Modernised Tu-160M makes first flight

Tupolev – part of the United Aircraft Corporation – has announced the successful first test flight of the Tupolev Tu-160M – a modernised variant of its supersonic, variable-geometry strategic bomber family.

The flight took place on February 2 from the Gorbunov Kazan Aircraft Plant in Russia, lasting for 34 minutes, during which the aircraft reached an altitude of 4,921ft (1,500m).

A press service related to the company told reporters that: “During the flight, the necessary checks were performed on updated systems and equipment installed as part of the deep modernisation of the aircraft. According to the crew, the flight went as normal, the systems and equipment worked without any remarks.”

Tu-160M First Flight Feb 2, 2020 [UAC]
Tupolev Tu-160M during its first flight on February 2. UAC

The Tu-160M is the standard that all in-service Tu-160s – NATO reporting name Blackjack – are planned to be upgraded to. The Russian Aerospace Forces currently operate 11 Tu-160 bombers, along with five newly upgraded Tu-160M aircraft in testing or undergoing the modernisation process. Deliveries of the Tu-160M to frontline units are expected to begin next year.

Long-term Russian aerospace analyst Piotr Butowski provided some insight on the new platform, noting that “the Tu-160M (izdeliye 70M) mid-life modernisation provides for complete replacement of the bomber’s mission system and avionics. The Obzor-K radar has been replaced with a new NV1.70 radar from the Novella family, made by the St Petersburg-based Zaslon company. The UKBP design bureau in Ulyanovsk has developed a new data display system with ‘glass’ cockpit. The Polyot company of Nizhny Novgorod produced the S-505-70 communication suite. The aircraft is being fitted with new ABSU-200MTs flight-control system and K-042KM (NO-70M) navigation suite with BINS-SP-1 inertial navigation, ANS-2009M astro navigation, DISS-021-70 navigation radar, A737DP satellite navigation receiver and navigation computer. An entirely new Redut-70M self-defence suite has also been designed, as well as the BKR-70M reconnaissance system.”

Tu-160M in 1991 [Piotr Butowski]
Tupolev Tu-160 - registration RF-94103 (c/n 83804352) 'Igor Sikorsky' - was the first platform to be upgraded to Tu-160M standard. It is shown here on the ground in 1991. Piotr Butowski

In January 2018, the Russian government placed an order for ten new-build Tu-160M2 bombers. The first of these is expected to fly for the first time in 2021. Serial deliveries of the Tu-160M2 to the Russian Aerospace Forces are expected to start in 2023 and conclude before 2027.

A full report on the Tu-160M first flight will be provided by Piotr Butowski in the March issue of AirForces Monthly.