Chances are real, but there are only few: whether the strategic bomber TU-160M2 will catch the air
Some hopes for a successful restoration of the production of the legendary aircraft remain, however, it is not entirely clear whether the Russian army needs it.
As you know, in Russia the creation of the Advanced Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation (PAK DA) is in full swing. It is assumed that already in 2025 a prototype of a new generation long-range bomber should take off. It will be made according to the “flying wing” scheme with widespread use of stealth technologies, and will receive subsonic flight speed, modern avionics and weapons. The range of the machine, presumably, will be the same 12-13 thousand kilometers as modern strategic bombers, or will surpass this line.
This machine will eventually have to replace the current basis of strategic bomber aircraft, namely the Tu-95MS and Tu-160. And it looks quite logical, you must admit - otherwise why bother to create a new generation car?
The program for resuming production and modernization of the Tu-160 White Swan strategic supersonic strategic bomber, initiated by the Minister of Defense Shoigu in 2015, does not look very logical in this regard. Then, I recall, the Ministry of Defense planned to buy 50 new modified Tu-160M bombers, and in about 2023 a much more advanced version of the Tu-160M2 was supposed to fly into the air. Probably, over time, either the purchase of an updated version or the modernization of the existing fleet of Tu-160 and Tu-160M bombers to the level of M2 was supposed.
However, somehow it turned out that the plans for the rapid revival of the production of Tu-160 just as quickly crashed into reality. The problems that aircraft manufacturers had to deal with led to the fact that only 3 of the four unfinished cars left over from the Soviet era were raised with difficulty. In 2018, one of them was even shown personally to Putin, designating it as the Tu-160M, that is, as an already modernized car. They say that the president’s phrase addressed to our military and aircraft manufacturers was the prologue to this show: “When will you raise it? You promise me three years already. ” Again, according to unconfirmed, but credible reports, of the new on the plane there was only paint.
Of course, some officials involved in this modernization program are unlikely to agree with this. Moreover, information from some of them went to the media that the president was allegedly shown a prototype of a deeply modernized Tu-160M2 bomber, which television channels, newspapers, magazines and Internet portals were pleased to tell to a gullible audience. In fact, again, according to unverified insider information from people close to KAPO them. S. P. Gorbunov, in order to raise the plane into the air, I had to “undress” several combat vehicles for a while - the components and assemblies were sorely lacking.
Of course, you can believe or disbelieve all of this, but the fact is clear: for some reason we are developing the PAK DA, and at the same time we are trying to launch the production of the Tu-160 in at least some of its modifications. Despite the fact that the revival of production can be very expensive, because, if you call a spade a spade, almost all critical technologies are lost. In particular, since 1993 there has been no production of NK-32 engines, although they are still able to repair them in Samara. There is a number of industries related to wing mechanization, titanium processing, from which the center section is made, etc. No, all this can be revived, but the question is who and for what money will do it, nevertheless it is very acute.
Probably, in order to better understand the problem, we will have to say a little about what the Tu-160 supersonic bomber is, as well as how and when it was created. In particular, this should clarify the question a bit whether we really need this machine.
The history of this aircraft can be traced back to 1967, when the Council of Ministers of the USSR adopted a resolution on the beginning of the development of a multi-mode intercontinental strategic bomber. It was then that the basic requirements for it were formed, including range, speed (cruising and maximum), flight altitude and payload.
At first, two design bureaus worked on the project - Sukhoi and Myasishchev. He was transferred to the Tupolev Design Bureau only in 1972, taking into account the experience that the Tupolevs gained while working on the Tu-22M bomber and the Tu-144 civilian aircraft. The sketch version of the bomber was approved in 1977, and it came to mass production only seven years later, in 1984.
Until 1992, when Boris Yeltsin decided to suspend the production of Tu-160, a total of 35 aircraft were built. Most of them, 19 pieces, after the collapse of the USSR remained in Ukraine. The last production vehicles were transferred to the Russian Air Force in 1994. Serial production of the NK-32 engine for the Tu-160 was discontinued in 1993.
