The passing of these two key milestones was announced by the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) – a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned Rostec State Corporation – on December 30, 2022. The first regards the delivery of two regular Tu-160Ms to the Russian Ministry of Defence (MOD) for flight testing, while the second confirmed that the latest new-build Tu-160M prototype had completed its factory test programme and another test flight. During which, the flight test crew validated the stability and controllability of the aircraft while in flight, in addition to evaluating the performance of the Tu-160M prototype’s systems, engines and on-board radio-electronic equipment.
Of the two new Tu-160Ms delivered to the Russian MOD, the first is the second new-build example to be developed and produced as part of the state-sponsored Tu-160M reproduction programme, while the other is the fourth operational Blackjack to be upgraded to Tu-160M-standard through a deep modernisation project. These aircraft will now undergo a rigorous flight test campaign – under which their systems, engines and on-board radio-electronic equipment will be validated – before they are formally handed over to the Russian Aerospace Forces (RuASF).
The decision to reopen the type’s production line to build new Tu-160Ms for the RuASF (which was initially shut down in 1992) – and upgrade existing aircraft to Tu-160M-standard was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2015. That same month, the Russian state-owned news agency, TASS, reported that the nation would acquire 50 new-build Tu-160s in total. The first new-build Tu-160M completed its maiden flight in January 2018 and began its flight test campaign that same month. Meanwhile, the first modernised Tu-160M completed its maiden flight on February 2, 2020.
Commenting on the Tu-160M upgrade, Sergey Chemezov – General Director of the Rostec State Corporation – said: “The Tu-160 is the most important part of the Russian nuclear triad, so the modernisation of combat vehicles and the resumption of production of these strategic bombers is our priority task. The upgraded missile carriers are superior in performance to their predecessors; they have received new avionics; NK-32-02 engines and other systems. In the coming years, the production of these machines will increase.”