Russia received four deeply modernized Tu-160M/M2 bombers at once

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Until recently, military experts in Russia expressed concern about the completion status of the country’s nuclear triad. Specifically, they were apprehensive that significant portions of it were either totally modernized or only partially so. The last aspect of their triad that had been slated for considerable updates was their long-range aviation fleet. 

Photo credit: Tupolev

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, an event of great importance to the United States transpired last December. Americans witnessed the unveiling of the advanced prototype B-21 Ryder bomber, equipped with stealth technology. Although it shares many conceptual similarities with its predecessor, the B-2 Spirit, it’s an intriguing model considering the U.S. plans for its mass production. 

Yet, the critics argue that should the U.S. go ahead to revamp its strategic air fleet, the Russian counter could potentially become outdated. Nevertheless, Russian long-range aviation is currently navigating uncharted waters. This year marks a new era as Moscow is set to welcome four fully overhauled “White Swans” [the moniker for the Tu-160 bomber]. This occurrence hasn’t been seen for an extended period, adding a considerable boost to their existing fleet. While this is an impressive update, it’s worth delving deeper into the details.

Photo credit: FlugRevue

Two by two

The state-of-the-art Tu-160M2s, which were fully developed approximately half a decade ago, are the first pair of the bombers this piece focuses on. Notably, the Kazan Aviation Plant has spent these years tirelessly working to replace equipment, secure specialized staff, and revive lost technologies, practically starting from zero. Furthermore, it’s worth highlighting that this project was successfully concluded much sooner than initially projected. 

Flashback to 2015, the Russian Ministry of Defense made a declaration, initiating production of these bombers not before 2023. This announcement sparked surprise and even shock among some observers. Yet, fast-forwarding to 2023, Russia welcomed its inaugural pair of new Tu-160M2s—a development that was recently shared by high-ranking officials from the Kremlin. 

Photo credit: Reuters

The second pair are highly advanced ‘White Swans’, upgraded using the existing bomber fleet. To put it simply, the Tu-160s were elevated to compete with the Tu-160M via significant improvements, not creation from the ground up. Meaning, that both variants are essentially identical, with only their housing newness as the distinguishable element.

The weapons of the Tu-160M/M2

Let’s delve into the primary focus – weaponry. We must understand that drastic alterations shouldn’t be anticipated – we still have two compartments, each housing 6 types of ammunition. Predominantly, the Kh-101 and its nuclear counterpart, the Kh-102, could prove to be the popular choices, attributed to their impressive missile attributes and large-scale production.

These weapons amalgamate stealth technology along with a system designed to puncture air and missile defenses with the use of an RAB station. They also have a toolkit for distracting enemy missiles away from their main target. Overall, these weapons serve as a comprehensive arsenal.

Kh-50 in the belly of the Tu-160M2

We’re already somewhat familiar with the phenomena currently under discussion, even though details about the new innovations are not yet fully known. Particularly noteworthy, however, is the Kh-50—also referred to as Kh-MD—which, despite the lack of absolute certainty, has likely already seen action. Surely, it’s a piece of arsenal that holds a significant amount of intrigue. 

Initially, the Kh-50 is smaller than its cousin, the Kh-101. While this translates to a more limited flight range [somewhere between 1500 to 3000 km], it also means it stands a better chance of evading detection by enemy radars. Even more significantly, it’s cost-effective. It can be deployed in bulk, in dozens, and potentially even in hundreds, in local disputes of varying intensities.

Tu-160M\M2 is for hypersonic missiles

An interesting attribute widely noted by experts is the focus on hypersonic missile utilization in the Tu-160M\M2 modernization program. This program integrates these missiles into the armaments of the renowned “White Swans”

The Kinzhal [a Dagger] missile stands out among these, recognized for its impressive success rate. But why is the Tu-160 chosen over other aircraft platforms? Take the MiG-31K as an example; it carries only a single missile, whereas the upgraded Lebed can hold up to 8. That’s a pretty substantial difference indeed. Now, imagine the capabilities of four of these “daggers”, launching a total of 32 missiles. 

Frankly speaking, gathering a fleet of MiG-31 fighters modified for hypersonic operation to match this volume seems doubtful. However, there are plans to build up to 50 “swans”; theoretically, this could translate to a formidable 500-600 missiles.

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