The United Engine Corporation (UEC), an affiliate of the Russian state-owned corporation Rostec, has kicked off bench tests of a new engine for the upgraded Tupolev Tu-160M2 long-range supersonic strategic bomber, according to Russian media reports.
“The bench tests of the new NK-32 02 series engines meant for the strategic missile carrying bomber Tupolev-160M2 are in progress at the public joint stock company PAO Kuznetsov in Samara,” UEC said in a press statement.
The Kuznetsov NK-32 is purportedly the largest and most powerful turbofan jet engine ever fitted on a combat aircraft. The upgraded 02-series of the engine is reportedly a non-afterburning variant.
“Its endurance has been improved. Equipped with this engine, the Tupolev-160M2 bomber will have far greater capabilities, including a longer range of flight,” UEC noted in the press release.
As I reported previously, for the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) the upgrade of its strategic bomber force, including the Tu-160M2, remains a top priority.
“We’ll continue discussing today how tasks are being solved to develop the fleet of Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers. These planes are an important component of the country’s nuclear potential,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in August.
In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the Tu-160 upgrade program due to delays in the next-generation strategic stealth bomber project, dubbed PAK DA (Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation).
Incidentally, the PAK DA is also expected to be fitted with the NK-32 02 engine. The maiden flight of the PAK DA prototype is expected for 2019 or 2020.
The Tu-160M2–the Russian Air Force currently operates 16 Tu-160 shalf of which are reportedly not airworthy—will be a new bomber in all but name, as I explained previously:
The bomber will presumably be fitted with new avionics, sensors, displays, and communications systems, as well as new operating software, although Russia has not revealed any specific details about the upgrades save for the aircraft’s engines.
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.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuriy Borisov announced in 2015 that the Tu-160M2 will be fitted with the NK-32 02 series. “The motor has been upgraded, its main aggregates have become more cost-effective,” Borisov said at the time. “Therefore, NK-32 series 2 has improved performance, and its range of flight will be increased by at least 1,000 km, compared with existing engines.”