Tupolev Tu-160 has got a new lease of life as Russia is working to modernize its existing fleet of Tu-160s with improved engines and avionics. However, experts have pointed out that the one prominent drawback is that it is not stealthy.
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“The production of a modernized Tu-160 strategic bomber will require close cooperation among several different plants and the organization of a whole production chain—something that has been a weak point in Russia,” elaborated the Jamestown Foundation, a research and analysis think tank on the update.
Although Tu-160 is the fastest, largest and the heaviest bomber ever built,
Caleb Larson of The National Interest explained that stealth is hard and expensive to achieve. “Russia’s only stealth aircraft, the Su-57 has had myriad teething problems and is unlikely to enter full serial production any time soon due to many issues — the low cost of oil, upon which the wobbly Russian defense budget depends, and engine issues that may be difficult to rectify any time soon,” he wrote.
Tu-160 is nicknamed “White Swan”(NATO reporting name “Blackjack”) as the white coating on the entire plane is for the protection of its crew. The thermal energy of the nuclear explosion which is reflected by the white color and, in theory, protects the crew.
The Russian origin bomber is capable of carrying the twelve strategic cruise missile Kh-55 MS which has a maximum range is 3,000km, and it is armed with a 200kt nuclear warhead. The plane can also carry Kh-15P, which has a range of up to 200km.
The Kickback can be fitted with a conventional 250kg warhead or a nuclear warhead. The aircraft is also capable of carrying a range of aerial bombs with a total weight upto 40t.
Larson compared the Russian bomber with the American Rockwell B-1 Lancer. He stated that the two similarities between both are the variable-sweep wings and that both are supersonic.
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“The B-1 Lancer is somewhat smaller and is a bomber in the classic sense. The Tu-160, on the other hand, is used more as a stand-off weapons platform, in which missiles are launched from the bomb bay doors while the “White Swan” would speed off at Mach 2+ to safety,” he stated.
He further added that it is the only Soviet-designed bomber that does not carry any defensive weapons, although its prodigious 88,000 pounds of payload capacity can carry a dizzying array of conventional and/or nuclear weapons.
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The aircraft is highly computerized and the avionics systems include an integrated aiming, navigation, and flight control system, with navigation and attack radar, an electronic countermeasures system, and automatic controls.
The Tu-160 uses fly-by-wire controls. The aircraft is equipped with three-strut landing gear, a tailwheel, and a brake parachute. For take-off, the aircraft requires a 3.5km runway of solid concrete. The crew of the Tu-160 comprises a pilot, co-pilot, a navigator, and an operator.
Given the new lease of life, the Russian bomber may not be stealthy but is definitely a lethal weapon in the hands of Russia.