Russia to Increase White Swan Tu-160 Bomber Production: Earlier this month, the United States Air Force officially unveiled its future long-range strategic bomber, the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider.
The U.S. Air Force is clearly looking to the future, as the Raider will eventually serve alongside and then replace the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress.
Efforts are being made to keep those aging warbirds in the skies, but the Pentagon has its sights on the next generation bomber.
Moscow is apparently going in another direction, as the Kremlin has announced plans to ramp up production of its Tupolev Tu-160 “White Swan” (NATO reporting name “Blackjack”), the supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber that was designed in the 1970s.
Though it is the largest and heaviest Mach 2 supersonic aircraft ever built, it was never produced in significant numbers.
Until this year, just nine test and 27 serially produced aircraft were manufactured – limiting how Russia could utilize the aircraft as it lacks stealth capabilities.
New Flock of White Swans
A new flock of White Swans could now be on the way. Russia has finally restarted the production of upgraded Tu-160 strategic bombers following a decision made by President Vladimir Putin in 2015.
After much delay, this month the first newly produced prototype of the Tu-160M to roll off the assembly line took part in factory tests.
Full production is set to ramp up in the New Year.
“In December, a newly-built prototype of the Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber engineered by the Tupolev Aircraft Company (part of the UAC within Rostec) performed a new flight. The aircraft completed the program of factory tests,” the UAC press office said via a statement to Tass.
An additional two Tupolev Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bombers have also begun their test flights.
“The Tu-160 is a major part of Russia’s nuclear triad and, therefore, the upgrade of the operational aircraft and the resumption of the production of these strategic bombers are our priority task,” Rostec chief Sergey Chemezov told reporters on Friday.
“The upgraded missile-carrying bombers outshine their predecessors in terms of their characteristics and have received new onboard radio-electronic equipment, NK-32-02 engines and other systems. The production of these aircraft will be ramped up in the coming years.”
According to the UAC, these are the first serial-produced planes under the Tu-160M resumed production program and the operational aircraft that has undergone heavy modernization.
The Soviet’s Response to the B-1 Lancer
Along with the Tupolev Tu-95MS bomber (NATO reporting name “Bear”), the White Swan is the mainstay of the Russian Aerospace Force’s long-range aviation units. Engineered in response to the Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber that developed in the United States during the Cold War, the Tu-160 has a similar design and became the world’s heaviest warplane capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
It was developed to destroy targets in remote geographic areas and deep in the rear of continental theaters of operations. Whereas the B-1 is a bomber in the classical sense – meaning it flies to targets to deploy its bomb load – the Tu-160 can operate as a stand-off weapons platform, where missiles are launched from bomb bay doors. After which, the “White Swan” could fly away at speeds of Mach 2+.
It is also important to note that the Tu-160 was the only Soviet-designed bomber not to carry any defensive weapons. As such, it is routinely escorted in patrol missions by fighter aircraft such as the MiG-31.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.