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The Tupolev Tu-160 (Russian: Туполев Ту-160 Белый лебедь, translit. Belyy Lebed, lit. 'White Swan';[3] NATO reporting name: Blackjack) is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. It is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic aircraft ever built and second only to the comparable XB-70 Valkyrie in overall length.[4] It is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber now in use and the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown.[5]

Tu-160 Belyy Lebed
Tupolev Tu-160 RF-94109.jpg
Tupolev Tu-160 in flight over Russia, May 2014
Role Supersonic strategic heavy bomber
National origin Soviet Union
Design group Tupolev
Built by Kazan Aircraft Production Association
First flight 18 December 1981
Introduction April 1987
Status In service
Primary user Russian Aerospace Forces
Produced 1984–1992, 2002, 2008,[1] 2017[2]
Number built 36 (9 prototypes and 27 serial aircraft)

Entering service in 1987, the Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber designed for the Soviet Union. As of 2016, the Russian Air Force, Long Range Aviation branch has at least 16 aircraft in service.[6] The Tu-160 active fleet has been undergoing upgrades to electronics systems since the early 2000s. The Tu-160M modernisation programme has begun with the first updated aircraft delivered in December 2014.

Contents

DevelopmentEdit

OriginsEdit

The first competition for a supersonic strategic heavy bomber was launched in the Soviet Union in 1967. In 1972, the Soviet Union launched a new multi-mission bomber competition to create a new supersonic, variable-geometry ("swing-wing") heavy bomber with a maximum speed of Mach 2.3, in response to the US Air Force B-1 bomber project. The Tupolev design, named Aircraft 160M, with a lengthened blended wing layout and incorporating some elements of the Tu-144, competed against the Myasishchev M-18 and the Sukhoi T-4 designs.[7]

 
Tu-160 in flight

Work on the new Soviet bomber continued despite an end to the B-1A and in the same year, the design was accepted by the government committee. The prototype was photographed by an airline passenger at a Zhukovsky Airfield in November 1981, about a month before the aircraft's first flight on 18 December 1981. Production was authorized in 1984, beginning at Kazan Aircraft Production Association.[8]

ModernizationEdit

The modernised aircraft were accepted into Russian service after testing in late 2005.[9][10] The upgrade also integrated the ability to launch two new conventional versions of the long-range Kh-55 nuclear cruise missile—the Kh-101 and Kh-555.[11][12][13] This resulted in the delivery of a new-built aircraft but the "first modernised Tu-160" in July 2006 did not receive new avionics, although they were planned for the new airframe.[10][14][15]

The modernisation appeared to be split into two phases, concentrating on life extension with some initial communication–navigation updates, followed by 10 aircraft receiving new engines and capability upgrades after 2016.[9] The first refitted aircraft was delivered to the VVS in May 2008; a follow-up contract to overhaul three aircraft in 2013 cost RUR3.4 billion (US$103M).[16] The first updated M-model Tu-160 was delivered in December 2014.[17][18][19] The phase I update was due to be completed by 2016, but industrial limitations may delay it to 2019 or beyond.[20] Although Kuznetsov designed an NK-32M engine with improved reliability over the troublesome NK-32 engines, its successor company has struggled to deliver working units. Metallist-Samara JSC had not produced new engines for a decade when it was given a contract in 2011 to overhaul 26 of the existing engines, by two years later, only four were finished.[20] Ownership and financial concerns hinder the prospects of a new production line; the firm insists it needs a minimum of 20 engines ordered per year but the government is only prepared to pay for 4–6 engines per year.[20][21] A further improved engine has been bench tested and may enter production in 2016 or later.[9]

On 29 April 2015, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was resuming production of the Tu-160.[22][23] In May 2015, TASS reported that the Russian Air Force would purchase at least 50 new-build Tu-160s and that production of the aircraft would resume at the Kazan aviation plant.[24][25] General Viktor Bondarev has said that development of the PAK DA will continue alongside resumption of production of the older model bomber.[24]

On 16 November 2017, a newly assembled Tu-160M2 (built from an unfinished Tu-160 airframe) was unveiled during a roll-out ceremony at the Kazan Aviation Plant, signifying a restoration of certain production technologies such as electro-beam welding or titanium work reportedly lost after the termination of serial production in 1992. According to Dmitri Rogozin, the serial production of completely new airframes for the modernized Tu-160M2 should begin in 2019 with deliveries to the Russian Air Force in 2023.[26][26][27]

