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The operations launched by Russias strategic
aviation arm over Syria on November 17, 2015
saw the first ever combat use of the Tupolev
Tu-160 and Tu-95MS long-range heavy
bombers. We present a timely review of the
Tu-160, Russias most lethal combat aircraft.
report: Piotr Butowski


30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 30

February 2016

17/12/2015 21:22


official acknowledgment
that the Metrojet
Airbus A321 crash
in the Sinai was the
result of a terrorist act,
Russias strategic air arm performed
its first strikes against targets in Syria.
According to the Russian Ministry of
Defense, during a four-day period from
November 17 to 20, Tu-160s flew 10
sorties (in addition to six by Tu-95MSs
and 96 by Tu-22M3s). The Tu-160s alone
launched 48 Kh-101 and 16 Kh-555
cruise missiles.
During the missions targeting Syria, the
Tu-160s operated from their permanent
base at Engels near Saratov. They
approached their targets over the Caspian
Sea and launched their missiles over
Iranian territory, close to the Iraqi border.
The exception to this mission profile was
that conducted on November 20. That day,
two Tu-160s took off from Olenyegorsk
air base on the Kola Peninsula in northern
Russia, flew round Norway and the United
Kingdom, entered the Mediterranean
via Gibraltar and flew over the entire
Mediterranean Sea to launch eight
Kh-555 missiles against targets in Syria.
Then, passing over Syria, Iraq, Iran and
the Caspian Sea, they returned to their
home base at Engels. The sortie covered

February 2016

30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 31


a distance in excess of 13,000km (8,078
miles. While over Syria, the Tu-160s were
escorted by Russian Air Force Sukhoi
Su-30SM fighters flying from their base
in Latakia.

Blackjack origins
The Tu-160s history begins on November
28, 1967 when the Soviet government
launched a competition for a supersonic
strategic bomber able to cruise at
3,200-3,500km/h (1,988-2,175mph) and
achieve a maximum range of 16,00018,000km (9,942-11,185 miles). Weapons
intended for the new bomber comprised
two 4,500kg (9,921lb) supersonic Kh-45
missiles or 24 Kh-2000 short-range
attack missiles. In 1972, scaled-down
requirements called for a speed of
2,500km/h (1,553mph), later reduced
still further to 2,000km/h (1,243mph),
combined with a maximum subsonic
range of 14,000-16,000km (8,6999,942 miles).
In 1976-77 the bombers armament
was revised when Russia learned about
the United States work on the AGM-86
strategic cruise missile. Instead of heavy
Kh-45s, the Soviets opted for six to 12
subsonic Kh-55 missiles, while 12-24
Kh-15 missiles (a further development
of the Kh-2000 project) were selected as
the alternative weapon. However, the size

of the armament bay (11.28m or 37ft in

length) remained the same. Since it was
designed for the Kh-45 (10.8m or 35ft 5in
in length) it remained much larger than
is necessary for the Kh-55 (6.04m or 19ft
10in in length).
Within the Tupolev design bureau the
new aircraft received the designations
izdeliye 70 and izdeliye K. The first
prototype, 70-01, made its initial flight
on December 18, 1981, piloted by
Boris Veremey. In February 1982, it
performed its first supersonic flight. A
speed of 2,200km/h (1,367mph) was
attained during tests; however, in normal
operations speed is limited to 2,000km/h
Several derivatives of the basic aircraft
were considered but none came to
fruition. These included the Tu-160PP
(postanovshchik perekhvatchik, jammer
and interceptor), an electronic warfare
escort aircraft and interceptor armed with
long-range air-to-air missiles, intended to
hunt transport aircraft carrying supplies
from the US to Europe, and the Tu-160R
Rakonda strategic reconnaissance
aircraft. The enlarged Tu-160M
bomber project of the 1980s
was to be armed with
two Kh-32 supersonic
missiles in order
to target

The service life

of the Tu160s
engines is
a limiting
factor, and
upgraded NK32
powerplants are
now planned.


