Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2020-08-06

The Unrivaled Tu-160 Strategic Missile Carrier

Following its maiden flight on 2nd February, the first fully modernised Tu-160M missile carrier bomber is due to be taken up by Russia’s Armed Forces in 2021. During the test flight, an altitude of 1500 metres in a duration of 34 minutes was achieved. In its final incarnation, the aircraft will be equipped with the latest on-board defence system, a modern reliable communications system featuring enhanced anti-jamming system and unique weapons. 
 
This first prototype of the strategic bomber is based on the combatant Tu-160 for which testing took place at the airfield of Kazan Aviation Plant, named after the S.P. Gorbunov–Tupolev PJSC affiliate. The modernisation of the aircraft will expand its combat capabilities significantly when using standard and nuclear weapons, while the NK-32 engines installed on the second series of the strategic bomber will greatly increase flight range and duration.
 
The Missile Carrier  
The Tu-160 missile carrier bomber (NATO codification: Blackjack) is designed for the destruction of critical installations in remote areas and in the deep rear of continental theatres. As a variable-sweep wing aircraft, it is the largest supersonic aircraft in the history of military aviation as well as the heaviest combat aircraft, having the highest gross take-off weight among bombers. 
 
The white reflective coating applied to the bomber has earned the powerful and graceful Tu-160 the name “White Swan”, but the coat protects the crew when the plane carries nuclear warheads whose explosion creates a bright fireball which emits thermal energy. Although the newly constructed planes and those adapted from the Russian Aerospace Force’s Tu-160 bombers won’t differ from each other, technically they have received different markings: Tu-160M for modernised combatant units and Tu-160M2 for those built from scratch.
 
Tu-160 Project Development 
The work on Tu-160 started in the early 1970s, while the first flight of the test airplane took place on 18th December 1981 and the first aircraft was delivered in April 1987. In total, 36 Tu-160 airplanes had been produced by the early 2000s.
 
Tupolev completed bench tests of modernised avionics for the Tu-160 bomber in March 2013. A Tu-160 aircraft with upgraded airborne radar and navigation equipment then made the first flight on 16th November 2014, entering service with the Russian Air Force in December 2014, while in 2015 a decision was made to resume manufacturing of the Tu-160 strategic bombers as the Tu-160M2 modernised version.   
 
Design Features
The Tu-160 airplane is constructed according to an integral low-winged aircraft design with variable sweep wings and a tricycle landing gear, along with an all-movable stabiliser and fin, plus wing high-lift devices that include slats, double-slotted flaps and spoilers and flaperons for roll control. Four engines are mounted in pairs in nacelles in the lower fuselage, while the TA-12 APU is used as a secondary power system.
 
Climbing at a rate of 70m per second, the maximum and cruise speed of the Tu-160 bomber are 2,220km per hour and 960km per hour, respectively, while the range of the aircraft is 12,300km with a combat radius of 7,300km and service ceiling of 16,000m. The Tu-160 has a flight endurance of 15 hours, weighing around 110,000kg with a maximum take-off weight of 275,000kg.
 
This aircraft contains two payload compartments arranged successively in tandem, with the main airframe materials including titanium, heat-treated aluminum alloys, steel alloys and composite materials. The Tu-160 is also equipped with a probe-and-drogue type flight refuelling system.  
 
The wing structure uses one-piece torsion boxes, constructed from one-piece panels and 20-metre-long channels, while the fuselage is assembled from large sheets, channels and die-pressed parts with the use of a special riveting process. The control surfaces and high-lift stabiliser, fin, flaperons and flaps have all made extensive use of composite and metal panels with honeycomb filler. 
 
Conventional or Nuclear Armament 
The Tu-160 can carry nuclear and conventional weapons, including long-range missiles fitted with a conventional 250kg warhead or a nuclear warhead, while the missiles are accommodated on multi-station launchers in each of the two weapons bays. It has an all-weather, day-night capability and is operable at all geographical latitudes. 
 
Capable of carrying a range of aerial bombs with a total weight up to 40t, the first stage of the upgrade will equip the Tu-160 fleet with the conventional armed Kh-101 and Kh-555 cruise missiles known in the West by the NATO designation, AS-15 Kent. The Tu-160 will carry up to 12 of the Kh-101, which uses an electro-optical terminal homing system, while the Kh-555 is a reworked Kh-55MS using the Kh-101 homing system and replacing the nuclear warhead with a conventional one. 
 