The maiden flight of the newly assembled Tu-160M2 reportedly occurred at the end of 2017 followed by the flight testing that started in January 2018.[28] The new Tu-160, named Petr Deinekin (after the first commanding officer of the Russian Air Force Gen. Pyotr Deynekin), performed its first public flight above the Kazan Aviation Plant on 25 January 2018, during president Vladimir Putin's visit.[29] On the same day, a contract for ten Tu-160M2 bombers was signed.[30][31][32]

Civilian version suggestedEdit

In January 2018, Vladimir Putin, while visiting the Kazan Aviation Plant, floated an idea of creating a civilian passenger supersonic transport version of Tu-160.[33][34] Experts quoted by the news media were skeptical about the commercial and technological feasibility of such civilian conversion.[30][35]

DesignEdit

 
Cockpit view of a Tu-160

The Tu-160 is a variable-geometry wing aircraft. The aircraft employs a fly-by-wire control system with a blended wing profile, and full-span slats are used on the leading edges, with double-slotted flaps on the trailing edges and cruciform tail.[36] The Tu-160 has a crew of four (pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defensive systems operator) in K-36LM ejection seats.[37]

The Tu-160 is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan engines, the most powerful ever fitted to a combat aircraft. Unlike the American B-1B Lancer, which reduced the original Mach 2+ requirement for the B-1A to achieve a smaller radar cross-section, the Tu-160 retains variable intake ramps, and is capable of reaching Mach 2.05 speed at altitude.[38] The Tu-160 is equipped with a probe-and-drogue in-flight refueling system for extended-range missions, although it is rarely used. The Tu-160's internal fuel capacity of 130 tons gives the aircraft a roughly 15-hour flight endurance at a cruise speed of around 850 km/h (530 mph), Mach 0.77, at 9,100 m (30,000 ft).[39] In February 2008, Tu-160 bombers and Il-78 refueling tankers practiced air refueling during air combat exercise, as well as MiG-31, A-50 and other Russian combat aircraft.[40]

The aircraft carries a Leninets Obzor-K (Survey, NATO: Clam Pipe)[41] radar for tracking ground and air targets, and a separate Sopka (Hill) Terrain-following radar.[42] Although the Tu-160 was designed for reduced detectability to both radar (dielectric nose radome) and infrared signature,[43] it is not a stealth aircraft. Nevertheless, Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov claimed that Tu-160s managed to penetrate the US sector of the Arctic undetected on 25 April 2006, leading to a USAF investigation according to a Russian source.[44]

 
Tupolev Tu-160 at the 2013 Moscow Victory Day Parade

Weapons are carried in two internal bays, each capable of holding 20,000 kg (44,000 lb) of free-fall weapons or a rotary launcher for nuclear missiles; additional missiles may also be carried externally.[citation needed] The aircraft's total weapons load capacity is 40,000 kg (88,000 lb).[45] No defensive weapons are provided; the Tu-160 is the first post-World War II Soviet bomber to lack such defenses.

A demilitarized, commercial version of the Tu-160, named Tu-160SK, was displayed at Asian Aerospace in Singapore in 1994 with a model of a small space vehicle named Burlak[46] attached underneath the fuselage.

While similar in appearance to the American B-1 Lancer, the Tu-160 is a different class of combat aircraft; its primary role being a standoff missile platform (strategic missile carrier). The Tu-160 is also larger and faster than the B-1B and has a slightly greater combat range, though the B-1B has a larger combined payload.[47] Another significant difference is that the colour scheme on the B-1B Lancer is usually subdued dark gray to reduce visibility; the Tu-160 is painted with anti-flash white, giving it the nickname among Russian airmen "White Swan".[48]

Operational historyEdit

 
A Tupolev Tu-160 with Soviet officers in front, September 1989

In April 1987, the Tu-160 entered operational service with the 184th Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment located at Pryluky, Ukrainian SSR.[49] The regiment previously operating Tu-16 and Tu-22M3 bombers became the first unit received the Tu-160. Squadron deployments to Long Range Aviation began that month, prior to the Tu-160 was first publicly presented in a parade in 1989. In 1989 and 1990, a total of 44 world speed flight records in its weight class were set. In 1992, Russia unilaterally suspended its flights of strategic aviation in remote regions.