17/12/2015 21:22


Bottom: The 16
pictured here,
operate from
Engels. An
additional test
aircraft is based
at Zhukovsky.
Right: With its
retractable inflight refueling
probe extended,
a Tu-160 moves
in for a night
refueling from
an Il-78.
Sergey Krivchikov


Bottom right:
The Tu-160s
with the B-1B
are apparent
in this view.
Both feature
a blended
center section
and variablegeometry wings
and tandem
armament bays.

US aircraft carriers; another armament

option was the Kh-90, a future hypersonic
missile. The Tu-160V (vodorod, hydrogen)
was to be fueled by liquid hydrogen. The
Tu-160SC (space carrier) was a projected
commercial version for use as a launch
platform for the Burlak space vehicle,
similar to the US Pegasus. At one stage, the
Tu-170, a variant of the Tu-160 adapted for
carrying conventional weapons only, was
under consideration.
After two flying (70-1 and 70-3) and one
static (70-2) prototypes built by Tupolev
in Moscow, the next 33 aircraft (including
one static airframe) were completed at the
KAPO plant in Kazan. The first Kazan-built
Tu-160, serial 1-01, flew on October 10,
1984; this and some of the next aircraft to
be completed were utilized for test work.
At the time of the collapse of the Soviet
Union, production was at a rate of three
airframes per year. Manufacturing came
to the end in 1994, leaving a number of
unfinished examples at the Kazan plant.
Two were subsequently completed, serial
8-02 in 1999 and 8-03 in 2007. Reportedly,
two other unfinished airframes, serials
8-04 and 8-05, still remain at the factory.

In service
In April 1987, an initial two Tu-160s (serials
2-03 and 3-01) arrived at the types first
operational unit, the 184th Heavy Bomber
Aviation Regiment (TBAP) at Pryluky, in
the Ukrainian SSR. The units bombers
launched Kh-55SM cruise missiles for
the first time in July 1987. At the end of
1991, the regiment had two squadrons of
Tu160s, for a total of 19 aircraft, as well

30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 32

as one of Tu-134UBL crew trainers. The

Tu160 met Western aircraft for the first
time in May 1991, when encountered
by F-16A Fighting Falcons of the Royal
Norwegian Air Forces 331 Skvadron, while
flying along the Norwegian coast near
Troms. Upon the disintegration of the
USSR, the Pryluky-based aircraft remained
in the newly-independent Ukraine.
The next six airframes were assigned to
the 1096th (re-numbered 121st in 1994)
TBAP at Engels between February 1992
and June 1994. This was the only Tu-160
unit in the country, and its half-dozen
aircraft remained Russias sole operational
Tu-160s until October 6, 1999, when
Moscow bought eight from Ukraine. The

deal, signed in Yalta, involved the aircraft

at Pryluky that were in the best technical
condition. Of the remaining 11 Ukrainian
aircraft, 10 were scrapped and one, Bort
26, put on display in the aviation museum
at Poltava. The ex-Ukrainian bombers
arrived at Engels between November 5,
1999 and February 21, 2000. The next
example, serial 8-02 (Alexandr Molodchiy,
Bort 07) arrived at Engels on May 5, 2000.
One more, serial 8-03 (Vitaliy Kopylov, Bort
08) touched down there on April 29, 2008.
Russia decided in 2000 to repair and
introduce to service serial 2-02, built in
1986 and then used by the Tupolev design
bureau for test work. After six years of
repair the bomber was transferred to

Bort number



Individual name




Vasiliy Reshetnikov




Pavel Taran




Ivan Yarygin




Aleksandr Golovanov*




Ilya Muromets




Aleksandr Molodchiy




Vitaliy Kopylov




Nikolay Kuznetsov




Vasiliy Senko




Aleksandr Novikov




Igor Sikorsky




Vladimir Sudets




Alexei Plokhov




Valery Chkalov




Andrey Tupolev

19 (formerly 87)



Valentin Bliznyuk

(formerly 63, 342)


Boris Veremey

Bort 01 (s/n 7-01; Mikhail Gromov) crashed in 2003. Aircraft numbers 09 and 13 not assigned.
* Previously Ilya Muromets.

