Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack Long Range Strategic Bomber Of Russia-White Swan

Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack Long Range Strategic Bomber Of Russia. The Tupolev Tu-160 is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. It is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic military aircraft.

Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack

The Tupolev Tu-160 (Western reporting name Blackjack) is the world’s largest operational bomber. It is nicknamed the White Swan by the pilots. Dwarfing the similar-looking B-1B Lancer, it is the heaviest combat aircraft ever built. Unlike the B-1B, the Tu-160 bomber remains committed to both low-level penetration (at transonic speeds) and high-level penetration at speeds of about Mach 1.9.

Although the aircraft had a fly-by-wire control system all cockpit displays were conventional analogue instruments, with no multi-function or head-up displays. The long pointed radome houses a terrain following and attack radar. Below this was a fairing for a forward-looking TV camera used for visual weapon aiming.

The development programme of the Tupolev Tu-160 was extremely protracted. The prototype first flew in 1981 and the second aircraft was lost in 1987. First aircraft became operational in 1987. Series production was at Kazan and continued until 1992, when President Yeltsin announced that no further strategic bombers would be built. Production totaled 35 Blackjacks, including two prototypes. Also there were some incomplete airframes. This bomber was extremely expensive to build and to maintain.

The Tupolev Tu-160 has a range of 12 300 km. It was the second Soviet bomber after the Tu-95 (Western reporting name Bear), that could reach the United States without in-flight refueling. However the Tu-160 could never replace the ageing Tupolev Tu-95 due to its astonishing price.

In 1989 the Tupolev Tu-160 reached a speed of 2 200 km/h for the first time. However later maximum speed was limited to 2 000 km/h in order to extend service lives of the engines and airframes. The Blackjack set a total of 44 world records.

Even after the aircraft entered service, problems continued to severely restrict operations and production began before a common standard and configuration was agreed. Thus wingspans, equipment fit, and intake configurations differ from aircraft to aircraft.

The Blackjack is armed with Kh-55 (Western designation AS-15 Kent) cruise missiles and Kh-15 (Western designation AS-16 Kickback) air-to-surface missiles. The aircraft can carry a total of 12 Kh-55 and up to 24 Kh-15. Both of these missiles can carry nuclear warheads. Missiles are carried in two internal weapon bays. The Tupolev Tu-160 can also carry free-fall bombs with a maximum weight of up to 40 t. These bombers are intended to attack the most important enemy targets. It is claimed that the Tupolev Tu-160 has reduced radar cross section, however it is by no means a stealthy aircraft.

A total of 19 Tu-160s were delivered to the 184th Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment at Priluki (Ukraine) beginning in May 1987. These were left at the Ukrainian base after the break up of the USSR in 1991 and, after protracted discussions between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, eight were returned to Russia in 1999. Scrapping of the remaining Tu-160s held in Ukraine began in 1998 under a contract issued by the US government.

In 2001, six Russian Tupolev Tu-160s were declared operational as air-launched cruise missile carriers under the START treaty. These were assigned to the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment at Engels and were joined in 2001 by the first of the eight refurbished aircraft formerly held in Ukraine. Although perhaps up to a dozen further airframes are nominally serviceable it seems unlikely that Russia has sufficient funds to rework these aircraft. Some sources claim that Russian Air Force currently operates 16 of these strategic bombers.

In 2014 overhaul and modernization of the T-160s commenced at the Tupolev plant. The first modernized Tu-160M bomber was rolled out in 2016. Upgraded and refurbished aircraft are fitted with new radars, electronics and navigation equipment. It is expected that by 2020 more than dozen of Tu-160s bombers will be upgraded and will be in operational service with the Russian Air Force.

US-based Platforms International corporation has acquired three demilitarized ex-Ukrainian Tu-160s which it planned to convert as Tu-160SK launchers for space vehicles. However this was never done.

By 2017 a total of 16 bombers were operational with the Russian Air Force, plus one more was being upgraded to the Tu-160M standard. This upgraded warplane was planned to be delivered in 2019. There were plans to upgrade all 16 operational bombers to the Tu-160M standard.

In 2015 it was announced, that Russian MoD plans to relaunch production of the Tu-160. It was announced that newly-build bombers will be fitted with new engines, new radars and new avionics. The newly-built bomber is referred as the Tu-160M2. So even though it will look similar, the Tu-160M2 will be essentially a new warplane. In 2018 a contract was signed to produce a total of 10 Tu-160M2 bombers for the Russian Air Force. Deliveries are planned to be completed in 2027. A planned price of a Tu-160M2 is $1.5 billion.

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