Russia’s PAK DA bomber is under development. Little is known for sure about the aircraft, but its potential attributes are impressive. The bomber might have the ability to fire nuclear-tipped, air-launched cruise missiles, take off fully loaded at 30 tons, fire hypersonic weapons, and introduce definitive new stealth technologies.
The platform seems specifically intended to match the U.S.’ B-21, which is airborne. The PAK DA is slated to emerge in prototype form as early as this year. Full production is slated for as soon as 2027, although the particular configuration, technological composition, and planned fleet size remain largely unknown.
Many of the details about the PAK DA are likely unavailable, undecided, or simply too difficult to discern, although Russia’s TASS news agency has made several key statements regarding the new bomber.
“The PAK DA is expected to deploy Kh-102 nuclear-tipped stealthy cruise missiles, and a number of newer hypersonic designs including derivatives of the Kh-47M2.” a TASS report from 2021 says.
While this might sound ominous, an ability to fire nuclear-capable cruise missiles is by no means surprising. Indeed, the B-21 is slated to carry the nuclear-capable Long Range Stand-Off cruise missile.
A significant difference between the PAK DA and the B-2 and B-21, if Russian media claims are correct, is the large discrepancy in max take-off weight. The PAK DA’s reported take-off weight of 30 tons is twice the 15-ton max weight of the B-21. What might this mean? Not a whole lot, apart from the fact that a PAK DA might be able to drop more ordnance on a single mission when compared with the B-21.
While a larger, heavier bomber able to carry more munitions can extend mission dwell time, the weight can also be a burden on its stealth effectiveness, and the plane might be more vulnerable to air defenses and air threats. The PAK DA’s larger payload was suggested as far back as 2013 in Russia’s RIA newspaper, which reported that the PAK DA will fire conventional, nuclear, and hypersonic weapons.
The main question with the PAK DA, then, is just how stealthy the aircraft will be. The B-21 reportedly integrates a series of unknown yet paradigm-changing stealth properties. A PAK DA aircraft is unlikely to copy these, given that the B-21 program is almost entirely secret.
This being said, available images of the PAK DA show a large, stealthy-looking fuselage with a blended wing-body; internally buried engine; and inlets that are built into the wings to avoid any need for protruding structures or edges likely to generate a radar return signal. Before evaluating the aircraft, we also need to know what kinds of coating materials, composites, or thermal management the PAK DA incorporates. Answers to these questions may determine to what extent the bomber can rival a B-21 or an upgraded B-2.
The intent of the B-21, and the broadband stealth technology it presents, is to operate above highly defended enemy territory undetected and drop precision bombs from stand-off altitudes. It aims to do all of this before an enemy even knows anything is there.
Could the PAK DA incorporate similar kinds of advanced stealth? The answer likely pertains to things not visible to the human eye, but rather related to computing, sensing, coating, and weapons efficiency.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University
FROM 19FortyFive: How To Sink A $3 Billion Dollar Submarine: Leave A Hatch Open
FROM 19FortyFive – Ukraine War Ending: Putin Sick with Cancer and Passes Away?
FROM 19FortyFive – Ukraine War Ending: Putin Gets Wiped Out in Coup?