February 2016

17/12/2015 21:22


the regiment at Engels in July 2006, and
named Valentin Bliznyuk after the aircrafts
chief designer. Russian Air Force Tu-160s
are otherwise all named after strongmen,
whether a mythic popular hero (Ilya
Muromets), a wrestling champion (Ivan
Yarygin), or well-known pilots and air
The Tu-160 was officially commissioned
into service on December 30, 2005.
Although the Soviet and Russian Air
Forces had flown the bomber since 1987,
operations were formally considered to be
on a trial basis.
Two Tu-160s have been lost. In March
1987, serial 1-02 crashed after suffering
engine failure soon after take-off from
Zhukovsky; the crew, led by Valeriy Pavlov,
ejected and survived. On September 18,
2003, Mikhail Gromov (Bort 01) crashed
near Stepnoye, 40km (25 miles) east
of Engels, killing the four crew under
the command of Lt Col Yuri Deyneko.
The aircraft fell apart in mid-air during
the approach to land, at an altitude
of 1,200-1,500m (3,940-4,920ft). The
catastrophe was caused by a failure of the
venting system in the fuel tanks after
expending the fuel, the wing torsion box
broke under the unexpected pressure.
At present, the Russian Air Force has 16
Tu-160s assigned to the base at Engels,
but some of these are under overhaul
and upgrade at the Kazan plant. One
further aircraft, serial 4-01 Boris Veremey
(named after the first pilot to test the
Tu-160 in 1981), belongs to Tupolev and is
based at Zhukovsky where it is operated
without a tactical number. It previously
wore Bort number 63 and then had 342
applied as an identifier for the Tu160s
debut international presentation at Le
Bourget in June 1995. The aircraft is
used as a prototype for future upgrades.
Several other non-airworthy airframes at
Zhukovsky are probably beyond repair.


Mission profile
The Tu-160 was designed as a multimode bomber for both intercontinental
and theater-level missions. In its primary
intercontinental mission as a strategic
cruise missile carrier, the Tu-160 flies at
Mach 0.77 and an altitude of 11,00012,000m to attain its maximum range
of 12,300km (7,643 miles) with six cruise
missiles range can be extended
through the use of aerial refueling.
When operated at the theater level,
the aircraft can penetrate enemy air
defenses flying at a speed of 2,000km/h
(1,243mph) at high altitude, or 1,030km/h

February 2016

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17/12/2015 21:22



(640mph) at low level with automatic

The US Air Forces B-1B Lancer and the
Tu-160 have many common features: both
aircraft have a blended fuselage/wing
center section and variable-geometry
wing. The arrangement of the fuselage
interior is also similar, with tandem
armament bays, as well as four engines
installed in two nacelles below the wing
roots. Both aircraft share the same,
cruciform empennage. However, the
differences are significant, too. First, the
Tu-160 is much larger than the B-1B. The
wing of the Tu-160 (angles, aspect ratio
and pivoting point) resembles that of the
Tu-22M, rather than the Lancer. Capable
of reaching Mach 1.2 at high altitude, the
B-1B is a near-supersonic aircraft; while the
Tu-160 has adjustable air intakes designed
for Mach 2.0 flight, the B-1Bs intakes
are fixed.
The Tu-160s weapons are carried
exclusively inside the fuselage in two
tandem weapons bays, each 11.28m (37ft)
long, 1.92m (6ft 4in) wide and 2.4m (7ft
10in) deep. Basic armament for strategic
missions comprises six (or a maximum
of 12) Raduga Kh-55SM (AS-15 Kent)
long-range subsonic cruise missiles.

30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 34

These are installed on one (or two)

six-round MKU65U (izdeliye 9A829K2)
rotary launchers, one in each of the bays.
Alternative air-defense suppression
armament comprises up to 24 Raduga
Kh-15 (AS-16 Kickback) short-range Mach
5 attack missiles on four short MKU6-1U
(9A827K2) revolving drum launchers fitted
in tandem pairs in each bay.
From around 2003, the Tu-160 was
adapted to use non-nuclear Kh-555
missiles, these being conversions of older,
nuclear Kh-55s. In around 2011-12 the
bombers began to be adapted to use
the new nuclear Kh-102 and non-nuclear
Kh101 missiles; the nuclear version can
attain a maximum range of 5,000km
(3,107 miles) while the conventional
missile carries a heavier warhead and less
fuel, having a range of 4,000km (2,485
miles). The Kh-101/102 is 1.4m (4.6ft)
longer and 1,000kg (2,205lb) heavier than
the Kh-55SM. As a result, it was necessary
to develop the new, stronger 9A-829K3
six-round rotary launcher for the Tu-160s
armament bay. Reportedly, as of late
2015 around five Tu-160s were capable of
carrying Kh-101 and Kh-102 missiles.
The aircraft has a Buk-K (beech)
targeting/navigation suite developed

