skills.

Photo credit: Reuters

Another reason for these flights could be to gather intelligence on other countries’ air defense systems and response times. By flying close to other countries’ airspace, Russia can test its reaction times and potentially identify weaknesses in its air defense systems. This information can be used to improve Russia’s own air defense capabilities and develop countermeasures against potential threats.

Tactically, these flights can also serve as a deterrent against potential adversaries. By demonstrating its ability to conduct long-range missions, Russia can deter other countries from taking aggressive actions against it. Furthermore, these flights can be used to signal Russia’s readiness to defend its interests and allies in the region.

However, these flights can also increase tensions and provoke responses from other countries. If not conducted transparently and predictably, these flights can be perceived as a threat and lead to misunderstandings and miscalculations. Therefore, Russia needs to communicate its intentions and conduct these flights by international norms and regulations to avoid any unintended consequences.

What is a Tu-160 bomber?

The Tu-160 is a supersonic strategic bomber aircraft that was designed in the Soviet Union. It is also known as the White Swan due to its white color scheme. The aircraft was first introduced in 1987 and is still in service with the Russian Air Force today. It is considered to be one of the largest and heaviest combat aircraft in the world, with a maximum takeoff weight of 275,000 kg.

Photo credit: FlugRevue

The armament of the Tu-160 includes a range of air-to-surface missiles, including the Kh-55SM, Kh-555, and Kh-101. The Kh-55SM and Kh-555 are nuclear-capable missiles with a range of up to 3,000 km. The Kh-101 is a conventional missile with a range of up to 5,500 km. The Tu-160 is also equipped with a 23mm GSh-23L cannon for self-defense.

The Tu-160 has several impressive technical characteristics. It has a maximum speed of Mach 2.05, which is over twice the speed of sound. It has a range of up to 12,300 km without refueling and can be refueled in flight to extend its range even further. The aircraft has a crew of four, including a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, and weapons systems officer. It has a wingspan of 55.7 meters and a length of 54.1 meters. The Tu-160 is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-32 after-burning turbofan engines, which provide a combined thrust of 137,000 lbf.

Russia is paying attention to the Tu-95 as well

The Tu-95 strategic bomber, an essential component of Russia’s aerial arsenal, is currently under the watchful eye of the nation’s military experts, too. 

Photo by Sergei Fedichev

The Air and Space Forces (VKS) of the Russian Federation have initiated an extensive modernization program for the Tu-95, specifically the MSM version. This revamp, extensively covered by Russian media, centers on enhancing the bomber’s combat prowess. A key aspect of the upgrade involves integrating four additional underwing pylons designed to carry cruise missiles. 

Until now, the Tu-95 could bear a maximum of four Kh-101 or Kh-102 cruise missiles, each potentially equipped with either a conventional or nuclear warhead. However, post-modernization, the Tu-95MSM will boast an increased missile capacity, with each wing accommodating two more missiles, totaling eight of this model. 

Industry experts underscore that this represents one of the few major overhauls of the bomber’s external payload capacity. The prevalent speculation within expert circles suggests that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine may have been a significant factor in the Ministry of Defense’s decision to greenlight such an extensive modernization.


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