Piotr Butowski reports on the first flight of a brand-new Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber and other strategic strike capabilities under development in Russia
MILITARY Tu-160 BLACKJACK
The new Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber made its first official flight at Kazan on January 25, 2018, with President Vladimir Putin in attendance. The word ‘official’ is significant. Aircraft 8-04 was rolled out of the assembly hall on November 16, 2017, and was actually flown for the first time at the end of December. The flight for Putin was for show.
The bomber is named Pyotr Deynekin, after the former commander of Soviet Long-Range Aviation, who became the first commanderin- chief of the post-Soviet Russian Air Force between 1992 and 1998. Pyotr Deynekin died on August 19, 2017. All Russian Air Force Tu- 160s are named after famed icons, including mythical folk heroes, famous pilots, aircraft designers and air commanders.
Tu-160 8-04 is the fourth aircraft of the eighth production series, and the 35th aircraft built, not counting various ground tests prototypes. Production of Tu-160s at the Gorbunov Kazan Aviation Plant ran between 1984 and 1994, after which four unfinished airframes remained at the plant. Aircraft 8-02 was eventually completed and handed over to the military in 1999, followed by 8-03 in 2007.
Following the first flight of aircraft 8-04, only 8-05 remains in the factory. Not including 8-04, the Russian Air Force currently has 16 Tu-160s assigned to the 121st Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment based at Engels Air Base.
Aircraft 8-04 was completed for two reasons: to add to the Russian strategic bomber fleet, and, more significantly, to prepare for the resumption of Tu-160 production at Kazan.
New production will start with a Tu-160M version (izdeliye 70M) the configuration of which retains the original airframe design, and fitted with improved engines and entirely new systems and armament. The first new Tu- 160M is supposed to make its maiden flight in 2021. Further into the future, the more advanced Tu-160M2 version (izdeliye 70M2) is planned.
Resumption of Tu-160 production will also aid maintenance of the current fleet, which increasingly lacks sufficient spare parts for overhauls.
First disclosed in April 2015, the decision to resume series production is likely to have been taken slightly earlier. The entire Tu-160M and Tu-160M2 programme is extremely important for Russia and comes at a time when other programmes are being cut: this one is receiving more money. What are even more significant are the changes to Russian government technology- development programmes for the defence industry, introduced in 2015. As many as 54 from a total of 178 concerning the aircraft industry were cancelled that year. Sixteen were added, all of which are part of just one programme: resumption of Tu-160 production.
President of United Aircraft Corporation Yuri Slyusar described resumption of Tu-160 production as “a giant project, unprecedented in the post-Soviet history of our aircraft industry” and implemented in cooperation with “all leading companies of the Russian aircraft industry”.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence ordered the first ten new Tu-160Ms priced at RUB 16 billion per aircraft at the January 25 event in the presence of Vladimir Putin. It has stated its intent to order 50 new Blackjacks, at a delivery rate of three aircraft per year.
When watching the Tu-160’s demo flight, Vladimir Putin suggested developing a commercial supersonic aircraft based on the Tu-160. According to Putin, in the 1970s, the Tu-144 was phased out of production because the air fares charged did not match average earnings in the country, which was unrealistic. He said: “Now, large companies exist that could use this aircraft.”
In 2000, Tupolev presented the Tu-344, a supersonic business/VIP jet converted from Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers designed to carry 12 to 18 people a distance of 7,700km (4,158 nautical miles) with a Mach 1.7 cruise speed. The Tu-344 project remained on paper; the same fate awaits a passenger version of the Tu-160.
Ongoing Tu-160 operations – and particularly new aircraft production – require new engines. The Samara-based Kuznetsov Company was contracted in August 2014 to restart production of upgraded NK-32 series 02 engines, after a production pause of nearly 25 years. Developed as early as 1987, the NK- 32-02 engine did not enter production due to financial reasons.
The NK-32-02 engine design featured improved compressor and turbine blade profiles, better internal aerodynamics and more efficient cooling. As result, fuel consumption was supposedly reduced, but take-off thrust remained unchanged at 25 tonnes (55,115lb). Tupolev claimed that testing of the new engines, showed a Tu-160 loaded with a basic payload of six cruise missiles (a payload weight of 9,000kg/19,840lb) could reach a range of 13,950km (7,532 nautical miles), some 1,650km (891 nautical miles) further than the standard version.
In its primary intercontinental mission as a strategic missile carrier, the Tu-160 flies at Mach 0.77 and 36,089 to 39,370ft altitude (11,000 to 12,000m) to attain a maximum range of 6,641 nautical miles (12,300km) without in-flight refuelling, and a mid-range release of six Kh-55 cruise missiles.