by the Elektroavtomatika company,

controlled by eight Orbita-20 computers.
This provides for semi-automatic flight
to the missiles launch area, preparation
and launch of the missiles, and return
to base. The Leninets Obzor-K (izdeliye
U008) navigation/attack radar and
Sopka (hill) terrain-following radar are
installed in the nose, while the OPB-18
TV/optical bombsight is located in a
fairing under the nose. The Sprut-SM
(octopus) missile initialization and launch
system is designed to control the use
of cruise missiles. The SVVI-70 pre-flight
data management system, coupled with
Russian strategic aviations Sigma mission
planning system, was introduced in the
second half of the 2000s. The aircraft is
equipped with the K-042K astro-inertial
long-range navigation system that plots its
current position on the map, the GLONASS
satellite positioning system (used for the
first time in Russia on the Tu-160), ARK-22
radio direction finders, DISS-7 Doppler
radar, long-range radio navigation
system, Kvitok instrument landing system,
SVS2ts-4 air data system, and other items.
Cockpit instrumentation is conventional.
The L232 Baikal self-defense system
combines Ogonyok (light) infra-red and

This image:
The Tu-160s
maximum range
of 12,300km
(7,643 miles)
with six cruise
missiles can
be extended
through the
use of aerial
refueling, as
seen here in a
with an Il-78
Piotr Butowski
Right top to
bottom: The two
Blackjack pilots
use fighter-style
control columns,
with the cockpit
retaining its
original layout.
Piotr Butowski
A Tu-160 flies
over Red Square
escorted by a
pair of MiG-31s.
Piotr Butowski

February 2016

17/12/2015 21:22



Kiparis (cypress) radar warning sensors,

SPS-171/SPS-172 Geran-1DU/-2DU and
AG-56 Sevan radar jammers, and APP-50
chaff/flare dispensers (in total, 24 threeround launchers), all of which are located
in the fuselage tail cone.

The Tu-160 is a four-engined, all-metal,
low-wing monoplane with variablegeometry wings. The fuselage and center
section of the wing form a common
shape with an appended empennage
and movable wing panels. The long and
narrow fuselage/wing center section
(LERX type), blended for stealth, is subdivided into four compartments: nose
(radar unit, crew cockpit and nose landing
gear unit), front (fuel tanks and front
weapon bay), center (main undercarriage
units, engine nacelles and rear weapon
bay), and rear (fuel tanks and equipment).
The variable-geometry wing has slight
anhedral. The main structural strength
element of the aircraft structure is the
central wing stringer, 12.4m (40ft 8in) long
and 2.1m (6ft 10in) wide, interconnecting
both wing-pivoting nodes. The stringer is
fabricated in two halves, upper and lower,
milled from titanium alloy and welded

February 2016

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17/12/2015 21:22



together in a vacuum chamber according

to a unique engineering process. The
outer, movable panels can be set at three
manually selected positions: 20 for takeoff and landing, 35 for cruise, and 65
for supersonic flight. Each movable wing
panel has four-section leading-edge slats,
a three-section double-slotted trailingedge flap, and aileron; five-section spoilers
are installed ahead of the flaps. With the
wings fully swept, the inner section of
each three-section trailing-edge flap is
raised to become a large aerodynamic
fence between the wing and the fixed
glove to improve directional stability. The
mid-mounted slab (taileron) tailplane
can be deflected symmetrically or
differentially. The all-moving upper section
of the tail fin, above the tailplane, forms
the rudder. The flight control system is of
the quadruple analog fly-by-wire type,
with a stand-by mechanical system. Use of
the mechanical control system is limited
since the aircraft is statically unstable.
The hydraulically retractable
undercarriage has twin nosewheels (1,080
x 400mm) retracting rearwards and two
six-wheel (1,260 x 425mm) main bogies
(three tandem pairs) retracting into the
wing center section between the weapon
bay and engine nacelles. Three drag

