Warplanes: Reviving the Tu-160


p> March 17, 2007: Russia is putting another two refurbished Tu-160 heavy bombers into service. Russia is upgrading its Tu-160s with better electronics, and upgrades to the mechanical portions of the aircraft. It will take several years to upgrade all of these aircraft. However only 35 were built, and only 18 of those are still around.

The Tu-160 is very similar to the U.S. B-1, but never really lived up to its potential. Still, it is the most modern heavy bomber the Russians have. It's a 267 ton aircraft, that can carry up to 20 tons of bombs and missiles, for up to 12,000 kilometers. The aircraft can refuel in the air. It originally entered service in 1987, and was built to deliver cruise missiles. Noting the success of the B-1 in Afghanistan and Iraq with smart bombs, the Tu-160s were modified to do the same, in addition to retaining their cruise missile carrying capability.

Last year, the Russians resumed long range military flights over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. About a hundred of these flights were carried out last year, mainly by Tu-95MS and Tu-160 heavy bombers. Russia has also increased the number of heavy bomber crews it is training, with 42 new crews entering service in 2006.

Over the last two years, Russia has provided each of it's Tu-160 and Tu-95 heavy bombers with a dozen Kh-555 cruise missiles. These weapons are upgrades of the Cold War era AS-15 nuclear cruise missile. The Kh-555 is 20 feet long, weighs 1.5 tons and has a range of 3,000 kilometers. An 800 pound conventional warhead appears to be a cluster bomb type (carrying bomblets). The missile uses inertial and satellite supplied guidance, and can hit within 100 meters of its aiming point. Russia says it will use these missiles to attack terrorist bases in foreign countries. Russia has about 50 operational Tu-95s and about sixteen Tu-160s. Both bombers can, with in-flight refueling, reach any place on the planet.