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"Russian strategic bombers, Tu-160s, have landed in Venezuela. Yes, yes. So that way it hurts Yankees," according to President Hugo Chavez. An outspoken critic of the United States, this is how Chavez sees Venezuela's latest cooperation with Russia. President of Venezuela Chavez himself came to the Libertador Air Base to greet Russian crews. The exercises, the first major maneuvers in the U.S. front yard since the Cold War, are a show of strength by Russia. The planes arrived on September 10 days after Russia and Venezuela announced they would conduct joint naval exercises in the Caribbean later this year.

The decision on the flight was made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in response to an invitation from the Venezuelan government. The bombers will carry out patrols over neutral waters in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Russia says Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might travel on one of the planes under certain conditions. According to Chavez, the arrival of the planes is not related to recent events in South Ossetia in any way. On August 7, 2007 Russia resumed strategic aviation flights, and some regard this as a return to the "Soviet empire", but the world simply becomes multi-polar, Chavez said. The Tu-160 strategic bombers landed at Venezuela's Libertador airfield on September 10. Their return was scheduled for September 15. Maj.-Gen. Pavel Androsov, commander of the Air Force's strategic aviation, said the planes' return "could take place later than September 15. It all depends on Venezuela's hospitality."

Cuba has sufficient infrastructure to accommodate strategic bombers, Commander of the Long-Range Aviation of Russia's Air Forces Major General Pavel Androsov told a news conference 11 September 2008. He noted that Russian air forces were not yet planning to land on Cuba, although they had studied its capacity. When asked whether they were going to fly to other countries except Venezuela, Androsov retorted that he could see no reasons why they should not. "The US air forces have already visited a lot of countries. We are not looking for enemies, rather, we are looking for friends, and friendship should be active," he stated.

First flown in 1982, the Tupolev Tu-160 'Blackjack' is a counterpart to the American B-1B. Both share a similar configuration, but the Soviet designed bomber is about 30 percent larger and considerably faster. Its initial combat radius of 7300 km is estimated on a mission profile of subsonic high altitude cruise, transonic penetration at low altitude. The Blackjack has a conventional or nuclear free-fall bombing capability, but it has more often been associated with the AS-15 'Kent' cruise missile. The Blackjack is an extremely expensive aircraft, so with the current economic crisis affecting the former Soviet Union, together with the relaxation in international tension, it is unlikely that more than the 25 bombers currently in service will be completed.


The Tu-160 is a multi-mission strategic bomber designed for operations ranging from subsonic speeds and low altitudes to speeds over Mach 1 at high altitudes. The two weapons bays can accommodate different mission-specific loads, including strategic cruise missiles, short-range guided missiles, nuclear and conventional bombs, and mines. Its basic armament of short-range guided missiles and strategic cruise missiles enables it to deliver nuclear strikes to targets with preassigned coordinates. In the future, after the aircraft is equipped with high-precision conventional weapons it may also be used against mobile or tactical targets.

The Tu-160 is characterized by low-mounted, swept-back, and tapered, variable geometry wings with large fixed-center section. The variable geometry wings (from 20 degrees up to 65 degrees) allows for both flight at supersonic and subsonic speeds. Four NK-32 TRDDF [turbojet bypass engines with afterburners] of 25,000 kilograms-force power the T-160. The four turbofans, developed by OKB Kuznetsov in 1977, are mounted in pairs under the fixed-center section with square intakes and exhausts extending behind the wings' trailing edges. The fuselage's slim structure is marked by a long, pointed, slightly upturned nose section and a stepped canopy. Tail flats are swept-back, tapered, and mid-mounted on the fin. The tail fin is back-tapered with a square tip and a fairing in the leading edge. The tail cone is located past the tail section. During the design of the aircraft, special attention was paid to reducing its signature. Measures were applied to reduce the signature of the engines to infra-red and radar detectors. Tests of these survivability measures were first tested on a TU-95 aircraft in 1980.

As the most powerful combat aircraft of the Soviet Air Forces, the T-160 flies at 2,000 km/hr and can exceed the 2,000 mark with a mission-specific load. The T-160 can climb 60-70 meters per second and reach heights of up 15,000 meters. The bomber can be refueled during flight by IL-78 and ZMS-2 tanker aircraft. The air refueling system consists of a probe and drogue airborne refueling system.

The TU-160 can carry up to 12 Kh-55 long range missiles and Kh-15 short range missiles. The weapons bays can accommodate different loads: carries various bombs: From fee falling nuclear and regular up to 1500 kg bombs. The bomber is not equipped with artillery armament.

The Tu-160 is equipped with a combined navigation-and-weapon aiming system, RID; [radar] for detecting targets on the ground and sea at long distances, an optical-electronic bombsight, an automatic terrain-following system, and active and passive radio-electronic warfare systems, as well as a probe-and-drogue airborne refueling system. It is equipped with K-36DM ejection seats. The cockpit instruments are the traditional electromechanical variety. The aircraft is controlled with the aid of a central control column. The engine control throttles are located between the pilots' seats. There is a rest area, a toilet, and a cupboard for warming up food.

