Russia is resuming the production of the upgraded (M2) variant of the Tu-160 White Swan (Blackjack) – a supersonic strategic bomber with variable-sweep wings, designed to engage targets around the globe with nuclear and conventional weapons. The bomber is a cruise missile carrier capable of launching its nuclear payload from standoff ranges.
The serial production will be launched in 2020, with two-three aircraft churned out yearly. The modernization will increase the aircraft’s lifespan for another 30 years. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov says the combat effectiveness of the Tu-160M2 will be 2.5 times higher than that of its predecessor. The process of manufacturing has already begun. Under the contract signed between the United Aircraft Corporation and the Defense Ministry, the Tu-160M2 plane is expected to perform its first flight in 2018.
The idea to restart the production of the Tu-160M2 strategic bomber in its modernized version was put forward by Defense Minister Shoigu in April 2015 during his visit to the Kazan Aviation Enterprise, a subsidiary of Tupolev Aircraft Company. In May that year, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave instructions to restart the production of these bombers. There are sixteen aging Tu-160 aircraft in the inventory. It is planned to have around fifty Blackjacks upgraded to version M2.
Specifications: a payload: up to 40,000 kg, an unrefueled range: 12,297 km, a maximum speed: 1,800 km/h, a maximum altitude: 19.3 kilometers (60,000 feet), flight endurance: 15 hours.
The armament suite includes Kh-101 and Kh-102 missiles. The Kh-101 is the conventional variant. It has been battle-tested in Syria. The Kh-102 is the nuclear-tipped variant. The maximum range is 5,500 km (3,418 miles), a cruise speed of 700-720 km/h (435-447 mi), a maximum speed of 970 km/h (603mi), and an endurance of flight: 10 hours. The conventional warhead would pack 400 kg (880lbs) of explosives. The nuclear warhead is thought be a 250KT device. A circular error probability of less than about 6 m (30 feet) at a maximum range.
The armament can also include the Kh-555 new-generation long-range winged missiles. The weapon is a new air-launched cruise missile with a conventional warhead based on the Kh-55 nuclear-armed cruise missile upgraded with Kh-101 technology. The nuclear warhead is replaced by a 500 kg class conventional warhead. The range of the Kh-555 to 2,500-3,000 km (1,553-1,864mi).
The 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.
The M2 variant looks from outside like its predecessor but essentially it’s a new plane.
The bomber will have new avionics, electronics, cockpit, communications and control systems and weapons. It will be highly computerized. The avionics systems include an integrated aiming, navigation and flight control system, with a navigation and attack radar, an electronic countermeasures system, and automatic controls. The Novella-NV1-70 phased-array radar, K-042K-1 duel-channel inertial navigation system and ABSU-200-1 autopilot are designed specifically for the Tu-160M2 variant.
Each of the Tu-160M2’s electronic units will be able to handle all tasks at hand, if need be. For example, the electronic warfare system will be able to assume the functions of other control systems. If a computer fails, the system allows the resources of the whole plane to be used for dealing with the problem.
The Tu-160MS2 will be powered by upgraded NK-32-02 engines with better endurance characteristics, which adds to the new bomber's range, increasing it by 1,000 kilometers (621miles) as compared with the existing version. The new version of engine features improved performance to allow the plane to cruise in stratosphere at an altitude of 18.3 kilometers (60,000 feet or 11.3 miles) beyond the enemy’s air defense systems reach.
The wing and fuselage are 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-160M2 does not feature stealth technology. Its mission is not to penetrate into enemy airspace and deliver its payload. Capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0, the bomber can rapidly take the position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles.
The Tu-160M2 provides a credible deterrence against any potential aggressor. It will enable Russia to project military power to faraway regions, like Syria. With a fleet of highly capable Tu-160M2, Russia possesses the ability to meet multiple challenges at any time. The incredible speed and cruise missiles to deliver high precision strikes make the Tu-160M2 bomber a formidable weapon to ensure enhance Russia’s power projection capability.