Operated at theatre level, the aircraft penetrates enemy air defences flying at a high altitude and a dash speed of Mach 1.6 (2,000km/h). Its combat radius flying at Mach 1.5 is 1,080 nautical miles (2,000km), but the planned low-altitude flight at 556kts (1,030km/h) using an automatic terrain following/terrain avoidance system has not been implemented.
Armaments are carried exclusively inside the fuselage in two tandem weapon bays. Basic armament for strategic missions comprise six (up to a maximum of 12) longrange subsonic Raduga Kh-55SM cruise missiles carried on a six-round revolving launcher in each of the bays. Tu-160s were used in combat for the first time on November 17, 2015, when Kh-101 missiles were launched against targets in Syria.
The Tu-160 is a four-engine, all-metal, low-wing monoplane with a variablegeometry wing. Outer, movable panels are set for three manually selected wing positions: 20° for take-off and landing, 35° for cruise, and 65° for supersonic flight. The crew of four is seated in a common pressurised cockpit positioned at the top of the aircraft’s nose.
The commander-pilot occupies the front port-side seat, with the co-pilot at the righthand side. Fighter-style control sticks are used on the flight deck, rather than wheels or yokes. The aft seats are occupied by the navigator/offensive weapons operator and the navigator/electronic warfare/communications operator. Access to the cockpit is via the nose undercarriage bay.
On October 23, 2014, approval was given for the upgrade of mission systems and avionics on operational Tu-160s to Tu-160M standard.
Supposedly ready in the 2020-2021 timeframe, the upgrade covers replacement of the existing Obzor-K radar with a new NV1.70 radar system from the Novella family, made by the Zaslon company. The UKBP Design Bureau in Ulyanovsk is developing a new data display system for the glass cockpit configuration, which also includes the NO-70M navigation suite with the BINS-SP-1 inertial navigation, ANS-2009M astro-navigation and a navigation computer.
Other new systems include a DISS-021-70 navigation radar, A737DP satellite navigation receiver, ABSU-200MTs autopilot and an S-505-70 communication suite.
An entirely new Redut-70M self-defence suite is being designed for Tu-160M and Tu- 160M2 versions, and the NII Kulon company is developing the BKR-70M reconnaissance system. Since 2014, the Kazan plant has undertaken Tu-160M1 upgrades combined with main overhauls. The Tu-160M1 is a first-stage modernisation without the most workintensive installations, such as a new radar and a glass cockpit.
Simultaneously, some systems previously earmarked for the upgrade have been removed. For example, the modernised aircraft have blind windows instead of the original OPB-18 electro-optical bomb sights located in a fairing under the nose, which implies the sights have been disassembled.
The first operational aircraft upgraded to M1 standard named ‘Andrey Tupolev’ was flown at Kazan on November 16, 2014, and returned to the Air Force service on December 19, 2014. Today, the Air Force has five aircraft upgraded to M1 configuration.
One of strategic objectives behind the resumption of Tu-160 production is to regain competencies in the design team, at the production plant and subcontractors, all for future development of a new-generation, long-range bomber.
Work on the new bomber has started and been abandoned several times. Back in the 1980s, the subsonic all-wing Tupolev Tu-202 was being designed under the B-90 (Bomber for the 1990s) programme, later abandoned due to the collapse of the USSR.
The next period of work commenced in February 1994, when the Air Force ordered Tupolev to undertake research work under a programme code named Aerofon. Three designs were created under the Aerofon programme. The Tu-170 and Tu-180 were twin-engine supersonic aircraft, while the third, the Tu-190 was a heavy four-engine subsonic all-wing aircraft.
In a competition staged by the Air Force in 1998, designs from Ilyushin, Mikoyan, Myasishchev, Sukhoi and Tupolev’s Tu-190 took part, and the Tu-190 design was deemed the best. However, the aircraft design was also not implemented due to financial reasons.
The current period of work on a new heavy bomber commenced with the announcement of the Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Dalney Aviatsii (PAK DA, Future Air Complex of Long-Range Aviation) competition in 2007.
Tupolev’s bid was selected and in August 2009 the company was awarded a threeyear contract by the Russian Ministry of Defence for the Poslannik (envoy) research programme. Tupolev prepared a preliminary design for the izdeliye 80 bomber, which was approved in the spring of 2013. On December 23 that year, the United Aircraft Corporation was awarded a follow-on contract for the detailed design of the PAK DA: it was approved in 2016.
The PAK DA izdeliye 80 is an all-wing aircraft with a 145,000kg (319,600lb) take-off weight and a 30,000kg (66,100lb) weapon payload. Thus the PAK DA is almost half the weight of the Tu-160 and in terms of weight sits between the Tu-22M3 Backfire C and the Tu-95MS Bear H: an Tu-160 weighs 275,000kg (606,270lb), a Tu-95MS 185,000kg (407,855lb) and a Tu- 22M3 124,000kg (273,370lb).
