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The Tu-160M2 prototype underwent only small-scale upgrade while its airframe and the engines have remained the same

Tupolev Tu-160M2 strategic bomber flight trials are underway.

As reported by TASS Russia’s upgraded Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO reporting name: Blackjack) strategic bomber with Factory No. 0804 built at the Kazan Aircraft Enterprise has made its maiden flight last week.

“The 804th plane made using Soviet aircraft breakthroughs took to the skies for the first time last week and has been performing evaluation flights since then. The missile-carrying aircraft will be delivered to the Aerospace Force until the end of this year,” an anonymous source close to Russian Military told TASS.

As we have previously explained the original schedule called for the first flight in February.

As for reports that the new aircraft is a modernized variant, the anonymous said the bomber only underwent a small-scale upgrade.

“The plane underwent only small-scale upgrade while its airframe and the engines have remained the same. Fully digitalized documentation on the new missile-carrying aircraft will be issued no sooner than the middle of this year and the work on building the Tu-160M is impossible without it,” the source noted.

The Tupolev Tu-160 Beliy Lebed is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing, strategic bomber. The Blackjack is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber currently in use, and is the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown.

The aircraft entered operational service in 1987, and as of 2016 the Russian Air and Space Force (RuASF) fields 16 Tu-160s. The Blackjack fleet has been undergoing upgrades to electronics systems since the early 2000s. The first upgraded Tu-160M has been delivered in December 2014.

The Tu-160M2 is essentially a prototype of a next generation variant of the venerable Blackjack and represents a huge effort undertaken by Russia to modernize its bomber fleet. In fact as Michael Kofman, a research scientist specializing in Russian military affairs at the Center for Naval Analyses told The National Interest, “a new line of Tu-160s […] involves relearning the original manufacturing process for the bomber and establishing a production line for something Russia’s defense industry had not made in quite some time.”

The new bomber will feature new mission systems and will be powered by upgraded versions of the existing Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan. The upgraded engines are more fuel-efficient and more reliable than the original ones.

Russian plans to buy about fifty Tu-160M2.

Photo credit: United Aircraft Corporation

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