The Flight of the White Swan: Tu-160 Fleet Modernization and Expansion

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The Flight of the White Swan: Tu-160 Fleet Modernization and Expansion

Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront

On January 25, 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense officially announced the contract for the modernization of 10 Tu-160 strategic bombers to the Tu-160M2 standard, to be fulfilled by the Kazan-based S.P. Gorbunov Aviation Plant belonging to the Tupolev Aviation Company, and with the aircraft to be delivered by between 2023 and 2027. The ceremony was marked by a test flight of the first thusly modernized aircraft, named Pyotr Deynekin after the Russian Federation’s first Air Forces’ Chief of Staff.

The order is just the beginning of the modernization and expansion of the Tu-160 bomber force, as the MOD plans to obtain 50 Tu-160M2s by 2035. While some of these aircraft will have been modernized machines either built in the Soviet era or completed in more recent decades using incomplete fuselages constructed already in the 1980s, the rest will be brand-new aircraft. Since the Long-Range Aviation currently operates only 16 Tu-160 bombers, including 5 upgraded Tu-160M1, all of which are based at the Engels airbase near Saratov as part of the 22nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Division, the proposed expansion of the fleet means the Tu-160 will displace the Tu-95MS as the most numerous strategic bomber in Russian service.

Even today, the Tu-160 compares favorably to every other strategic bomber in service. Its maximum take-off weight of 275 tons and payload of 45 tons comfortably exceed that of the US subsonic B-52 bomber. The B-1 bomber, while supersonic, is slower, has a shorter radius of action, and a much lower payload. The B-2 proved a definite disappointment in USAF service, as it currently is not configured as a strategic missile carrier and its stealth is not sufficient to warrant risking these $1 billion aircraft against modern strategic air defense systems like the S-400. While the US has embarked on a yet another strategic bomber program, dubbed the B-21, to replace the existing three types of aircraft, it will be decades before any of these aircraft enter service, if ever.

Thus while the US strategic bomber fleet is in crisis, Russia has a bomber which boasts an enviable combination of characteristics that elude its American counterparts. Intercontinental range even without refuelling, heavy payload, the ability to carry the most advanced Kh-101 and Kh-102 cruise missiles internally in its two payload bays, unlike the Tu-95MS.  The modernized Tu-160M2 will expand on its capabilities through the adoption of fully digital avionics, communications, and self-defense systems, and will probably also be adapted to carry the full range of tactical precision-guided stand-off munitions that are being developed for the Su-34 and the Su-57. While the Tu-160 proved its worth in the operations against Syria, its one weakness was the lack of an intermediate set of ordnance to fill the gap between free-fall bombs and heavy cruise missiles like the Kh-101. The exact nature of the modernization has not been described yet, but Russian sources estimate the effectiveness of the Tu-160M2 will be “increased by a factor of 2.5.”

The recent flurry of news reports concerning the Tu-16o fleet also included interesting reports of plans to construct a civilian version of the bomber, with most reports stating the goal is to produce an intercontinental supersonic business jet. Whether this is the main aim of the initiative is debatable, for the civilian version would require an enormous and costly of the bomber, not only to replace the bomb bays, self-defense systems, and military avionics with a passenger cabin and other equipment customary to civilian airliners. What is worse, even the basic construction of the aircraft would have to undergo changes in order to preserve the secrecy of what still is one of the most advanced aviation designs, whose real capabilities are still unknown to the general public. Moreover, the experience of the Concorde and Tu-144 indicates the fuel and maintenance costs of supersonic passenger aircraft make commercial viability a dubious proposition even in cases where a relatively large number of passengers is carried.

The other possibility is that the civilian Tu-160 variant will actually amount to the revival of the Tu-160SK, which was to serve as a satellite launch platform using the Burlak two-stage space launch vehicle. In the current era of competition for space launch business, the future seems to lie with companies capable of reducing the cost of putting satellites into orbit. US-based Space-X is attempting to do that, with mixed success, using a reusable first stage. The Tu-160SK does away with the first stage altogether, since the bomber serves as the first stage, allowing the space booster to be ignited at high altitude and at supersonic speeds. The Tu-160SK redesign would be far simpler than in the case of a passenger aircraft. Tu-160SK models and drawings show an aircraft which, instead of its bomb/missile bays has a single under-fuselage hardpoint for a 50-ton rocket carrying a 1.5 ton payload to a low Earth orbit. Since the Tu-160SK would presumably be operated by a civilian Russian space services firm, there would be little risk of Tu-160 secrets falling into the wrong hands. Ironically, the Tu-160SK would pick up where the failed HAAL, or High Altitude Air Launch, US-Russia-Ukraine consortium which also planned to use Tu-160s for space launches, left off.

Moreover, if the Tu-160SK is the civilian variant Vladimir Putin was referring to, its development would probably also have defense applications. While the Tu-160SK radius of action with a full payload would be reduced to 5,000km, the ability to carry a single, though potentially multi-warhead, ballistic missile, would make it invulnerable to even the longest-ranged air defense systems. The conventional or nuclear aeroballistic missile carried by the Tu-160SK would in turn pose a serious challenge to anti-ballistic missile systems.