A total of 19 Tu-160s were stationed inside the newly-independent Ukraine during the fall of the Soviet Union. On 25 August 1991, the Ukrainian parliament decreed that the new nation would take control of all military units on its territory; a Defence Ministry was created that same day. By the mid-1990s, the Pryluky Regiment had lost its value as a combat unit; 19 Tu-160s were effectively grounded due to a lack of technical support and spare parts. Ukraine considered the Tu-160s to be a bargaining chip in economic negotiations with Russia and of limited value from a military standpoint. Discussions over the Tu-160s were lengthy due to price disagreements. While Russian experts, who examined the aircraft at the Pryluky Air Base in 1993 and 1996, assessed their technical condition as good, the $3 billion price proposed by Ukraine was considered by Russians as unacceptable. In April 1998, due to the stalled negotiations, Ukraine decided to commence scrapping the aircraft under the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement. In November, the first Tu-160 was deconstructed at Pryluky.[50]

In April 1999, immediately after NATO began its air attacks against Serbia, Russia resumed talks with Ukraine about the strategic bombers, proposing to purchase eight Tu-160s and three Tu-95MS models manufactured in 1991 (those in the best technical condition), as well as 575 Kh-55MS missiles. An agreement was reached and a $285 million contract was signed, the value of which was deducted from Ukraine's debt for natural gas. On 20 October 1999, a group of Russian military experts went to Ukraine to prepare the aircraft for the flight to Engels-2 air base. The first two aircraft (a Tu-160 and a Tu-95MS) departed Pryluky on 5 November. During the following months, the seven other Tu-160s flew to Engels, with the last two arriving on 21 February 2001.[50]

 
Russian President Vladimir Putin inside the cabin of a Tu-160 in August 2005

Along with the purchase of Ukrainian aircraft, Russia's Defence Ministry sought other ways of rebuilding the fleet at Engels. In June 1999, the Ministry placed a contract with the Kazan Aircraft Production Association for a delivery of a single, almost complete, bomber. The aircraft was the second aircraft in the eighth production batch and it arrived at Engels on 10 September. It was commissioned into service as "07" on 5 May 2000.[50] The unit operating the fleet from Engels was the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment which was formed up in early 1992 and received 6 aircraft by 1994. By the end of February 2001, the fleet stood at 15 with the addition of the eight aircraft from Ukraine and the new-build.[50] As of 2001, six additional Tu-160s served as experimental aircraft at Zhukovski, with four remaining airworthy.

The Air Force fleet was reduced to 14 due to the crash of the Mikhail Gromov during flight trials of a replacement engine on 18 September 2003.[51] It was brought up to 16 aircraft by the completion of a part-built aircraft in June 2006 and the delivery of the Vitaly Kopylov on 29 April 2008.[52] After testing avionics upgrades was completed, the Tu-160 formally entered service with the Russian Air Force by a presidential decree on 30 December 2005.[10][53]

On 17 August 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was resuming the strategic aviation flights stopped in 1991, sending its bombers on long-range patrols.[54] On 14 September 2007, British and Norwegian fighters intercepted two Tu-160s in international airspace near the UK and Finland.[55][56] On 25 December 2007, two Tu-160s came close to Danish airspace, and two Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons scrambled to intercept and identify them.[57]

 
A Tu-160 is intercepted by an RAF Tornado F3 in March 2010

According to Russian government sources, on 11 September 2007, a Tu-160 deployed a massive fuel-air explosive device, the Father of All Bombs, for its first field test.[58] Some military analysts expressed skepticism that the weapon was actually delivered by a Tu-160.[59]

On 28 December 2007, the first flight of a new Tu-160 was reported to have taken place following completion of the aircraft at the Kazan Aviation Plant.[60] After flight testing, the bomber joined the Russian Air Force on 29 April 2008, increasing the total number of aircraft in service to 16. In 2008, the Russian military planned that one new Tu-160 would be delivered every one to two years until the active inventory would reach 30 or more aircraft by 2025–2030.[61][62]

 
Tu-160, No. 02 "Vasily Reshetnikov" at the Engels air base

On 10 September 2008, two Russian Tu-160 landed in Venezuela as part of military manoeuvres, announcing an unprecedented deployment to Russia's ally at a time of increasingly tense relations between Russia and the United States. The Russian Ministry of Defence said Vasily Senko and Aleksandr Molodchiy were on a training mission. It said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies, that the aircraft would conduct training flights over neutral waters before returning to Russia. Its spokesman added that the aircraft were escorted by NATO fighters as they flew across the Atlantic Ocean.[63]

On 12 October 2008, Tu-160 bombers were involved in the largest Russian strategic bomber exercise since 1984. A total of 12 bombers including Tu-160 and Tu-95 aircraft conducted a series of launches of their cruise missiles. Some bombers launched a full complement of their missiles. It was the first time that a Tu-160 had ever fired a full complement of missiles.[64]