Describing the PAK DA, Russia’s Long- Range Aviation branch commander Anatoly Zhikharev said the aircraft is, “a subsonic all-wing aircraft with an un-refuelled range of 8,100 nautical miles”.
Engines for the new bomber will be two izdeliye RF engines based on the upgraded core of the NK-32-02 izdeliye R turbofan, each rated at 50,700lb (225.5kN) of thrust. In December 2014, the Kuznetsov company was charged with development of an engine for the PAK DA. During a press interview at the time, Anatoly Zhikharev said the PAK DA prototype would fly in 2019, and the aircraft would enter service in the 2023 to 2025 timeframe.
In 2015, however, the idea of resuming series production of the Tu-160 was put forward and plans for the PAK DA programme were moved back. Deputy Minister of Defence, Yuri Borisov announced that because of the launch of the Tu-160M and Tu-160M2 programme, the PAK DA project would be postponed. During the January 25 ceremony at Kazan, Russia’s vice-prime minister responsible for the defence industry, Dmitry Rogozin, said flight testing of the PAK DA would start in the 2023–2024 timeframe.
Independently of its bomber modernisation programmes, Russia is arming them with new weapons. Beginning in 2003, Tu-160s and Tu-95MS bombers were adapted to employ conventional Kh-555 missiles: conversions of nuclear Kh-55s. Since 2011, the aircraft have also been configured to carry up to 12 new-generation nuclear Kh-102 and then conventional Kh-101 missiles. The Kh-101/ Kh-102 missile is nearly 1.4m (4.6ft) longer and 1,000kg (2,205lb) heavier than the Kh- 55SM or Kh-555. As a result, it was necessary to develop a new, stronger six-round rotary launcher capable of carrying Kh-101 and Kh-102 missiles in the weapon bays of the Tu-160.
Tu-95MS bombers, which have smaller internal weapon bays, can carry Kh-101/ Kh-102 missiles on external pylons only. The maximum range of a Kh-101 missile is estimated to be between 1,620 and 2,160 nautical miles (3,000 and 4,000km); the range of the Kh-102 version is greater.
The Raduga company based at Dubna is developing the strategic long-range Kh-BD (Bolshoy Dalnosti) cruise missile, which is an extended version of the Kh-101/Kh-102 to utilise room available in Tu-160’s weapons bay. Some Russian sources claim the Kh-BD is designed with a range of 3,780 nautical miles (7,000km).
When design work on the Tu-160 bomber began in 1972, it was to be armed with two 10.80m/35.4ft supersonic Kh-45 missiles, and the weapon bays were designed accordingly with a length of 11.30m (37.1ft). After the aircraft’s design had been frozen, the Tu-160’s armament was changed to the shorter 6m (19.7ft) subsonic Kh-55 (AS-15 Kent) cruise missile, meaning there is plenty of empty space within the weapon bays, even when loaded with 7.4m (24.3ft) Kh-101 missiles. Raduga’s design bureau is also developing a heavy anti-shipping missile, designated Kh-32M, for the Tu-22M3 Backfire, which reportedly has a range of 486 nautical miles (900km), thanks to a new engine control system and an optimised high-altitude flight profile that is twice the range of its Kh-22 predecessor.
A Kh-32M weighs around 6,000kg (13,227lb) and flies at Mach 4+ when diving in its terminal phase. The Kh-32 entered low-rate production around 2005, while the upgraded Kh-32M has been in testing since 2012.
Two other new missiles under development for all types of Russian long-range bombers are the Kh-SD and Giper-Zvukovaya Upravlaemaya Raketa (GZUR). Both are about 6m (19.7ft) long to fit in the weapon bays of the Tu-22M3 and Tu-95MS. Both missiles have a range of 810 nautical miles (1,500km). Each type uses a different approach to survive in a heavy air defence environment.
Raduga’s medium-range Kh-SD (Sredney Dalnosti) is a subsonic cruise missile featuring a low-observable airframe, similar to the American AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (JASSM), fitted with the guidance system of the strategic Kh-101 missile. A Tu-22M3M Backfire bomber has capacity to carry six missiles on an internal rotary launcher and two on external pylons. The Tu-95MSM Bear H strategic bomber is capable of carrying up to 14 missiles, including six internally and the Tu-160M/ Tu-160M2 can carry up to 12 on two internal rotary launchers.
Jointly developed by Raduga and the Tactical Missiles Corporation, the GZUR hypersonic guided missile is rated at Mach 6, with the ability to hit various surface targets with a probable main mission of anti-ship. Purchases of both Kh-SD and GZUR missiles are planned under Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027. AI