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Tu-160 supersonic strategic bomber (Nato reporting name of Blackjack) is a variable-sweep wing supersonic strategic missile carrier manufactured by the Tupolev aircraft research and engineering complex joint stock company of Moscow and the Kazan-Gorbunov Aircraft Production Association in Tatarstan from 1980 to 1992.
The maiden flight of the bomber was completed in December 1981, and it entered service with Ukrainian Long-Range Aviation in April 1987. Production has since restarted and a Tu-160 was delivered to the Russian Air Force in May 2000. A total of 36 aircraft were built, with only 17 currently in service in Russia.
Tu-160 was designated as White Swan due to its manoeuvrability and anti-flash white finish. The purpose of the aircraft is the delivery of nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation.
The aircraft has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes. The performance of the Russian Tu-160 is often compared with the US B-1B.
The Tu-160 strategic bomber holds a total of 44 world records.
Tu-160 bomber upgrades
Kazan Aircraft Production Organisation (KAPO) was awarded a contract to upgrade the Russian Air Force’s 15 Tu-160 bombers. The Tupolev upgrade package includes new targeting systems, upgraded cruise missiles and an electronic warfare suite. The first upgraded aircraft was delivered in July 2006.
In September 2008, two Tu-160 bombers made the first transatlantic flight for the type, from Murmansk to Venezuela, on a training mission.
In June 2010, two Russian Tu-160 bombers completed a record-breaking 23hr patrol covering 18,000km of flight range. The bombers flew by the borders of Russia over the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and finally landed at Engels base in the Volga region.
Tupolev completed bench tests of modernised avionics complex for the Tu-160 bomber in March 2013.
The Russian Defence Ministry awarded a RUB3.4bn ($105m) contract to Tupolev and KAPO for the modernisation of three Tu-160 bombers, in July 2013.
A Tu-160 aircraft with upgraded airborne radar and navigation equipment made first flight on 16 November 2014. It entered service with the Russian Air Force in December 2014.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation announced its decision to refurbish Tu-160 aircraft in 2015. The upgraded variant, designated Tu-160M, was assembled at the Kazan aviation factory named after S.P. Gorbunov.
The first prototype of the Tu-160M2 aircraft was rolled out in November 2017, while its first flight was made in January 2018.
The first flight of the Tu-160M aircraft with new NK-32 Series 2 engine developed by United Engine Corporation was conducted in November 2020.
The first serial production Tu-160M aircraft made its first flight in January 2022. The modernised strategic missile carrier took off from the aerodrome of Kazan Aviation Plant, a branch of Tupolev.
Kazan Aviation Plant renews or upgrades more than 40% of the equipment under the modernisation programme of Tu-160 aircraft. The next-generation bomber aircraft will integrate technologies and materials that reduce its radar signature.
Tu-160 bomber design
The bomber’s airframe has a distinctive appearance, with the wing and fuselage gradually integrated into a single-piece configuration. The airframe structure is based on a titanium beam, all-welded torsion box. Throughout the entire airframe, all the main airframe members are secured to the titanium beam.
The variable geometry outer tapered wings sweep back from 20° to 65° in order to provide high-performance flight characteristics at supersonic and subsonic speeds. The tail surfaces, horizontal and vertical, are one piece and all-moving.
The Tu-160 uses fly-by-wire controls. The aircraft is equipped with three-strut landing gear, a tail wheel and a brake parachute. It can attack strategic targets with nuclear and conventional weapons in continental theatres of operation. For take-off, the aircraft requires a concrete runway of 3,050m.
Tu-160 cockpit and avionics
Tu-160’s crew comprises a pilot, co-pilot, a navigator and an operator. The four crew are equipped with zero / zero ejection seats, which provide the crew with the option of ejecting safely throughout the entire range of altitudes and air speeds, including when the aircraft is parked.
In the cockpit and cabins, all the data is presented on conventional electro-mechanical indicators and monitors, and not head-up displays or cathode ray tube displays.
The Tu-160 has a control stick for flight control, as used in a fighter aircraft, rather than control wheels or yokes, which are usually used in large transporter or bomber aircraft.
The aircraft is highly computerised, and its avionics systems include an integrated aiming, navigation and flight control system, with a navigation and attack radar, an electronic countermeasures system, and automatic controls.
Tu-160 can carry nuclear and conventional weapons including long-range nuclear missiles. The missiles are accommodated on multi-station launchers in each of the two weapons bays.
The aircraft is capable of carrying the strategic cruise missile Kh-55MS, which is known in the West by the Nato designation and codename AS-15 Kent. Up to 12 Kh-55MS missiles can be carried, six in each bay. The Kh-55MS is propelled by a turbofan engine. The maximum range is 3,000km, and it is armed with a 200kt nuclear warhead.
Weapons bays are also fitted with launchers for the Kh-15P, which has the Nato designation and codename AS-16 Kickback. The Kh-15P Kickback has solid rocket fuel propulsion, which gives a range up to 200km. The Kickback can be fitted with a conventional 250kg warhead or a nuclear warhead. The aircraft is also capable of carrying a range of aerial bombs with a total weight up to 40t.
Tu-160 Blackjack variants
The Tu-160 variants include Tu-160S, Tu-160V, Tu-160 NK-74, Tu-160M, Tu-160P, Tu-160PP, Tu-160R, and Tu-160SK.
Tu-160V is an upgraded version, which uses liquid hydrogen as fuel while Tu-160 NK-74 is an advance version powered by NK-74 engines.
Tu-160M can accommodate two additional long-range, hypersonic Kh-90 missiles. Tu-160P, also known as Tu-161, is a long-range escort or interceptor aircraft. It is a fully modernised strategic missile carrier bomber.
Tu-160SK is an upgraded commercial version principally used to launch satellites within the Burlak system.
Tu-160 bomber’s engines and performance
The strategic bomber aircraft is powered by four Samara NK-321 turbofan engines, each of which provide a maximum thrust of 25,000kg. The engines are installed in two pods under the shoulders of the wing. The air intake incorporates an adjustable vertical wedge.
The bomber has an in-flight refuelling system. In the inoperative position, the refuelling probe is retracted into the nose of the fuselage in front of the pilot’s cabin. The aircraft fuel capacity is 160,000kg.
Tu-160 can climb at a rate of 70m per second. The maximum and cruise speeds of the bomber are 2,220km/h and 960km/h, respectively. The range of the aircraft is 12,300km. Its combat radius is 7,300km.
The Tu-160 Blackjack has a flight endurance of 15 hours, while its service ceiling is 16,000m.
The aircraft weighs around 110,000kg and its maximum take-off weight is 275,000kg.