On 10 June 2010, two Tu-160 bombers carried out a record-breaking 23-hour patrol with a planned flight range of 18,000 km (9,700 nmi). The bombers flew along the Russian borders and over neutral waters in the Arctic and Pacific Oceans.[65]

 
Tu-160 launching Kh-101 against targets in Syria, November 2015

Russian media reports in August 2011 claimed that only four of the VVS' sixteen Tu-160 were flight worthy.[20] By mid-2012 Flight reported eleven were combat-ready[9] and between 2011 and 2013 eleven were photographed in flight.[66]

On 1 November 2013, Aleksandr Golovanov and Aleksandr Novikov went into Colombian airspace on two different occasions without receiving previous clearance from the Colombian Government. The aircraft were going from Venezuela to Nicaragua and headed for Managua. The Colombian Government issued a letter of protest to the Russian Government following the first violation. Two Colombian Air Force IAI Kfirs stationed at Barranquilla intercepted and escorted the two Tu-160s out of Colombian airspace after the second violation.[67][68][69]

On 17 November 2015, Russia started using Tu-160, Tu-95, and Tu-22M strategic long-range bombers against targets in Syria, along with Kalibr cruise missiles fired from the Mediterranean. This marked the combat debut of the Tu-160 and Tu-95.[70][71][72][73]

In August 2018, two Tu-160s conducted first ever deployment to the Russian Far East in Chukotka as a part of a long-range tactical flight exercise involving number of Russian military aircraft including the Tu-160, Tu-95MS strategic bombers and Il-78 aerial tankers. The aircraft completed a 7,000 km non-stop flight from their home base in Saratov Oblast and landed at the Anadyr Airport. During the deployment, the crews were practising combat use of missiles at the Komi test range as well as flights with aerial refueling.[74][75]

On 10 December 2018, Russia deployed two Tu-160s accompanied by an An-124 cargo plane and an Il-62 passenger plane to Venezuela, where they landed at Maiquetía airport.[76]

VariantsEdit

Tu-160
Production version.
Tu-160S
Designation used for serial Tu-160s when needed to separate them from all the pre-production and experimental aircraft.[77]
Tu-160V
Proposed liquid hydrogen fueled version (see also Tu-155).[77]
Tu-160 NK-74
Proposed upgraded (extended range) version with NK-74 engines.[77]
Tu-160M
Upgraded version that features new weaponry, improved electronics and avionics, which double its combat effectiveness.[78]
Tu-160P (Tu-161)
Proposed very long-range escort fighter/interceptor version.
Tu-160PP
Proposed electronic warfare version carrying stand-off jamming and ECM gear (Russian: ПП – постановщик помех "staggering").
Tu-160R
Proposed strategic reconnaissance version.
Tu-160SK
Proposed commercial version, designed to launch satellites within the "Burlak" (Russian: Бурлак, "hauler") system.[77]
Tu-160M2
Highly upgraded version featuring low observable coatings,[79] new engines, avionics, electronics, glass cockpit, communications and control systems, and a number of weapons, as well as improved thrust and unrefueled range.[80]

OperatorsEdit

  Russia

Former operatorsEdit

  Soviet Union
  Ukraine

Specifications (Tu-160)Edit

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 2003–2004,[45]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4 (pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, defensive systems officer)
  • Length: 54.10 m (177 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan:
    • Spread (20° sweep): 55.70 m (182 ft 9 in)
    • Swept (65° sweep): 35.60 m (116 ft 9¾ in)
  • Height: 13.10 m (43 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area:
    • Spread: 400 m² (4,306 ft²)
    • Swept: 360 square metres (3,900 sq ft))
  • Empty weight: 110,000 kg (242,505 lb; operating empty weight)
  • Loaded weight: 267,600 kg (589,950 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 275,000 kg (606,260 lb)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Samara NK-321 turbofans
    • Dry thrust: 137.3 kN (30,865 lbf) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 245 kN (55,115 lbf) each

Performance

Armament

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

NotesEdit

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BibliographyEdit

  • The Directory of the World's Weapons. Leicester, UK: Blitz Editions, 1996. ISBN 978-1-85605-348-8.
  • Eden, Paul (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft. London: Amber Books, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9.
  • Jackson, Paul. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 2003–2004. Coulsdon, UK: Jane's Information Group, 2003. ISBN 0-7106-2537-5.
  • Taylor, Michael J. H. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory. London: Brassey's, 1996. ISBN 1-85753-198-1.

External linksEdit