Studies have also been conducted on using the aircraft as a launch platform for the "Burlak" space launch vehicle, which is designed to carry payloads with a mass of 300 to 500 kg in polar orbits at an altitude of 500 to 700 km. Under this concept the launch vehicle, which has a solid-fuel engine and a delta wing, would be suspended under the airplane's fuselage.


In the middle of 1950s investigations were launched on layout, design and size definition of supersonic strategic missile-carrier bomber.

The Tu-160 was the outcome of a multi-mission bomber competition, which included a Tupolev proposal for an aircraft design using elements of the Tu-144, the Myasishchev M- 18, and the Sukhoi a design based on the T-4 aircraft.

In 1975 a full-scale development of strategic supersonic TU-160 a/c was started. Basing on TsAGI proposals and recommendations multi-mode aircraft aerodynamic configuration was developed which was substantially a combination of capabilities of TU-95 a/c with large aspect ratio swept wing, with variable-geometry outer wing which was tried out on TU-22M long-range bomber combined with central integrated section of the aircraft that was developed on TU-144 SST.

The project of Myasishchev was considered to be the most successful, although the Tupolev organization was regarded as having the greatest potential for completing this complex project. Tupolev was assigned to develop an aircraft using elements of the Myasishchev M-18 bomber design.

Valentine N. Blizniuk was appointed as Chief Designer, and Lev Bazenkov as his assistant General management of TU-160 a/c building was performed by Alexey Tupolev, who replaced Andrey Tupolev as General Designer Providing high loading ratio was the most critical when building the aircraft. The problem was solved due to effective structure of the aircraft, wide use of improved structural materials, large-size semifinished items and advanced technological processes.

Program of the works on the aircraft was coordinated directly by Peter Dementiev- Minister of Aircraft industry of the USSR. In essence when building TU-160 a revolution was made in metallurgy, machine-tool industry and in technology of engineering industry. Simultaneously high-efficient multi-mode NK-32 engines were developed in Kuznetsov Design Bureau. It was resulted in compliance with Air Force requirements to a new supersonic strategic aircraft.

Inestimable contribution to TU-160 a/c creation was made by leading specialists of our Design Bureau: V.Sulimenkov, G.Cheriomukhin, D.Gapeev, Y.Livshhhits, N.Kozlov, V.Razumikhin, V.Vishnevskiy, R.Yengulatov, A.Yakushev, V.Korneev, E.Moiseev, A.Babochkin, V.Voul, A. Smirnov, V. Vorkin, J.Gorbanenko and many other designers and workers. Support of long-range aviation from V.Reshetnikov who promoted greatly advanced ideas and technological approaches. TsAGI management and leading specialists supported permanently the aircraft development.

In 1981 OKB Tupolev built two prototypes of the bomber and one mock-up that was used for static tests. The first flight test of the "70" aircraft took place on 18/19 December 1981 by crew of Leading test-pilot Boris Veremey. During flight tests, one of the two original planes was lost. Shortly after tests began, series production started. In 1984, the factory in Kazan started producing the bomber which received the designation TU-160.

Initial plans provided for the construction of 100 airplanes but when their production was stopped in 1992, only 36 bombers had been built. From 33 aircraft that were manufactured in experimental and serial production only 20 are left in Russia, furthermore manufacturing of three more serial aircraft is not completed yet.

Trial operations in the Air Forces began in 1987 with serial production being conducted at the Kazan Aviation Association. Flight tests confirmed required characteristics and in 1987 the aircraft started entering for operation. The aircraft was flight tested under restricted joint program which involved B.Veremey, S.Agapov, V.Pavlov, V.Matveev, V.Dralin, M. Kozel, A.Eremenko, M.Pozdniakov, S.Popov, V.neretin etc. Air Force and Long-range aviation supported the project an every phase of building and mastering the aircraft.

In May 1987, deployment of the first bombers began. Until the end of 1991, 19 TU-160 bombers served in the 184th regiment in Ukraine and became Ukrainian property after the dissolution of the USSR. In 1992 the 121th air regiment based at the aerodrome B.G. Engels was equippd with TU-160 bombers. Subsequently the bombers were tested to carry long range missiles.

Recent Developments

A re-arming plan for the Tu-160 under which tthe modernised Tu-160 was to carry 12 Kh-101s or Kh-SDs was halted in 1998. At that time the Russian Air Force had only six bombers of this type and talks on buying a further 19 from Ukraine fell through. In April 1998 it was decided that Ukraine's Tu-160s would be scrapped. There was therefore no sense in launching an upgrade programme and the complete withdrawal of the Tu-160 from service was being considered.

It was reported on 02 July 1999 that the Gorbunov Kazan Air Industrial Association received an order from the Ministry of Defense of Russia to complete the production of one Tu-160 strategic bomber. According to the Association's general director Nail Hairullin the contract for the aircraft production was worth 45 million rubles.