30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 36


35.6m (116ft 9.5in) at 65 sweep

50.7m (166ft 4in) at 35 sweep
55.7m (182ft 9in) at 20 sweep

Maximum length

54.1m (177ft 6in)


13.1m (44ft)

Length of engine nacelle

13.28m (43ft 7in)

Wing area

232m2 (2,497 sq ft) fully swept

293m2 (3,154 sq ft) fully spread

Tailplane span

13.25m (43ft 6in)


17.88m (58ft 8in)

Wheel track

5.4m (17ft 9in)


117,000kg (257,941lb)

Maximum take-off

275,000kg (606,270lb)

Maximum landing

155,000kg (341,716lb)

Maximum speed

2,000km/h (1,243mph)

Maximum speed at sea level

1,030km/h (640mph)

Cruising speed

Mach 0.77

Approach speed at 140 tonnes weight

260km/h (162mph)

Take-off distance

900-2,200m (2,953-7,218ft) at 150-275 tonnes weight respectively

Landing distance

1,200-1,600m (3,937-5,250ft) at 140-155 tonnes weight respectively

Maximum climb rate

4,200m (13,800ft) per minute

Service ceiling

15,600m (51,181ft)

G limit


Service range without in-flight refueling, Mach 0.77

and six Kh-55SM missiles dropped mid-range

12,300km (7,643 miles) with 5 per cent fuel reserve

Maximum theoretical range

13,950km (8,668 miles)

Maximum duration without

in-flight refueling

15 hours

Combat radius at Mach 1.5

2,000km (1,243 miles)

February 2016

17/12/2015 21:23


chutes with a total area of 105m2 (1,130 sq
ft) are located in the tail.
The crew of four is seated in the nose
in a common pressurized cockpit. The
commander/pilot occupies the front
port-side seat, with the co-pilot on his
right-hand side. Fighter-type sticks are
used rather than the usual wheels or
yokes. The rear seats are occupied by the
navigator/offensive weapons operator
and the navigator/electronic warfare/
communications operator. Each crew
member is seated on a Zvezda K-36L.70
zero-zero ejection seat, which ejects
upwards. The cockpit is accessed via the
nose undercarriage bay.
The propulsion system consists of four
Kuznetsov NK-32 (izdeliye R) turbofans
positioned under the wing center section
in widely-separated pairs, this to make
room in the fuselage for the weapons
bays. The nacelles protrude far beyond the
wing trailing edge. Each engine is rated
at 137.3kN (30,865lbf) dry and 245.18kN
(55,115lbf) with afterburning. The NK-32 is
a three-spool turbofan with a bypass ratio
of 1.36:1; it has 3+5+7 compressor stages
and 1+1+2 turbine stages. The engine
weight amounts to 3,650kg (8,047lb), inlet
diameter is 1,455mm (57.3in), and overall

February 2016

30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 37

length is 7,453 mm (293in). The engine

nozzles are automatically adjustable; the
air intakes are adjustable as well, using a
vertical wedge for each pair of engines.
The aircraft is provided with a TA-12
auxiliary power unit.
The aircraft can carry 140,600kg
(309,970lb) of T-8 fuel in 13 tanks located
inside the fuselage/wing center section
and in the movable wing panels. The fuel
transfer system is used for balancing the
aircraft when accelerating to supersonic
speeds. The retractable probe for the flight
refueling system is mounted in the upper
part of the aircraft nose.