The modernization potential of the Tu-160 means that the PAK-DA future heavy bomber program has been pushed off into the future by at least a decade. Nevertheless, the Tu-160 platform will likely incorporate many of the innovations developed for the PAK-DA, ensuring the viability of Russia’s nuclear triad for decades to come.

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  • Keith Smith

    I want one.. is that weird?

    • matt

      yes, that is weird

      • Keith Smith

        dont you then?

        • matt

          I would love to destroy them ALL, together with ALL other weapons in the WORLD

          • Keith Smith

            so rather than own one, you want to break it.. ironically a bit destructive

          • Keith Smith

            it would be a wonderful world where there were no predators or enemies. but reality is thus. nature wants to kill you

          • matt

            You have been brainwashed to believe that homo sapiens is agressive and destructive. In reality, the mayority is not. Unfortunatly, the mayority is lazy and easy to rule by the sociopath elite since the forming of kingdoms and empires after the agicultural revolution and the invention of religions

          • Keith Smith

            not really, i know majority of people are not aggressive, majority of people are actually very trusting, i think it was Jordan peterson who said when Ebay was created.some people tried creating a derivatives market against customers not delivering, or paying. it never had enough work. majority of the transactions were perfectly honest, (something like 99%). i say nature wants to kill us.because without shelter, the weather would eventually get us over a season, illness and diseases, predatory animals, nature is vicious. Remember Morticia Adams., what is normal for the spider, is chaos for the fly

          • matt

            humans are part of nature….

          • Keith Smith

            yup. and other animals use tools, what is one mans tool is another mans weapon. US are probably the most aggressive military nation the world has ever seen, a lot of countries need weapons to protect themselves from US aggression

          • ilme

            Humans, Chimps and Ants, that are the 3 species we know of so far that conduct warfare. Meaning planning to overtake enemy territory and annihilating the group owning it and not just getting in a fight when they meet by chance.

            And the US yet has way to go to even get close to the British Empire or the Spanish in their “best” times.

          • Keith Smith

            well thats BS. you created ISIS, you have weapon tested nukes on civilian popultions, you committed genocide in Korean war, vietnam war, the US are fkkkking animal pig dogs

          • Barba_Papa

            In their ‘best’ times both Britain and Spain utterly ravaged their colonial possessions. India and the Americas went from thriving cultures to what Trump would call ‘shitholes’. Existing solely to be plundered most efficiently for the benefit of their conquerors. In India at least previous conquerors had the good grace to just replace a previous administration and over time assimilate themselves, becoming yet another Indian state. Not the British.

            Still, the point is moot, as Britain and Spain opted to create a traditional empire, as in conquer and hold, then reap the spoils. Let’s call it the Roman model. Everyone compares the US to Rome, but actually the US empire looks nothing like the Roman model, it’s the Athenian model. As in hegemony. Instead of conquer and hold the Athenians created a network of alliances, and even a league of allied nations, for which they provided military protection, in exchange for tribute and access to military bases. Which over time evolved from alliance between equals to one where they dominated their allies. Sounds familiar?

          • FlorianGeyer

            ” In their ‘best’ times both Britain and Spain utterly ravaged their colonial possessions.”

            You forget the rather large Dutch Empire Barba that was also rather brutal.

          • Until Sparta (Russia) punched them on the teeth.

          • Holy Gark

            Nature doesn’t self-destruct.

          • FlorianGeyer

            My rotten apples do.

          • Holy Gark

            Ha, good one. But there again, an apple won’t kill another apple to steal its tree or orchard.

          • ilme

            The human species is not an aggressive one that is correct. But we have the ability to turn violent in us. When outside conditions change and it is required to survive or to have a better life we can turn very violent.

            Now all that theories about how to life together in peace, yes they do work – in a perfect world. And yes we can and should work on having a better more peaceful life, not only between nations but especially within our daily society.

            But in the end, with that many billion people on earth, only modern armies can guarantee peace between nations as war becomes too expensive. If 2 modern armies would fight each other even the winner had such high losses that he would be worse off than the nations who didn’t go to war. By making war unprofitable you make it unlikely to happen.
            Now if there were no weapons but the world as it is today, war would be very profitable for some people while the losses would be containable. So more wars would happen. Fought with fists, sticks and bats (until new weapons were made).

            You want peace? Be sure your country has a modern army. And hopefully is aware of it’s responsibility not to attack weaker 3rd world countries where still a lot can be gained with little risk.

          • FlorianGeyer

            ” You have been brainwashed to believe that homo sapiens is agressive and destructive. ”

            You have not met some of my old girlfriends then Matt :)

          • matt

            I guess you provoked them ;))

          • FlorianGeyer

            I do hope so Matt. I really do as I despise them.

          • Matt Lazarus

            If you are willing to kill another human being, or you can kill without thinking about the consequences to you or others, you have taken first step on the road to power. The world is ruled by warlords. They go by various names and wear various disguises–but they are all killers.

