The Russian Air Forces are preparing to welcome a fleet of modernized Tu-160 strategic bombers later this year, with significant upgrades incorporated into two of the four aircraft. During his recent visit to the Kazan Aviation Plant, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was briefed on the progress of the project. Currently, two Tu-160 bombers are in the final stages of production for deployment in the Russian Armed Forces. The Tu-160, a supersonic strategic missile-carrying bomber with variable sweep wings, was originally developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the 1970s and 1980s. Serving as a key component of Russia’s nuclear triad, these aircraft are designed to neutralize high-value targets deep within enemy territory using both nuclear and conventional weapons. The Tu-160 can carry up to 12 cruise missiles, all housed internally within its fuselage. Serial production of the Tu-160 was halted in the 1990s.
However, Russia is now focused on revitalizing the production of these “strategists” in an enhanced version known as the Tu-160M. Visually similar to the original Tu-160, the Tu-160M boasts significant advancements in combat capabilities. The aircraft has expanded weapon options and is equipped with new engines, specifically the second series NK-32 engines, which extend its flight range by 1,000 kilometers. On January 25, 2018, a contract was signed for the delivery of the first batch of 10 Tu-160M aircraft, valued at 15 billion rubles each. The Russian defense ministry has plans to acquire a total of 50 of these upgraded aircraft, while also modernizing the existing fleet of 16 Tu-160 bombers to the Tu-160M standard.The first experimental Tu-160M, named “Igor Sikorsky,” was created by retrofitting an existing aircraft and conducted its maiden flight on February 2, 2020. Subsequently, on January 12, 2022, the first Tu-160M built from scratch successfully took off, marking a significant milestone in the production of these advanced strategic bombers.