The Russian Air Force is slated to receive the first serially produced Tupolev Tu-160M2 long-range supersonic strategic bomber by 2021, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a visit to the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) S.P. Grobunov assembly facility in Kazan in southwest Russia on January 30.
“The work on producing the upgraded Tupolev-160M proceeds on time,” Shoigu was quoted as saying by the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) in a January 30 press release. “The first serially made plane unparalleled in the world is to be provided for the military in 2021.” UAC, the Tu-160M2s manufacturer, said that three more Tu-160M2 aircraft are expected to be delivered to the Russian Air Force by 2023. Delivery of Russia’s entire new Tu-160M2 force is estimated to be completed by 2030.
The January 30 statement is in line with previous announcements by senior Russian defense officials that serial production of the Tu-160M2 at a rate of three aircraft per year will begin in 2023. The Russian MoD announced in January 2018 that it placed an order for the first batch of 10 Tupolev Tu-160M2s UAC. The first Tu-160M2 prototype, minus a new next-generation engine, took to the skies for the first time in January 2018. The aircraft was rolled out in November 2017.
The new Tu-160M2 is an upgraded variant of the Cold War-era Soviet Tu-160, first introduced into service in 1987 and the last (supersonic) strategic bomber to enter service with the Soviet military prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
According to the Russian Air Force, the Tu-160M2 will be a completely new bomber aside from the airframe. In addition to upgraded avionics and a new engine, the aircraft will reportedly also feature special coatings to reduce the plane’s radar signature.
“It will be equipped with the newest on-board defense system, up-to-date reliable jamming-resistant communication system and unique weapons, which will considerably enhance its combat capabilities in using conventional and nuclear weapons,” Shoigu said this Wednesday. “The plane will be powered with NK-32 second series engines, which will considerably increase its range and duration of flight.”
Notably, the Russian military aviation industry has had difficulties with the Tu-160M2s new engine. Tests of a non-afterburning variant of the Kuznetsov NK-32 engine began in 2017 with mixed results. To date, there has not been an official announcement that the engine will be operational by 2023.
The Tu-160M2 will be armed with long-range standoff cruise missiles, including the Kh-101/Kh-102 (nuclear variant) air-launched cruise missile and the Kh-55 subsonic air-launched cruise missile, among others.