          • matt

            That is why power should be decentralized as much as possible!

          • Barba_Papa

            Let’s do that! Then we can ALL be slaves to those few people who were smart enough to hide theirs. Pacifism, it sounds good on paper but its an evolutionary dead end.

    • PZIVJ
      • Keith Smith

        :)

      • Keith Smith

        had a thought, put a bathroom in the plane, and hang that one there. I really want the first one tho. might crowdfund….

      • Nosferatu

        i want this badly

  • occupybacon

    Sounds like Best Korea news

  • BMWA1

    Operational ceiling of TU 160 is exceptional high, at 115K feet pre-modernization, with mods, have seen 130000′ quoted.

    • Bob

      Always assumed that they are painted bright white as with the operational ceiling so high there is no real need to bother with any form of visual camouflage.

  • Rob

    After Trump Jerusalem decision Mahmoud Abbas should issue Fatwa that a country will be an enemy of Islamic religion and of Muslims who have diplomatic relations with Israel and US and have recognized the state of illegal European migrants (Israel) which is a Zionist terror headquarter. Send this letter to all world leaders by post as well as on social media.
    ————————————————————————————————————————————–

    Palestine should denounce financial aid (blood money) from America. Palestine should not negotiate on Palestinians blood and land. Palestinians blood and land is not for sale. Palestine cannot fight with that enemy from whom they take financial aid.
    ————————————————————————————————————————————–

  • Rob

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6hGvvpwV_Y
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NljxXlaaRzI
    http://www.mintpressnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/ahed-tamimi.jpg

    The Zionist terror network (Israel) vs brave Palestinian children.

    The Zionist terror network headquarter (Israel) built by illegal European migrants each year violently persecute thousands of civilians in Palestine. Each year Israel kidnap thousands of adults and kids from the streets and then smuggle them to different groups in Middle East for terror activities. Israel Each year Hundreds of villages and towns first evacuate by gunpoints and then demolish it and instead new buildings they erect.

    Peaceful protests with flags, banners and placards is the legal right of all civilians. Anger eat wise. Anger is the sign of failure and frustration. Palestinian youths should not react with stones and knives but remain calm. Indeed soon Palestine will be freed. For a strong nation Education, unity, journalism, justice and a strong young qualified, English spoken leader, is very important.
    ————————————————————————————————————————————

  • Ronald

    Looks like we have a use for those bomber units , Erdogan has a convoy heading towards SAA Tigers in Idlib .
    Putin , Erdog , is just like the US , all talk at the peace table , while his jihadists attack the nation .

    • Holy Gark

      Erdogan is the least of worries.

      Israel is continuing its progression to secure an illegal safe zone within Syria.

      What’s being done about that?

      • Ronald

        Asana is happening today and tomorrow , don’t give up !

        • Holy Gark

          Could you explain. I don’t understand.

          • Ronald

            Asana , is the Peace Talks being held in Sochi . Hopefully Putin and Assad can work out how to deal with Israel and how to deal with the treacherous Erdoggan

          • Holy Gark

            I am aware of the on-going peace talks in Sochi but what is “Asana”? What is it in reference to?

          • FlorianGeyer

            Astana format.

          • Holy Gark

            Ah Astana, yes.

    • Rob

      Assad needs to make himself strong and demand from Russia for more ATGMs, long range SAMs, Pantsir-S1 Air Defense Missile Gun Systems and 23mm guns which Syria should fit on pickup trucks. Assad also needs more drones. Assad also needs to increase his forces strength.
      —————————————————————————————————————-

      Erdogan had done this mistake in Iraq before about in 2015 if you remember but on international pressure Erdogan withdrew from Iraq. The same mistake Erdogan have repeated again in Syria. This time Erdogan needs proper treatment that he does not do this mistake again.
      ————————————————————————————————————————————

  • Baudouin Jérusalem
  • World_Eye

    Nice make them shine

  • FlorianGeyer

    This is all very good news for Russia and everyone who desires world peace without kneeling to the Zionist trash that control the USA.

  • Davidjames79

    “The B-2 proved a definite disappointment in USAF service, as it currently is not configured as a strategic missile carrier and its stealth is not sufficient to warrant risking these $1 billion aircraft
    against modern strategic air defense systems like the S-400”

    Not sure where you get that data from but its not accurate, its the stealthiest platform we have and certainly the best. (The only disappointment was the cost. The B2 has been a fantastic platform.) Its not a missile carrier because it does not need standoff weapons.

    It is certainly THE platform that would be used against systems like the S-400.

  • John William

    What a beautiful airplane. Tupolev Is the best aircraft designer in history. Kelly is number 2

  • RichardD

    I wonder if anything interesting will happen tonight on my first ET contact op bike hike to the river gorge LZ 5 miles in from the road block on the washed out road? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cc1c58e6441a1b1f176f7a4808d7ca280ebd2897c1bbca7ff17a107c26acd390.jpg

  • RichardD

    Part of technology advancement is dealing with technology suppression. Especially dual use technology that is weaponisable or has military applications.