The Kh-55MS is propelled by a turbofan engine with a maximum range of 3,000km, armed with a 200kt nuclear warhead. The Tu-160 upgrade then adds the Kh-102 strategic missile, medium-range subsonic Kh-SD and the Kh-41 medium-range supersonic weapon. 
 
Weapons bays have also been fitted with launchers for the Kh-15P, which has the NATO designation “AS-16 Kickback”, featuring solid rocket fuel propulsion to provide a range up to 200km. The Kickback can be fitted with a conventional 250kg warhead or a nuclear warhead.  
 
Russia is also looking to include the hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles to increase the destruction radius significantly by flying undetected at a speed of Mach 5. In addition, a TASS source reported that from February the Tu-160 family aircraft will be armed with dagger hypersonic missiles, although it is yet undetermined whether or not they would arm Tu-160 combat aircraft or the modernised aircraft.
 
Tu-160 Avionics and Variants
The Tu-160 aircraft is highly computerised. Its 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, 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, with a pilot, co-pilot, a navigator and an operator making up the crew.
 
Zero ejection seats then provide the crew with the option of ejecting safely throughout the entire range of altitudes and airspeeds including when the aircraft is stationary. Instead of using control wheels or yokes, which are usually used in large transporter or bomber aircraft, the Tu-160 has a control stick for flight control similar to the one in a fighter aircraft.
 
Of the eight Tu-160 variants – the Tu-160S, Tu-160V, Tu-160 NK-74, Tu-160M, Tu-160P, Tu-160PP, Tu-160R and Tu-160SK – the Tu-160V is an upgraded version which uses liquid hydrogen as fuel, while the Tu-160 NK-74 is an advance version powered by NK-74 engines. The Tu-160M can accommodate two additional long-range, hypersonic Kh-90 missiles. The Tu-160P (also known as Tu-161) is a long-range escort or interceptor aircraft, while the Tu-160SK is an upgraded commercial version principally used to launch satellites within the Burlak system.
 
The Tu-160M2 Bomber
On 25th January 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defence officially announced the contract for the modernisation of 10 Tu-160 strategic bombers to the Tu-160M2 standard. While the aircraft is to be delivered between 2023-2027, the order is just the beginning of the modernisation and expansion of the Tu-160 bomber force, as the MOD plans to obtain 50 Tu-160M2s by 2035.
 
While some of these aircraft will have been modernised, either built in the Soviet era or completed in more recent decades using incomplete fuselages constructed already, the rest will be brand-new machines. The proposed expansion of the fleet means the Tu-160 will displace the Tu-95MS as the most numerous strategic bombers employed in Russian service.
 
The maximum takeoff weight of the Tu-160M2 will be 275,000kg, similar to that of Tu-160. With a maximum speed of over 2,000 km/h, the aircraft can carry up to 40,000kg of ordnance including nuclear bombs and strategic cruise missiles with a practical range exceeding 10,000 km with maximum ordnance. 
 
Despite the persistence of the airframe, the Tu-160M2 differs from its antecedent in its sophisticated avionics and weapons suites. The avionics change to 100 per cent, enabling it to increase the combat effectiveness of the aircraft by more than 2.5 times, so transforming the old look into a new airplane. 
 
Under the Tupolev 160 upgrade programme, KRET is to develop new airborne computers and other systems, monitoring tools, electronic warfare equipment, fuel gauging and weapons control systems. KRET will also deliver the newest platform-less inertial navigation system, enabling it to navigate the Tupolev 160 without satellite signals. 
 
Expected to be ready this year, the new navigation suite boosts the aircraft combat performance significantly when the enemy uses electronic warfare systems, or when the navigation satellites are off. The Tu-160M2 will be armed with long-range standoff cruise missiles including, among others, the Kh-101/Kh-102 (nuclear variant) air-launched cruise missile and the Kh-55 subsonic air-launched cruise missile.
 
The Tu-160 aircraft is considered to be a part of Russia’s nuclear triad. As a next-generation bomber, it holds 44 world records, including one as the largest military jet capable of reaching speeds in excess of Mach 2.  
 
Reference Text/Photo: 
 

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