Procurement: Heavy Bombers For The People


March 13, 2014: Yet another Cold War era warplane has shown up on eBay. This one is a Russian Tu-95MS heavy bomber that is being offered for $3 million. The seller will partially disassemble it for shipment by sea via a port in Ukraine, preferably Odessa. Like many Russian Cold War era aircraft, the Tu-95 was abandoned in Ukraine when the Cold War, and the Soviet Union, ended in 1991. Ukraine was the main staging area for Russian forces assigned to invade Western Europe if World War 3 ever broke out. That war never did and lots of Cold War surplus weapons were inherited by Ukraine in 1991. Most of these weapons were sold off legally (or otherwise) as cheap surplus. Ukraine is still doing big business refurbishing and upgrading some of this old stuff.

However there were no customers for the Tu-95 so the owner is pitching it to collectors. These can be found in wealthy counties (which now includes China). Many armored vehicles and aircraft have been sold this way, including MiG-21 fighters and a variety of tanks. The Tu-95 here was built in 1987 and has useful life of 5,000 hours in the air. So far this Tu-95 only has 455 hours on it. The aircraft has been neglected but is listed as restorable to flying condition.

The Tu-95 aircraft (called "the Bear" in the West) entered service in 1956 with the MS model appearing in 1981. Many existing Tu-95s are expected to remain in service, along with the Tu-142 variant, into the 2030s. The Tu-142 was introduced in the 1970s as the maritime patrol version, but the Tu-95 was used for this duty as well. Over 500 Tu-95s were built, and it is the largest and fastest turboprop aircraft in service. Russia still maintains a force of 50 Tu-95MSs (originally designed as a missile carrying version), and fifteen Tu-142s. There are dozens of Tu-95s in storage, which can be restored to service as either a bomber or a Tu-142. The eBay Tu-95 would have been consigned to storage if the Russians had snagged it when the Cold War ended.

The 188 ton aircraft has flight crew consisting of a pilot, copilot, engineer and radioman, and an unrefueled range of 15,000 kilometers. Max speed is 925 kilometers an hour, while cruising speed is 440 kilometers an hour. Originally designed as a nuclear bomber, the Tu-95MS is designed to carry four or more large cruise (three ton) missiles.

These aircraft are getting more expensive to maintain. Old age is particularly cruel and in the 1990s cracks were found in the wings of some very old Tu-95s, and those aircraft were scrapped. Like all old aircraft, Tu-95/142s undergo constant inspection for age related problems.




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