Modernized Russian Tu-160M Strategic Bomber Performs First Flight

Russia’s Tu-160M strategic bomber, the heavily modernized version of the Soviet era Tu-160 long range bomber, today undertook its first flight marking the potential of the aircraft to carry latest weapons such as hypersonic missiles.

The aircraft took off from the airfield of the Kazan Aviation Plant, a Tupolev branch of the United Aircraft Corporation. The flight took place at an altitude of 600 meters and lasted about 30 minutes. The crew of test pilots of PJSC “Tupolev” performed maneuvers to check the stability and controllability of the aircraft in the air, Rostec said in a release.

The program of reproduction of Tu-160 aircraft in the modernized form of Tu-160M ​​was launched by the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As part of the implementation of the program under the state contract between the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia and Tupolev, the design documentation for the Tu-160M ​​aircraft was fully digitized in a short time, the vacuum welding technology for titanium products was restored, the production of aircraft airframe units was resumed, a new cooperation was formed from leading industrial enterprises in the field of metallurgy , aircraft construction, mechanical engineering and instrument making, the main part of which is part of the State Corporation Rostec.

Denis Manturov, Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, emphasized: “We have restored the full production cycle of the Tu-160, but already in the ‘M’ modification, using modernized engines, modernized aircraft control systems, navigation systems, and weapons control systems. The modernization of the Kazan Aviation Plant played an important role in restoring the production of unique aircraft: the equipment of the shops, the flight test base was updated, the world’s largest installation for electron beam welding and vacuum annealing of titanium was put into operation. Today we see significant prospects for the Tu-160 platform: further development will make it possible to use it for new types of weapons, including promising ones.”

The aircraft retains its appearance, but is created on a completely new technological base using digital technologies.

“The fundamental importance of today’s event is that the Tu-160M has been completely rebuilt from scratch. The systems and equipment in the new aircraft have been updated and modernized by 80%,” said UAC General Director Yuri Slyusar. In November 2021, he said that the company was wrapping up the work to manufacture a second plane rebuilt from an old Tu-160 bomber.

The implementation of the program for the modernization and reproduction of the Tu-160 strategic missile carriers required a significant renovation of the production base.

“Within the framework of the program, more than 40% of the shop equipment was updated and modernized at the Kazan Aviation Plant, a significant part of the staff underwent additional training. For Tupolev, the reproduction of the Tu-160 is a major project, which means not only updating the material and technical base and restoring key competencies, but also reaching a new level of possibilities for the design and serial production of the most complex and advanced aircraft complexes,” said the managing director of Tupolev Vadim Korolev.

The Tu-160 is a Soviet and subsequently a Russian supersonic variable-sweep wing strategic missile-carrying bomber. The Tu-160M is designated to strike enemy targets in remote areas with nuclear and conventional weapons. It is the world’s heaviest supersonic military aircraft to date. A Tu-160M equipped with NK-32-02 engines performed its debut flight in November 2020. UAC specialists tested its general aircraft systems and onboard radio-electronic equipment mounted in the course of its upgrade and checked the operation of its NK-32-02 new engines.

A year ago, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko told state media that the Air Force’s fleet of Tu-160s would grow more than 50% in the next seven years.