The Russian Armed Forces put into action an ambitious program to modernize and expand the strategic bomber fleet.
In March 2018, Russia announced that it would completely overhaul its entire Tu-160 long-range strategic bomber fleet by 2030. According to Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov, the entire fleet of Tu-160 bombers will be replaced with the newer Tu-160M2 version, in addition to heavy upgrades of all operational aircraft. All on-board radio-electronic equipment and engines will be replaced.
Serial production of the Tu-160M2 will begin in 2023 and the plan is for it to remain a state of the art warplane for the next 40 years. The Russian Aerospace Forces intend to purchase no less than 50 such aircraft.
The first such warplane is to be delivered in 2021, with 3 more in 2023. Afterwards serial production will continue with 3 Tu-160M2s being produced per year.
The Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO codename: Blackjack) is a long range, supersonic, variable geometry wing, strategic bomber -designed to penetrate sophisticated air defense systems at low altitude and supersonic speed. It is the Soviet counterpart to the US Air Force B-1B Lancer strategic bomber.
Armament (typically nuclear short range and long-range cruise missiles) is carried inside two weapons bays located at the middle of the fuselage.
The Tu-160M2 is a further development of the Tu-160 strategic bomber with state-of-the-art sensors and weapons.
In all, the Tu-160M2 is a highly upgraded version featuring detection reduction coatings, new more powerful and efficient engines giving it greater operational range, new avionics, electronics, glass cockpit, communications & control systems, a number of weapons, as well as improved thrust and unrefueled range. It will also be equipped with a new defensive system protecting it from missiles.
It will boast four new Kuznetsov NK-32 engines. The Kuznetsov NK-32 is an afterburning, three-spool, low bypass, turbofan jet engine, the largest and most powerful engine ever fitted on a combat aircraft. In maximum afterburner it produces 245 kN of thrust (55,000 lbf).
It is expected that 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.
The maiden flight of the first Tu-160M2 took place in January 2018.
The initial contract, signed on January 25, 2018, is for the production of 10 Tu-160M2s and the modernization of all other Tu-160s in the Russian Aerospace Forces by 2030.
The contract with United Aircraft Corporation’s Tupolev, for the first 10 warplanes, stands at 160 billion rubles (nearly $2.8 bn) and stipulates that the first Tu-160M2 should be delivered by 2023. Delivery of the final bomber in the first buy, according to the contract, is slated for 2027. Relaunching production itself required an investment of 37 billion rubles ($577 mil.).
The plan is for another 40 units of the Tu-160M2 to be delivered under future contracts yet to be signed.
In the meantime, the Russian Aerospace Forces operate 10 Soviet-era Tu-160s, and 7 modernized Tu-160M1s, commissioned in 2018. The Tu-160 was first introduced into service in 1987 and was the last supersonic strategic bomber to enter service with the Soviet military.
The Tu-95 is the oldest strategic bomber in service with the Russian Aerospace Forces. There are 48 of the Tu-95MSs and 12 of the modernized Tu-95MSMs.