Russia to modernise Blackjack, Backfire bombers


The Russian Air Force is modernising ten Tu-160 Blackjack and 30 Tu-22M strategic bombers, which will enter service by 2020. Russia is also building more Tu-160s.

“The Tu-160 in service with the Air Force are already undergoing modernization,” Air Force spokesman Colonel Vladimir Drik told RIA Novosti. “We are planning to receive more than 10 aircraft of this type.”

According to official data, Russia has at least 16 Tu-160s in service, but there are plans to increase their number to 30.

The modernized version, Tu-160M, features new weaponry, improved electronics and avionics, which double its combat effectivness.

The upgraded aircraft will remain in service until a fifth-generation strategic bomber is developed, the Air Force officials earlier said.

Russia will also modernize about 30 Tu-22M3 Backfire-C strategic bombers to a Tu-22M3M variant by 2020.

Kazan was awarded a contract to upgrade the Russian Air Force’s Tu-160 bombers with new targeting systems, upgraded cruise missiles and an electronic warfare suite. The first upgraded aircraft was delivered in July 2006.

The Blackjack is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft ever flown, and is also the largest variable-sweep (‘swing wing’) aircraft.

Brought into service in 1987 and since modernized, the Tu-160 is the world’s largest supersonic bomber, capable of carrying over 40 tons of conventional or nuclear munitions and with a range of up to 14 000 km (8 700 miles). With air-to-air refuelling the Tu-160 can reach virtually any point in the world.

In September 2008, two Tu-160 bombers made the first transatlantic flight for the type, from Murmansk to Venezuela, on a training mission, calculated to show Russia was not afraid to flex its military muscles right under the nose of the United States.

That mission capped a 12-month period when Russian bombers resumed the Soviet-era practice of flying long-range patrols over the Atlantic, the North Pole and even Alaska – often shadowed by NATO fighter jets wary of the visitors’ intentions.

In June 2010, two Russian Tu-160 bombers completed a record-breaking 23 hour patrol covering 18 000 km. The bombers flew by the borders of Russia over the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and finally landed at Engels base in the Volga region.

Russia has recently signed billion dollars worth of deals as part of its ambitious domestic weapons procurement programme that seeks to revitalise the Russian armed forces.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently reiterated the importance of overhauling the Russian military, especially in the wake of the five-day war with Georgia in August 2008. Medvedev has pledged 20 trillion rubles (US$720 billion) to buy domestic arms over the next decade.

Russia has steadily increased its spending on arms procurement, which in 2010 reached 490.4 billion rubles, according to Export Vooruzheniy magazine. That included 318.8 billion rubles on new weapons, 63.7 billion rubles on upgrades and repairs and 107.9 billion rubles on research and development works. Arms procurement is set to increase to 726 billion rubles in 2012 from 2011’s 574.6 billion rubles, and top 1 trillion rubles in 2013, Export Vooruzheniy says.

On August 31 last year the Russia’s defence ministry and the Russian Helicopters group signed a US$4 billion deal for 140 helicopters after long delays caused by price disputes. Russian Helicopters has earmarked US$200-250 million for research, mainly the development of such helicopters as Mi-38, Ka-62, Mi-34S1, and for upgrading the Mi-17.

Russia’s ambitious arms procurement programme stipulates the upgrading of 11% of military equipment every year. By 2020, 70% of the Russian armed forces’ equipment will be modern.

The Russian armed forces in 2010 received 27 ballistic missiles, 37 helicopters and 21 aircraft as well as 19 air defence systems including S-400s, Export Vooruzheniy magazine has reported.

Putin previously said that 4.7 trillion rubles (US$150 billion) would be allocated to the modernisation of the Russian Navy. Russia plans to build eight Borey class submarines by 2015 and equip them with Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Other new equipment for the Navy will be new conventional submarines, destroyers and corvettes.

Meanwhile, the Russian air force aims to procure more than 1 500 new aircraft by 2020, as well as increasing the quantity of guided weapons in its arsenal. “Overall, we are planning to acquire and modernise about 2 000 aircraft and helicopters by 2020…including more than 1 500 new aircraft and about 400 modernised,” air force deputy commander Lieutenant General Igor Sadofyev told reporters in late 2010.

Sadofyev said that the air force plans to induct Sukhoi Su-27SM, Su-30M2 and Su-35S fighters, Su-34 fighter-bombers and Yakovlev Yak-130 trainers as well as Ka-52 and Mi-28N attack helicopters, Mi-8 armed assault helicopters, Ka-226 and Ansat-U light multipurpose helicopters.
“The priority for the strategic aviation is the modernization of 80 percent of existing Tu-160, Tu-95MS, Tu-22M3 bombers and Il-78M aerial tankers…and the extension of their service life,” Sadofyev said.

He also said that the share of guided weapons in the air force’s arsenal would increase by 18 times and the number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) would increase by a factor of six so that UAVs constitute about 30% of the total by 2020.

A Russian defence ministry spokesman in November said that the Russian Air Force will take delivery of about 90 new or modernized fixed and rotary wing aircraft in 2012.

The Air Force will receive up to 10 Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers, about 10 Su-25SM Frogfoot attack fighters, and an unspecified number of Su-35S Flanker-E multirole fighters, Colonel Vladimir Drik said.

New acquisitions will also include over 20 attack helicopters, such as the Mi-28N Night Hunter and the Ka-52 Alligator, as well as “highly modernized” Mi-35 Hind helicopters. The Air Force will also receive about 30 Mi-8 transport and five Mi-26T heavy lift helicopters.

Other weapons Russia will acquire include S-500 air defence systems, BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers, anti-tank missiles, new multiple rocket launchers and ballistic missiles (including the Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone). Last year Putin said the production of ballistic missiles in Russia will double from 2013 and that missile manufacturers will receive 15 billion rubles (US$500 million) over the next three years to increase production. Russia will also receive a new tank in 2015.

Most of the equipment will be sourced locally, although a notable exception is the French Mistral class helicopter carriers Russia is buying in an effort to gain access to French technology. Two will be co-built with France while another two will be built in Russia.