New Batch of Russian Tu-160 Bombers Coming This Year – Last year, Moscow announced plans to restart production of its Tupolev Tu-160 “White Swan” (NATO reporting name “Blackjack”), its Cold War-era supersonic variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bombers.
Though these were the largest and heaviest Mach 2 aircraft ever to take to the skies, the Tu-160 was never produced in significant numbers.
Until last year, there had been just nine test and 27 serially produced aircraft. That fact actually limited how Russia could utilize the bombers as it lacked stealth capabilities.
A new flock is now on its way, and the first Tu-160M built under the resumed production completed its factory tests in December.
On Tuesday, it was also announced that the particular aircraft of the new production program had been named to honor the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first woman in space.
“The first built Tu-160M has been named in honor of Valentina Tereshkova,” United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Chief Yury Slyusar told the state-media outlet TASS at the Aero India 2023 international air show on Tuesday.
All Tu-160 bombers traditionally are named to honor outstanding Russian people who have made notable accomplishments in long-range aviation.
Tereshkova, who turned 85 last year, is known for being the first and youngest woman in space, having flown a solo mission on the Vostok 6 in June 1963.
During the 70.8-hour flight, she made 48 orbits of Earth and remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission.
Tu-160 Tests Completed
The newly produced Tupolev Tu-160M completed its factory tests, during which time the strategic bomber conducted maneuvers to check the aircraft’s stability and control in the air, the working capacity of its airborne systems and engines, and the onboard radio-electronic equipment.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the program restarted in 2015, but it took until last year for the first new serially produced bomber to be completed.
Russia had previously considered plans to renew production, but those efforts remained largely stalled. Under the current plans announced last year, Russia will receive upwards of 50 White Swans – yet, it remains unclear how many could be produced annually.
UAC has announced that the Tu-160M will also reportedly be produced even as Russia continues to move forward with its PAK DA stealth bomber program.
Upgraded White Swans
The upgraded Tu-160Ms are equipped with new onboard radio-electronic equipment, NK-32-02 engines, and other systems.
These will remain a key component of Russia’s nuclear triad. The White Swan was originally developed in response to the United States Air Force’s Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber – and the Soviet-designed aircraft has a similar design.
Now the world’s heaviest bomber, it is able to carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles that can 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+.
The Tu-160 was also designed without any defensive weapons – its speed being crucial to evade enemy fighters.
In patrol missions, the bomber is routinely escorted by fighter aircraft such as the MiG-31.
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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.