On 30 December 2022, PJSC United Aircraft Corporation (PJSC UAC) announced that two Tu-160M/M2 strategic missile carriers were rolled out at the Kazan Aviation Plant (KAZ) named after S.P. Gobunov and transferred to the flight test station which will carry out the necessary tests of aircraft systems and engines, as well as avionics.
After that, the aircraft will be transferred to the operating squadron. The rolled out aircraft represent the fourth Tu-160 upgraded to the Tu-160M level (serial 2-02), as well as the second strategic bomber from the new production (serial 9-01), a type often referred to as Tu-160M2 in order to distinguish between upgrades and newly built aircraft.
The Tu-160 is an important part of the Russian Air Force, so modernizing all remaining aircraft and restarting production of these strategic bombers was a priority task. The updated missile carriers received new radio-electronic equipment and NK-32-02 engines which add additional 1,000 km to their intercontinental range.
Progress on the Tu-160M upgrade project
The first prototype of the modernised Tu-160M strategic missile carrier was converted from a saved Tu-160, at that time marked 22 Red, which was returned from Ukraine in a deal to help the country pay its energy debts. A group of eight Tu-160 and three Tu-95MS bombers were flown to Russia from the Priluky airfield back in 1998 and the Tu-160 returned to duty as a combat bomber registered RF-94103, Bort No. 14 Red, named "Igor Sikorsky" (serial number 4-05).
The upgraded RF-94103 first took to the air at the Kazan Aviation Plant in February 2020, but it was not until November 2020 when the new engines of the NK-32-02 type were installed. After the completion of the flight tests, the aircraft was transferred in March 2021 to Zhukovsky to continue testing of its combat systems.
The second upgraded aircraft was a Tu-160SK bomber previously marked 342 Blue, which has been used as a testbed platform for Kh-555 missiles and also the Burlak air-launched winged orbital launch vehicle. In 2009, the bomber returned to active service with Bort No. 09 Red, named "Boris Veremey" (serial number 4-01). Within the upgrade programme, this aircraft was equipped with NK-32-02 engines from the very start and began flight tests in September 2021 with the new registration RF-94444.
The third upgraded Tu-160M aircraft made its first flight in Kazan in December 2022. We have no information about its serial number, as of yet. In the same month, the fourth upgraded Tu-160M aircraft has been rolled out, still unpainted, but with visible remnants of the Russian Air Force flag, which has previously decorated all Tu-160 combat machines. It is likely that one of these aircraft is a combat bomber registered RF-94113, Bort No. 19 Red, named " Valentin Bliznyuk" (serial number 2-02) which has been seen at the KAZ plant since 2016.
Progress on the Tu-160M2 new production programme
The contract for first ten Tu-160M2 worth 160 billion rubles (currently USD2,2 billion) strategic missile carriers has been signed between the Ministry of Defence of Russia and PJSC Tupolev in Kazan on 25 January 2018. The first experimental Tu-160M2 built under this contract (serial number 8-05) was constructed from a backlog left over from Soviet times and made its first flight in Kazan in January 2022, still in primer.
The factory test program was completed in December 2022 and the first built Tu-160M2 has now been painted almost full colour. The second new built Tu-160M2 (serial 9-01) at KAZ is the first aircraft entirely constructed from new parts, its flight tests will also mean the validation of the quality of the Russian Tu-160 reproduction programme.
Scramble Magazine earlier reported on the progress of both strategic bomber programmes. Search the Scramble website for Tu-160 and see the overview of all information regarding this aircraft.
Photo via uacrussia