Tu-160M upgrade
The first improvements to be applied
to operational Tu-160s consisted of the
aforementioned new weapons: Kh-555,
Kh-102 and most recently Kh-101 cruise
missiles. The aircraft type designation has
not been changed as a result of these
adaptations. An update of the bombers
equipment is being conducted, both
simultaneous with the addition of the
new armament and independently
of it. The M1 stage of the upgrade is
currently being implemented, under
which the aircraft is being fitted with

Left: A fabulous
taken on the
runway at
Engels. The L232
Baikal self
defense system
and APP50
dispensers are
all located in the
tail cone.
Above: The
general tactic
for the Tu160
to penetrate
enemy air
involves high
speed, high
level flight or
going down in
the weeds using
the automatic
Sergey Krivchikov

17/12/2015 21:23



the K-042K-1 astro-inertial navigation

system with BINS-SP-1 inertial navigation,
ANS2009-1 (ANS-2009M is planned in
the second stage) astro-navigation, and a
navigation computer. Other new systems
include a DISS-021-70 navigation radar,
A737DP satellite navigation receiver,
ABSU-200-1 (ABSU-200MTs is intended
at a later date) autopilot, and S-505-70
communication suite. The UKBP design
bureau in Ulyanovsk is providing a new
data display system. The 1 upgrades are
being conducted by the KAPO facility at
Kazan and are carried out together with
major overhauls. Tupolev announced
that the first upgraded aircraft, Bort 18
Andrey Tupolev, was flown at Kazan on
November 16, 2014 and then handed
over to the Air Force on December 19,
2014. Two subsequent aircraft, Bort 02
Vasiliy Reshetnikov and Bort 11 Vasiliy
Senko, were undergoing repair and M1
upgrade in Kazan during 2015.
The complete Tu-160M (izdeliye
70M) upgrade affords further systems
improvements, including replacement
of the Obzor-K radar with a new radar
from the Novella family, made by Zaslon
(a company known as Leninets until
October 2014), and probably designated
NV1.70. For some time it was planned to
install in the Tu-160M a radar designed
by Tikhomirov NIIP on the basis of the
Irbis radar from the Su-35 fighter, but
in 2013 this idea was abandoned. New
weapons may be expected for the
Tu-160M including the medium-range
subsonic Kh-SD and supersonic Kh-MTs,
and a hypersonic missile, if and when
this is ready. According to a United
Aircraft Corporation statement, the initial
technical design of the Tu-160M was
completed on October 23, 2014.
The service life of the Tu-160s engine
is shorter than that of the airframe,
meaning that further operation of
the bomber and particularly new
production of the Tu-160M2 will

30-39 Blackjack C rev.indd 38

require a supply of new powerplants.

For some years, the Kuznetsov company
of Samara has been preparing to restart
engine production in the form of the
upgraded NK-32 series 2, and a final
contract with the Ministry of Defense
was concluded in August 2014. An initial
batch of new-production engines is set
to be ready for tests in 2017, after a break
of nearly 25 years.

This image: On the ground

the Tu-160 is much larger
than the B-1B. Three drag
chutes deploy from the
tail. Yevgeni Kazhenov
Bottom left: Capable of
reaching Mach 1.2 at
high altitude, the Tu-160
features adjustable air
intakes. Piotr Butowski

New-build Tu-160M2
On April 29, 2015, during a visit to the
aircraft production plant in Kazan, the
Russian Minister of Defense Sergei
Shoygu unexpectedly presented the
idea of resuming series production of
the Tu-160 bomber rumors of this
had emerged a month or two earlier.
According to commander-in-chief of
the Air Force Viktor Bondarev, the first
new Tu-160M2 will fly during 2021, and
in 2023 series production will begin at
a rate of three aircraft per year. In total
the Air Force needs at least 50 new
Tu160M2s, which are expected to serve
at least 40 years.
In September 2015 the Russian
government requested the assignment
of 3.796 billion rubles (about $60 million)
from the budget before year-end in
order to prepare documentation and
launch production of the Tu-160. It is
likely that the new Tu-160M2 will feature
equipment and weapons similar to those
included in the second-stage Tu-160M
upgrade. Powerplants will come in
the form of newly-produced NK-322
engines, but the timescale makes
unlikely that any other major changes
will be incorporated in the new

The recent combat debut of

the Blackjack has reinforced
plans to resume serial
production. Yevgeni Kazhenov

February 2016

17/12/2015 21:23



With flaps and slats fully

deployed for landing the
Tu-160s wing resembles
that of the Tu-22M.
Alexander Golz

February 2016

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