Contrary to some myths, this bomber with only big reservations can be called the fastest in the world. Yes, afterburner engines allow him to reach a speed of 2M, and this is significantly higher than the speed of most other strategic bombers. But such a regime leads to a huge overspending of fuel. Therefore, afterburner is used only for a short time, for the fastest possible passage through areas controlled by enemy fighter aircraft. As for large segments of the distance, the Tu-160 here is slightly inferior even to the American subsonic B-52. Therefore, talk about the rapid exit of this bomber to the borders of missile launch should still be taken with some irony. But to ensure the survivability of the aircraft and, as a consequence, the ability to fulfill its task, supersonic is a useful thing.
But if we talk about the advantage of supersonic over high stealth, the question immediately becomes debatable. Presumably, PAK DA will be able to no less (or even more) effectively overcome the difficult sections of the route on which it is possible to meet with enemy fighters. Just because it will be much more difficult to notice. And the question of whether it is worth dividing the largest budget into two programs that are potentially comparable by the deadlines for their implementation remains open ...
Here you can say a lot about the fact that the Tu-160 was tested by time and wars, but in fact, not everything is so rosy: the only case of their combat use was the events in Syria, when the Tu-160 fired several X-101 missiles at the militants. Of course, this was done from a great distance, without even entering the airspace of other countries, so as not to expose the aircraft to even minimal risk, and strictly speaking, these launches are more likely to be test ones than combat ones. Moreover, cruise missiles were tested first of all, their reliability after several years of storage in the army, with the aircraft itself everything was more or less clear.
So, today we have something like this: the first really modernized Tu-160M took off on February 2 only. The plane with the name "Igor Sikorsky" took off from the airport KAPO them. Gorbunov spent 34 minutes in the air and did not rise above 1,500 meters. For the first test flight - it’s quite normal, there’s nothing to complain about.
True, this machine is made on the basis of one of the four fuselages that remained on the KAPO since Soviet times. The level of modernization is also a big question: according to reports, the machine has new navigation equipment, a new engine management system and a new weapons management system. And this does not even attract a new letter in the name: such upgrades are usually carried out regularly, by replacing one equipment with another.
Not everything is clear with engines yet. It is assumed that the Tu-160M2 should be supplied with modified NK-32-02 engines, which are more economical and have a longer resource. The problem is that the mass production of these engines is not established, and how soon this will happen is not yet clear.
True, there is encouraging information. The fact is that the military's interest in these engines is quite high: it is assumed that the power plant for the PAK DA will also be made on the basis of a modified NK-32. On its basis, it is also planned to make an engine for the An-124 Ruslan, whose production they want to resume at the Ulyanovsk plant. In addition, NK-32-02 can be put on a Tu-22M3 bomber. As a result, a rather wide field of activity for Samara engine builders appears, which inspires some optimism.
It also became known that at KAPO them. Gorbunov launched furnaces for firing titanium, that is, there is hope for the restoration of competencies lost over the past 25 years. In addition, in recent years, large-scale modernization has been carried out there, affecting at least 40% of all production capacities.
So, some hopes for a successful restoration of Tu-160 production still remain. It remains only to answer the question “why?”, And it will be possible to finish the article on an optimistic note.
In fact, there are two possible answers to this difficult question. The first answer, in fact, is not very optimistic, but still very close to reality.
Alas, the chances are pretty high that the work on the PAK DA project will take a long time, and it will not take off either in 2025, or five years later. Both our budgetary difficulties and the history of the Tu-160M2 speak in favor of this version. The very desire of our military to increase the quantity and quality of not the youngest aircraft can say that there will be nothing to replace them in the near future. And then this desire is justified.
The second answer is slightly more optimistic. The fact is that the Tu-160M2 can be adapted to carry the “Dagger” hypersonic aeroballistic missile. In this case, the Russian aerospace forces will receive a very powerful "surgical tool" with a large radius of action: their own radius of 6-7 thousand km, plus a 2000 radius of action of the rocket. Other carriers, namely, Su-34 and Tu-22M3, can’t provide anything like this with all desire.
And since the range of the “Dagger” aeroballistic missile directly depends on the altitude and speed of its carrier, the options with its placement on the Tu-95MS or PAK YES do not look very profitable.
True, in this case we must be sure that everything is fine with the “Dagger”, that all problems with the guidance and accuracy of the missile are solved, it can work both on stationary and on mobile targets like surface ships. If so, this can only be rejoiced ...
But nevertheless, in this option a bit too much “if”...