In July 1999 the Minister of Defense of Ukraine Alexander Kuzmuk confirmed that Kiev officially proposed that Moscow accept as payment for the gas debts "about 10 strategic bombers Tu-160 and Tu-95". He refused to tell the exact cost of missile carriers, however, in his judgment, it would be "considerably more" than 25 million dollars for each machine. On 12 October 1999 the Russian air force announced an agreement that would allow Ukraine to pay some of its multimillion-dollar energy debts by handing over 11 strategic bombers. Ukraine had tried to unload the bombers since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but talks had foundered because of differences over the price tag and other conditions. The deal includes eight Tupolev 160 Blackjack bombers and three Tupolev 95 Bears.

The 11 strategic bombers and 600 air-launched missiles exchanged by Ukraine to Russia in payment for the gas debt were transferred in mid-February 2000. Two Tu-160 bombers flew from Priluki in the Ukrainian Chernigov region for the Russian air base in Engels. The missiles were sent to Russia by railroad. Three Tu-95MS bombers and six Tu-160 airplanes had already arrived at Engels since October 1999 in fulfillment of the intergovernmental agreements. Before being moved to Russia, 19 Tu-160 airplanes were stationed at the Priluki airfield and 21 Tu-95MS were located in Uzin.

In early 2002 it was reported that Long-Range Aviation would soon receive three additional Tu-160 strategic bombers, being built by the Kazan aircraft plant. The first bomber funded from the 2002 state defense order was to be passed over to the military by the end of the year. After completion of the program Russia will have a fleet consisting of 18 supersonic bombers capable of using nuclear and conventional weapons. In addition, the Kazan plant will upgrade the bombers which the Air Force already has. The Tu-160 bombers will be equipped with upgraded avionics and long-distance cruise missiles. The upgrade program of these warplanes will cost around $4 billion.

A TU-160 strategic bomber crashed on 18 September 2003 in Engels. The crash occurred near Sovetskoye, Saratov oblast. All four crew members were killed in the accident. Preliminary data indicate that the cause of the crash was a fire in one of the engines, which started when the plane was at the altitude of about 2 km. The bomber was not carrying any weapons. The crashed aircraft was built at the Kazan Aviation Production Association in 1992. It was deployed with the 121st regiment of the 22 heavy bombers division, based in Engels.

After the loss of the aircraft, there are 14 strategic bombers of the Tu-160 type left in the Russian strategic aviation.

The Russian Air Force is planning a limited upgrade for the Tu-160 fleet. The first stage of the upgrade will equip the aircraft with the conventional armed Kh-101 and Kh-555 cruise missiles, as well as the new Sigma fire control system for these missiles. The Tu-160 will carry up to 12 of the Kh-101, which uses a electro-optical terminal homing system. The Kh-555 is a reworked Kh-55SM, which uses the Kh-101 homing system and replaces the nuclear warhead with a conventional one. The Tu-160 upgrade also adds the Kh-102 strategic missile, medium range subsonic Kh-SD and the Kh-41 medium range supersonic weapon. Other upgrades include navigation, communication and self-defence systems. The upgrades, carried out by KAPO at Kazan, extend the service life of the Tu-160 until at least 2020-2025. The first two Tu-160 bombers carrying conventional cruise missiles were stationed at the Air Force base near Engels in the Saratov region in 2005.

In 2013, the Russian Defense Ministry signed a contract with the Tupolev design bureau and Kazan Aircraft Plant worth 3.4 billion rubles (some $66 million at the current exchange rate) to upgrade three Tu-160 bombers. Russia’s Long Range Aviation will get another 6 modernized strategic Tupolev Tu-160 bombers, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force Colonel General Viktor Bondarev said on 23 December 2014.

Russia will renew the production of its Tu-160 (Blackjack) supersonic strategic bomber and missile carrier, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu said 29 April 2015. "Today it is already necessary to solve the task of not only maintaining and modernizing long-range aviation, we must also produce the Tu-160 missile carrier," Shoigu said during a visit at the Kazan Aviation Plant.

A major overhaul of Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers will be completed in 2019, Boris Naishuler, the director of the Gorbunov Kazan Aviation Production Association’s design center, which upgrades the aircraft, said. "The first stage of modernization has been completed; the second stage connected with replacement of nearly all onboard radioelectronic equipment on existing aircraft is expected to be completed in 2019," Naishuler told TASS 26 May 2015.

He said the process of modernization started with replacement of equipment installed on the planes back in Soviet times. "The planes have equipment that was manufactured in former republics of the Soviet Union. The modernization is aimed at replacing all that equipment, including navigation systems and communications equipment, with Russian," Naishuler said.

By 2015 Russia’s Air Force had in operation service about 15 Tu-160s, undergoing modernization announced in 2012. Besides, it was reported that Tu-160s will get upgraded NK-32 engines - a development batch is to be handed to the military in late 2016.

Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said in July 2015 the Long Range Aviation planes theoretically may have a service life of up to 100 years with regular modernization phases with replacement of engines and avionics. "As for the Tu-160, it has record characteristics, so it may have a very long and happy destiny. I think that we are modernizing the Tu-160 not just to close this problem for the next 5-10 years, because if we restore the aircraft production, its service life will be at least 40 years," Borisov said during a visit to the Kazan-based Gorbunov Aviation Plant (a Tupolev branch).

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