Russian aircraft maker Tupolev will roll out the Russian Air Force’s next-generation nuclear-capable strategic bomber, dubbed PAK DA (an acronym for “Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation”), in 2021 or 2022 with the aircraft’s maiden flight scheduled for 2025-26, according to Russian media reports.
Tupolev is currently working on the first prototype of the bomber, which is scheduled to enter serial production by 2028 or 2029, the Kommersant newspaper reported on May 14.
Initially, the PAK DA was slated to replace all older Russian strategic bomber types including the Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3. However, in 2015 Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the production of an upgraded variant of the Tu-160, designated Tu-160M2, because of various delays within the PAK DA program, next to upgrades of other bomber variants.
The Russian Air Force is expected to receive the first upgraded Tu-160M2 supersonic strategic bomber by 2021. The Russian MoD announced in January 2018 that it placed an order for the first batch of 10 Tupolev Tu-160M2s.
Delivery of Russia’s entire new Tu-160M2 fleet of around 50 aircraft is estimated to be completed by 2030.
Additionally, Russia is also upgrading its fleet of Tu-22M3 long-range strategic and maritime strike bombers. The first new Tu-22M3M conducted its maiden flight in December 2018. Overall, Russia plans to upgrade 20 aircraft of the type.
Furthermore, the Russian defense industry is also working on upgrading Tu-95MS, designated Tu-95MSM. Last August, the Russian MoD and Tupolev signed a contract to upgrade 20 Tu-95MS to MSM standards.
As a result of the ongoing upgrade work of existing platforms, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) will likely only procure a small number of PAK DA bombers. “Apparently, they will focus on squeezing the full potential out of the existing aircraft,” a defense industry source was quoted as saying by Kommersant on May 14. “[The] PAK DA will remain as a reserve for the future.”
As I noted previously, technical details regarding the PAK DA bomber 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 (…).
Russian strategic bombers principally serve as air-launched cruise missile carriers. For example, the bombers in Russia’s current inventory can carry the Kh-101/Kh-102 (nuclear variant) air-launched cruise missile or the Kh-55 subsonic air-launched cruise missile, among others.