The Russian Air Force’s next-generation nuclear-capable strategic bomber, dubbed PAK DA (an acronym for “Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation”), will conduct development and flight trials at the Flight Test and Development Center in the town of Zhukovsky outside Moscow, according to a statement by the Tupolev aircraft company.
“There are big plans ahead for testing and further developing the heavily upgraded Tu-22M3M, Tu-160 and Tu-95MS aircraft along with large-scale work for testing the prospective complex of long-range aviation [PAK DA],” the head of Tupolev, Alexander Konyukhov, was quoted as saying in the statement.
Research and design work on the PAK DA is nearing completion, according to the Head of the Defense and Security Committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament Viktor Bondarev. The first PAK DA prototype will be rolled out in 2021 or 2022. The bomber’s maiden flight has been tentatively scheduled for 2025-26 with serial production to kick off in 2028 or the year after.
As I noted elsewhere, technical details regarding the PAK DA bomber are scant:
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 (…).
The bomber’s armament will likely consist of nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missiles.
The PAK DA was supposed to replace all older Russian strategic bomber types including the Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3. However, this plan was scrapped as a result of repeated delays in the PAK DA program caused by funding shortages and reportedly various technical difficulties.
All three bomber types are currently being upgraded, as I noted in May:
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.
Consequently, it is not expected that the Russian Air Force will receive the new PAK DA bomber in large quantities.