The Tu-160 supersonic strategic bomber was manufactured by the Tupolev aircraft research and engineering complex joint stock company in Moscow and the Kazan based Gorbunov Aircraft Production Association in Tatarstan from 1980 to 1992. Production has since been restarted and a Tu-160 was delivered to the Russian Air Force in May 2000. 16 aircraft are now in service in Russia.
One unarmed aircraft crashed in September 2003, the first crash since the aircraft entered service. Two aircraft are under construction and first was delivered to the Russian Air Force in April 2008. The Ukraine destroyed the last of its fleet in February 2001.
The purpose of the aircraft is the delivery of nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation. The aircraft has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes.
"The Tu-160 Blackjack can carry nuclear and conventional weapons including long-range nuclear missiles."
The performance of the Russian Tu-160 is often compared to the US B-1B. The aircraft has an operational range of 14,000km and a service ceiling of 16,000m. The maximum flight speed is 2,000km/h at high altitude and 1,030km/h at low altitude.
Kazan Aircraft Production Organisation (KAPO) has been given a contract to upgrade the Russian Air Force's 15 Tu-160 bombers. The Tupolev upgrade package will include new targeting systems, upgraded cruise missiles and electronic warfare suite. The first upgraded aircraft was delivered in July 2006.
In September 2008, two Tu-160 bombers made the first transatlantic flight for the type, from Murmansk to Venezuela, on what was described as a training mission.
The bomber's airframe has a distinctive appearance, with the wing and fuselage gradually integrated into a single-piece configuration. The airframe structure is based on a titanium beam, all-welded torsion box. Throughout the entire airframe, all the main airframe members are secured to the titanium beam.
The variable geometry outer tapered wings sweep back from 20° to 65° in order to provide high-performance flight characteristics at both supersonic and subsonic speeds. The tail surfaces, both horizontal and vertical, are one piece and all-moving.
The Tu-160 uses fly-by-wire controls. The aircraft is equipped with three-strut landing gear, a tail wheel and a brake parachute. For take-off, the aircraft requires a concrete runway of 3,050m.
The crew of the Tu-160 comprises a pilot and co-pilot, a navigator, and an operator. The four crew are equipped with zero / zero ejection seats, which provide the crew with the option of ejecting safely throughout the entire range of altitudes and air speeds, including when the aircraft is parked.
In the cockpit and cabins, all the data is presented on conventional electro-mechanical indicators and monitors, and not head-up displays or cathode ray tube displays. The Tu-160 has a control stick for flight control as used in a fighter aircraft – rather than control wheels or yokes, which are usually used in large transporter or bomber aircraft.
The Tu-160 can carry nuclear and conventional weapons including long-range nuclear missiles. The missiles are accommodated on multi-station launchers in each of the two weapons bays.
The Tu-160 is capable of carrying the strategic cruise missile Kh-55MS, which is known in the West by the Nato designation and codename AS-15 Kent. Up to 12 Kh-55MS missiles can be carried, six in each bay. The Kh-55MS is propelled by a turbofan engine. The maximum range is 3,000km, and it is armed with a 200kt nuclear warhead.
"The Tu-160 can carry the strategic cruise missile
The weapons bays are also fitted with launchers for the Kh-15P, which has the Nato designation and codename AS-16 Kickback. The Kh-15P Kickback has solid rocket fuel propulsion, which gives a range up to 200km. The Kickback can be fitted with a conventional 250kg warhead or a nuclear warhead. The aircraft is also capable of carrying a range of aerial bombs with a total weight up to 40t.
The aircraft is highly computerised, and the avionics systems include an integrated aiming, navigation and flight control system, with a navigation and attack radar, an electronic countermeasures system, and automatic controls.
The aircraft propulsion system consists of four NK-32 augmented turbofan engines, which each provide a maximum thrust of 25,000kg. The engines are installed in two pods under the shoulders of the wing. The air intake incorporates an adjustable vertical wedge.
The bomber has an in-flight refuelling system. In the inoperative position, the refuelling probe is retracted into the nose of the fuselage in front of the pilot's cabin. The aircraft fuel capacity is 160,000kg.