The Russian Strategic Bomber TU-160 is Back as the TU -160 M2
n 1981 the cold war was very much on and the Soviet Union had as yet not bit the dust. Leonid Brezhnev was the Russian dictator and an arms race with the West, in particular the USA was a reality. At this time the Russian design team launched the TU-160 a supersonic bomber capable of a speed of Mach 2.05.
The plane appeared on the scene in 1981 and and created more than interest in the West. It was the world largest combat aircraft and initially about 39 of these machines were bulit.. The aircraft was designed at the Tupelov aircraft works , then located in Ukraine.
The aircraft was a formidabl;e and lethal force multiplier. It was powerd by 4 engines and had a crew of 4. However the aircraf at that time did not incorporate 'stealth technology'. But it had tremendous range and could also fly low to penetrate enemy defences. The aircraft did have fly by wire technology and was a variable geometry design. The plane became the pride of the Soviet Air force.
The TU 160 remained in service , but when the Soviet Union broke up, the TU 160 became almost redundent and Boris Yesltsin forbade further development of the plane as it was felt that a strategic bomber was not needed.The new Russian state , the successor to the Soviet Union felt that sucha plane was not needed and further development of the plane was stalled.
The Plane is Re- Launched.
Technical details of the plane are available on any aircraft website. But one can say that the plane was the biggest combat aircraft in the world. During the time the aircraft was in mothballs, 3 machines were purchased by US-based Platforms International Corp for lunching space vehicles. In addition 19 TU 160 also referred to as Blackjacks, remained in Ukraine custody. Some were scrapped, but others were sold back to Russia.
In 2007, with Vladimir Putin at the head of Russia as president, a review of Russia's strategic role began to take place. Putin dreamt of restoring Russian power and accordingly signed a decree to re-induct the Blackjack as well as develop the combat aircraft further. Putin also flew in a TU- 160. The Russian air force as per reports now operates about 16 of these machines.
In 2014 overhaul and modernization of the Blackjack bombers began at the Tupolev plant. The aircraft were fitted with new radars and navigation equipment. It is a tedious and costly process and by 2020 the Russian Air Force will have about 20 of these upgraded bombers.
In 2015 the Russian MOD announced plans to launch production of the TU-160. The planes to be launched will have new engines, new radars and new avionics. These aircraft to be ready in the future have been given the number TU 160M2. Essentially though the look of the plane will be similar, it will be a new aircraft. The development of the new combat aircraft has alarmed America and the EU. It is one aircraft that can strike deep in the western areas. Matters are not helped by the fact that in 2006 the Russian Defense ministry announced that a Black Jack could enter the arctic area undetected by US radar. This necessitated a review by the US AF.
The clock has turned again and once again the Russians are back to their projection as a great power. In such a scenario the development of the TU 160 is essential. It is an aircraft that has a long endurance and can bomb most targets in the west. It is essentially a deterrent as Russia flexes its muscles like it has done in Syria. In such a scenario the Blackjack will come in handy. The west does not have a similar plane and neither do the Chinese.
From a purely aviation point of view the development of the new blackjack will whet the appetite of aviation lovers. It’s a beauty to see this variable geometry plane fly at Mach 2 at over 2000 Km an hour. It will also restore Russian pride in them and show the world that Russian technology can produce such a plane.
The plane no doubt is a lethal weapon, but it has some built in operting drawbacks. Firstly the plane is not armed and is the first Russian combat bomber that does not carry any armament. This by itself would be a drawback in case the plane is unescorted. Secondly the plane does not incorporate the latest "stealth technology" , hence it's penetration of sophisticated defences is suspect.
The plane first flew in 1981 and as such is not the latest generation plane. Yet one can say that as a show of force in regional small wars the Blackjack could be a success like in Syria.