Russian aircraft maker Tupolev has purportedly built the first full-sized model of its next-generation strategic stealth bomber, dubbed PAK DA (an acronym for “Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation”), according to Russian media reports in early March.
“Several scale mock-ups of the PAK DA bomber have been made of composite materials. Also, there is a full-size mock-up made of wood. All models are based on the flying wing concept,” a defense industry source told TASS news agency on March 1.
The Tupolev design bureau will move now on to complete the design and construction of PAK DA prototype and technology demonstrator. Technical details remain scarce. It is estimated that the new aircraft will have an operational range of about 12,000 kilometers and travel at subsonic speed. The plane’s airframe will consist of radar-absorbent material. (For a first look of the new bomber, check out this video here.)
Furthermore, it was reported that the new fifth generation PAK DA bomber will be able to carry a 30-ton weapons payload including different variants of air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles as well as conventional and smart-guided bombs. Among other things, it will be capable of carrying the KH-32 cruise missile, Russia’s latest anti-ship missile currently under development and specifically designed to attack U.S. carrier strike groups.
The defense industry source also told TASS that the bomber “is to be equipped with the latest radio-electronic warfare equipment of domestic manufacture, unparalleled in terms of effectiveness.” While perhaps a slight exaggeration, it has been confirmed that Rostec subsidiary KRET and its design bureau are currently working on a new electronic warfare system for PAK DA, which will also be installed aboard the Tupolev Tu-160M2 long-range supersonic strategic bomber.
The first prototype of the bomber might already be unveiled as early as 2018. Test flights are slated to be carried out in 2019 or 2020 with the first bombers to be handed over to the Russian Air Force by 2023-2025. Once operational, the new fifth generation aircraft will replace more obsolete Russian bomber models including the Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3. Projected per unit costs are reportedly around $160 million.
In 2015, Russia decided to revive production of an upgraded variant of the Tu-160, dubbed Tu-160M2. The Russian Air Force plans to induct at least 50 new Tu-160M2s in the near future. The upgraded supersonic strategic bomber is expected to perform its maiden flight in late 2018. As I reported elsewhere:
Given the bomber’s limited stealth capability, it will presumably be armed with long-range standoff cruise missiles such as the Kh-101/Kh-102 (nuclear variant) air-launched cruise missile with an estimated range of 2,700 to 5,000 kilometers. The Tu-160M2 will likely carry the missiles internally on a rotary launcher.
The aircraft is expected to be in service for at least 40 years and operate in tandem with the new PAK DA bomber.