Nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-95MS strategic bombers of the Russian Air Force have test fired air-launched cruise missiles during this year’s Vostok (Eastern) 2018 military exercise, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) said in a September 12 statement.
“Strategic bombers Tupolev-95MS of Russia’s Aerospace Force participating in the Vostok-2018 exercise have carried out cruise missile launches from an altitude of more than 5,000 meters at ground targets at the Telemba proving ground in the Republic of Buryatia,” the MoD stated.
The Tu-95MS bombers reportedly took off from an airfield in Russia’s Far East about 2,000 kilometers away from the training ground and were refueled mid-air by an Ilyushin Il-78MKI aerial refueling tanker aircraft. For the duration of the flight the bombers were escorted by a squadron of Su-35S (NATO reporting name: Flanker-E) multirole fighter aircraft.
According to the MoD, once reaching the training grounds near Telemba, the bombers successfully destroyed their designated surface targets with cruise missile strikes. The MoD neither released the exact number of bombers involved nor specified the type of missiles launched from the aircraft.
The Russian Air Force currently operates around 60 Tu-95s, including about a dozen upgraded Tu-95SMS bombers, according to the Russian MoD, although the latter number cannot be independently verified. It is also unclear how many Tu-95s are flightworthy. (Some estimates range as low as 25 percent.)
The Tu-95MS is a four-engine, long-range, turboprop, strategic bomber that can be armed with nuclear stand-off cruise missiles such as the Kh-101/Kh-102 (nuclear variant) air-launched cruise missile as well as the Kh-55 subsonic air-launched cruise missile.
The bomber can carry six missiles on an internal rotary launcher. The upgraded Tu-95MSM variant is reportedly capable of carrying eight to ten more missiles under its reinforced wings. As I reported last month:
The Russian Air Force wants to upgrade a total of 20 Tu-95MS bombers to the MSM variant.
Upgrades will include a new weapons launch system, new avionics and navigation systems, as well as a new engine to increase the operational range of the aircraft. The new Tu-95MSM variant, which conducted its first combat mission in Syria in 2015, features a new target-acquisition system/navigation system based on Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS).
According to a press release by Russian state-owned corporation Rostec, the new engine will be an upgraded version of the Kuznetsov NK-12 turboprop engine first introduced into service in the 1950s.
“The NK-12MPM engine developed by the Samara-based Kuznetsov public company (part of the UEC [United Engine Corporation] within Rostec) is a modification of the NK-12MP, the world’s most powerful (15,000 hp) serial-produced turbo-prop engine,” the Rostec press release states.
Vostok 2018, touted as the largest Russian military exercise since Zapad (Western) 1981, is held in Siberia and Russia’s Far East from September 11 to 17.