Russia is updating the three legs of its strategic triad. Strategic aviation has been given a boost recently, with all Russian aircraft being radically modernized to boast new functionalities.
Russia’s Tupolev airspace industry, a giant in that sector, has signed a contract with the Defense Ministry to “radically” update its Tu-95MS strategic bombers, in order for them to meet the MSM standard. The Tu-160 and the Tu-22 M3 are also getting an upgrade to transform them into the Tu-160M2 and the TU-22 M3M.
The entire fleet will acquire new functionalities. The first Tu-95MSM supersonic, variable-wing bomber will take to the sky in late 2019. General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, has noted that the aircraft will get new avionics and engines. The electronic equipment will include only Russian-produced components. The Tu-22M3M, Tu-160M2, and the Tu-95MSM will be armed with new long-range cruise missiles that have already gone through testing and are ready for mass production.
All in all, there are around 60 Tu-22M3Ms currently in service with the Russian air force. Up to 30 will be upgraded to the M3M variant. The upgrade is comprehensive and includes new avionics, digital radio-navigation equipment, a new communications suite, and a new, updated, weapon-control system. Unlike Tu-160s and Tu-95s, it is not included in the tally under the New START. With a cruising speed of 900 km. per hour, its operational range is around 7,000 kilometers without refueling.
All varieties of weapons can be used, including the Kh-32 long-range anti-ship cruise missile with an operational range of 1,000 km. that is able to reach a maximum speed of over Mach 4 in the terminal phase of its complicated trajectory. The Raduga Kh-15 aero-ballistic hypersonic missile with an operational range of 300 km. is a weapon of choice. The Tu-22M3M can carry three KH-32s (weighing about six tons each) or 12 of the lighter Kh-15 missiles. The Tu-22M3 has recently tested the Kinzhal hypersonic missile.
According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, an official government source, the Tu-95MSM version with an operational range of 7,000 km. (10,000 km. with air refueling) will have no bomb bay. It will carry only standoff precision-guided weapons for launching. Its prime weapon is the Kh-55 cruise missile. It can carry six of them internally plus ten more under its wings. The weapons suite can include the newest Kh-101 air-to-surface missiles, with six of them accommodated inside and 16 others carried externally. The missile’s range exceeds 5,000 km. The Tu-160 and Tu-95MS have delivered 66 missile strikes against terrorist targets in Syria with high accuracy. The updated version of the aircraft will have the capability to retarget cruise missiles after the plane is already airborne. The missiles can be retargeted when they are already en route to their objectives. This is a new capability for Russian aviation.
This month, two TU-160s flew to Alaska “for the first time in history.” They reportedly flew about 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) from their home base in Saratov in southwestern Russia to Anadyr on the Chukotka Peninsula, which faces Alaska across the Bering Strait. Currently, the operational fleet of 16 aircraft in the arsenal of the Air Space Forces (formerly known as the Air Force) is being subjected to upgrades at various levels to extend the lifespans of those aircraft and expand their strike capabilities.
In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the production of Tu-160s to be reinstated. Capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0, the Tu-160 will acquire the capability to launch long-range, standoff cruise missiles, thus rendering its lack of a stealth feature fairly insignificant. Building new airframes is a milestone event in the history of Russian strategic aviation. The modernization of the Tu-160 supersonic bombers is underway and is scheduled to be complete by 2030, along with the update of the Tu-22M3M. So far, $2.8 billion have been allocated for the first batch of 10 TU-160 strategic bombers. There are plans to build fifty new Tu-160M2 aircraft at a rate of three per year.
The updates will encompass every component, making it an entirely new bomber in all but name. According to experts, it’ll be a “whole new aircraft with a new fire control and navigation gear, an advanced system of electronic jamming, a new cockpit, and more fuel-efficient engines.” The Tu-160 M2 version is to go into serial production between 2020 and 2021 with 60% of its internal equipment brought up to date, including a modern glass cockpit. The new NK-32 02 engine has been designed for the upgraded bomber. With the help of the modernized Il-78 re-fueling tanker, the Tu-160 will be able to reach any point on the planet.
All the modernized bombers will be equipped with the SVP-24 all-weather special computing subsystem for precise guidance. The system can operate even if the GLONASS receivers are jammed. It provides fire-and–forget guidance, enabling the pilot to concentrate on countering threats and finding new targets to attack. Weather conditions and the time of day become irrelevant factors.
The golden days for Russia’s strategic aviation fleet are on their way, bringing an extensive revamping that will provide that fleet with new functionalities and propel it into first place in the world. The military’s conventional strike capability is to be augmented with the addition of relatively low-cost but efficient force multipliers. The Kh-101 far exceeds any Western analogues. The combination of a strategic bomber and a highly accurate standoff missile provides Russia with the capability to hit any target anywhere on short notice. The Russian defense industry is up to par and ready to accomplish its mission.