Analysis of the Russian “Tu-160M” strategic missile bomber

Last month the first newly manufactured strategic missile carrier Tu-160M performed its maiden flight from the airfield of the Kazan Aviation Plant.

Recently, Russia’s “Tu-160M” new strategic missile bomber completed its maiden flight at the Kazan Aviation Plant Airport of the Tupolev branch. The test flight reached an altitude of 6,000 meters and lasted for 30 minutes. It mainly tested the stability and reliability of the “Tu-160M” in the air. The great importance Russia attaches to this test flight highlights the importance of the “Tu-160M” to the development of Russia’s aviation combat capabilities. So what are the advantages of “Tu-160M”? What is Russia’s intention to vigorously develop such strategic missile bombers?


The achievements of Russia in the Tu-160 series of bombers are inseparable from the research and development of the Soviet Union. As early as the 1960s, the Soviet Union launched a research project on new strategic bombers. Different from the “stealth penetration” route adopted by the US military at that time, the Soviet Union chose the “speed penetration” route to break through the enemy’s air defense system. After a period of painstaking research and design process, the “Tu-160” bomber finally came out. Because of its elegant appearance, white paint and excellent combat performance, “Tu-160” is also known as the “white swan” of the Russian Federation Air Force to conquer the sky. With the characteristics of high speed, large bomb load and long range, the rising star “Tu-160”, “Tu-95” and “Tu-22M3” are also known as the “troika” of Soviet strategic bombers. However, the good times did not last long. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the “Tu-160”, which was originally planned to be put 100 into production, was also forced to stop production in 1994.

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In 2015, Putin approved a plan to modernize and upgrade the Tu-160 to maintain Russia’s position in the field of strategic missile bombers due to increased instability in the world and deterrent sanctions facing Russia. He said that the new generation of transformed “Tu-160M” strategic missile bombers will become an important force in Russia’s strategic nuclear strike system. On the basis of “Tu-160”, “Tu-160M” has updated 80% of modern systems and equipment, and is equipped with more weapon loading, the combat capability has been greatly improved, and “White Swan” has been reborn from ashes.

The Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Manturov emphasized: “We have resumed the entire production line of the Tu-160 and have used modern engines, aircraft control systems, navigation systems, weapons control in the M modification. System, etc. It can be seen that the future “Tu-160M” strategic missile bomber will become the backbone, and will once again carry the banner of Russia’s strategic deterrence.

A weapon with great power

As an advanced version of “Tu-160”, “Tu-160M” has been greatly enhanced in terms of missile configuration and supersonic speed, excellent combat performance, and a new digital control system.

Russia's Strategic Bomber Trio Poses With Nearly All Its Weapons

 The “Tu-160M” strategic missile bomber is equipped with a new generation of cruise missiles including reverse-launched missiles. It is the world’s first aircraft with rear interception and self-defense capabilities. As a low-mobility bomber, the “Tu-160M” equipped with rear-view radar can respond in time to enemy aircraft located in the rear, greatly enhancing survivability. The improved “Tu-160M” bomber has a maximum bomb load of 45 tons, and can carry nuclear warhead missiles, “Zircon” and “Dagger” hypersonic missiles, PKE-500A air-to-ground missiles and other powerful weapons. It Improve Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrence and nuclear strike capabilities.

The “Tu-160M” is equipped with the second series of RK-32 engines, with a maximum flight speed of Mach 2.05, a flight distance of 13,000 kilometers, a combat radius of 7,300 kilometers, and an intercontinental cruise strike capability. One of the features of the “Tu-160M” is the variable geometry of the wings. The upgraded wings are made of high-strength titanium and aluminum alloys, which are hinged to the shell and can change shape in the range of 20-60 degrees. . The fixed part of the wing attached to the fuselage, forms a non-standard glider shape, which greatly increases the strength of the shell. The variable geometry of the “Tu-160M” wing allows it to have good take-off and landing performance, with a maximum speed of 2,200 km/h. Its high-speed penetration capability will become a weapon for Russia to dominate the sky.

Tupolev Tu-160M2
A view of the cockpit of a Tupolev Tu-160M2 heavy strategic bomber
The upgraded “Tu-160M” is equipped with a new weapon system and replaced radio-electronic equipment and aviation equipment. As part of the in-depth upgrade, the “Tu-160M” also received new manned navigation equipment, airborne communication systems, control systems, radar stations and electronic countermeasures systems, and its combat performance has been greatly improved.

The strategic significance of “Tu-160M”

The high-level debugging flight of the Russian “Tu-160M” is undoubtedly conveying a message to the outside world – Russia finally has the ability and money to independently produce strategic bombers. The Soviet Union’s industrial production capacity in its heyday was comparable to that of the United States. The previous “Figure 160” series and “Figure 95” series of the Russian Air Force were designed and produced in the Soviet Union.

However, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia no longer has independent research and manufacturing strategy missile bomber capability. Although Russia inherited most of the family business after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, due to the long-term sanctions and squeeze from the West, Russia’s aviation manufacturing industry has been slow down. In recent years, with the rapid development of Russia in all aspects and the rapid improvement of its military strength, Russia’s aviation manufacturing industry has developed rapidly, and finally has the ability to independently manufacture strategic missile bombers.

Russia will also take this to effectively supplement the size of the existing strategic missile bomber fleet and greatly enhance the strategic strike and deterrence capabilities of the Russian Air Force. In addition, the first flight of the “Tu-160M” also means that Russia has built a complete development-research-production system, which is a necessary condition for the study of the next-generation strategic missile bomber.

With the intensification of the situation in Ukraine and the outbreak in Kazakhstan, instability in the Russian border areas has increased. Russia’s test flight of the “Tu-160M” also showed its own position – never allow anything that damages national interests to happen. For the Russian military, its disadvantage in confronting NATO forces is obvious – the air-based strike force is weak. NATO’s existing strategic air force far exceeds Russia’s, with more than 200 strategic bomber groups in active duty and in reserve, including “B-1B Lancers” and “B-52H Stratofortress”. And US preparing new “B-21” bombers to continue to maintain its advantage in long-range strategic strike capabilities.

The “Tu-95M” currently in service by the Russian Air Force is an extremely backward bomber developed in the last century, which does not have any deterrent effect. Although the world’s largest strategic bomber “Tu-160” has been deployed, its number is relatively small, and the size of the fleet is obviously unable to compete with NATO’s huge bomber fleet. In terms of quantity and quality of strategic missile bombers, the Russian Air Force is inferior to the NATO Air Force. And now the successful test flight of “Tu-160M” will change this pattern. On the one hand, the excellent combat performance of the “Tu-160M” can make it stand out against any NATO model. On the other hand, Russia now has the ability to independently produce strategic bombers, and a large number of strategic bombers will be deployed in the future, which will greatly enhance Russia’s strategic strike and deterrence capabilities. The “Tu-160M” strategic bomber will become a major weapon of the Russian Air Force’s strategic deterrence, escorting Russia’s national defense security and economic development.

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