Russia will “eventually” produce 50 more Tu-160M swing-wing intercontinental supersonic bombers, said Russian air force commander Gen. Victor Bondarev. “The supreme commander and the defense minister have made the decision to restart production,” he continued. Speaking to the media, Bondarev said that 50 is the number required to justify the expense of reviving the line.
His remarks follow those of defense minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu during his recent inspection of the Kazan Aircraft Production Organization (KAPO).
A prototype of the Tu-160 made its maiden flight in December 1981, and deliveries began in April 1987. The type was in production at KAPO from 1984 through the early 1990s, when funds dried up following collapse of the Soviet Union. In the new century the factory was able to complete only a couple of new aircraft, from parts manufactured earlier.
Of 36 examples built, 16 Tu-160s remain active with the Russian air force. They are undergoing a mid-life upgrade and modernization program. This effort will be complete in 2019, according to Boris Naishuler, director of the design center at KAPO. He further said that the first phase of the program (officially launched in 2012) has been completed. The second phase, which runs through 2019, calls for replacement of “almost all” the existing radio electronic equipment in operational aircraft with new hardware. During this process, all non-Russian-made equipment (that originated in the former Soviet republics, now independent states) will be replaced with Russian substitutes.
As part of the Tu-160 revitalization effort, Russia’s United Engine Corp reworked the bomber’s Kuznetsov NK32 engine (it received a new gas generator) and re-launched production. An initial batch of newly built NK32s will be delivered to MoD late next year.