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.
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.
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).
Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov, visiting the Kazan aircraft factory in April 2017, disclosed the new intentions of the military department. According to him, currently there were 16 strategic missile carriers Tu-160 in service with the Air and Space Forces. All these machines will have to undergo a profound modernization. In fact, the airplane in the current configuration will remain only a glider. All on-board equipment, down to the cable runs, will be replaced. Such a renewal of technology will significantly prolong its service life.
The deputy defense minister also spoke about carrying out studies aimed at establishing the real potential of existing structures.
In the course of such scientific work, it was determined that the Tu-160 had a high strength stock. The reserve for the resource, in turn, is almost unlimited. All these conclusions were made on the basis of theoretical study and practical research. Y. Borisov also stressed that the resource of the upgraded Tu-160 will be sufficient to continue the service until the appearance of the Tu-160M2 new construction vehicles.
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