Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Russia’s ‘White Swan’ Tu-160M Supersonic Bomber Getting ‘Ready For Action’ Amid Renewed Tensions With NATO

The Russian military will add a new strategic bomber – Tupolev Tu-160M with supersonic speed to its fleet soon. The Tu-160 will undergo trials before the end of 2021. The move is part of the country’s military modernization efforts.

It is believed that a completely new Tupolev Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber nicknamed the ‘White Swan’ will make its debut run on the runway of the Kazan Aviation Enterprise in December, TASS reported.

The aircraft is already built and is being fueled in a hangar. The Tu-160M will take to the runway before the end of the year. “There are no plans for a flight,” TASS quoted an insider from Russia’s military-industrial complex as saying. The date has not yet been finalized yet and depends on the management that will attend the event.

File:Tupolev TU-160M (47735436652).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Tu-160M (via Wikipedia Commons)

However, it couldn’t possibly be longer than a month. This aircraft is set to hold the distinction of the world’s heaviest military aircraft once the tests are complete.

In July this year, United Aircraft Corporation CEO Yuri Slyusar announced that Tupolev Aircraft Company was working on manufacturing a brand-new Tu-160M bomber “from the ground up”. He also stated that the Tupolev Aircraft Company was nearing completion of work on a second plane, which would be rebuilt from an obsolete Tu-160 bomber.

TU-160M
TU-160M

The Tu-160M is an upgraded version of the Tu-160 which is which was developed in the 1970s and is still the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic combat aircraft ever built.

Russia’s fleet of missile-carrying Tu-160s has been continually upgraded; the most recent test took place just before the New Year in 2020. On December 30, a second experimental sample of the “fundamentally enhanced” Tu-160s began ground tests at the Gorbunov aircraft plant’s flight test facility in Kazan, according to National Interest.

Advanced Strategic Bomber  Tu-160 ‘White Swan’

The Tu-160, known as Blackjack by NATO, is a supersonic variable-sweep wing strategic missile-carrying bomber developed by the Soviet Union and later, adopted by Russia. This aircraft, along with the Tu-95MS bombers, is the backbone of the Russian Air Force’s long-range aviation.

The Tu-160M is designed to use nuclear and conventional bombs to hit enemy objectives in remote places. This ability will allow Russia to hit targets deep inside enemy territory and cause widespread destruction.

The brightly white reflective coating that covers the whole airframe gave the plane the moniker “White Swan”. Although it gives the plane a sleek and elegant appearance, the coating was created to protect the crew in the event that the nuclear payload was launched.

During a nuclear explosion, the coating might theoretically reflect some of the thermal energy (light). Whether or not that would be useful in practice has fortunately not been tested.

Russia’s top brass decided in 2015 to restart construction of an updated version of the Tu-160 bomber, according to reports. A highly modified Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber with new NK-32-02 engines flew for the first time from the Kazan Aviation Enterprise’s airfield in early November 2020.

The Kuznetsov NK-32 engine, which was originally installed in the Tu-160, is commonly regarded as the world’s most powerful combat aircraft engine, producing over 55,000 pounds of thrust at full afterburner.

The Russian strategic bomber will be a significant addition to the fleet given the security threat it faces in the region. As NATO forces keep expanding in the Eastern Europe region with alleged detours of American bombers, unveiling a supersonic bomber of its own will allow Russia to create strategic deterrence with its enemy in the region.

In December 2020, Russian Tupolev TU-95MS aircraft and Chinese PLAAF Xian H-6K bombers performed a coordinated patrol over Japanese and East China Sea waters. However, China has now built its own advanced subsonic strategic bomber called the H-20.

Russian Vs American Bombers

The Russian bomber aircraft resembles the US Air Force’s Rockwell B-1 Lancer from outside. Both have sweeping wings and can achieve supersonic speeds. But the B-1 Lancer is smaller and was designed to be a bomber in the traditional sense, whilst the Tu-160 was built to be a stand-off weapons platform.

The Tu-160M was listed among the world’s most significant military aircraft achievements by the US-based Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine in 2020.

Even as the United States Air Force has been upgrading its fleet of B-1, B-2 and its lethal B-52 bombers in recent years, the Russian Air Force decided to resume production of the upgraded Tu-160M a few years ago.

Now, the USAF is developing its “most advanced” B-21 Raider stealth bomber which makes the Russian Tu-160M even more significant.

The highly classified Northrop Grumman B-21, which is said to be a successor to the B2, is believed to be the most advanced and cost-effective long-range bomber in the world. The US Air Force currently has five B-21s in the final assembly. It is believed that the bomber would be capable of flying manned as well as unmanned missions.

b21raider - Twitter Search / Twitter
B-21 Raider (via Twitter)

This new-age aircraft which is set to replace the older but lethal American bombers could be transferred to Australia under the AUKUS arrangement and permanently change the face of the Indo-Pacific. This may also prompt Russia to deploy its own Tu-160M in the region to assist its closest partner, China.

All of these are mere speculations and only time will tell how the two bombers of the Cold War adversaries compete with each other.

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