Modernized Blackjack takes off after avionic upgrade

Tu-160 has a lift-generating airframe, which is mostly made of aluminum alloys. Titanium alloys make up to 20% of the airframe mass. The bomber’s airframe has a distinctive appearance, with the wing and fuselage gradually integrated into a single-piece configuration. The variable geometry wings (the sweep angle can be varied from 20 to 65) allow the aircraft to use complex flight profiles from low subsonic speeds to mach 2. Photo: UAC/Tupolev design Bureau

The first Tupolev Tu-160M Blackjack has completed its maiden flight after an avionic modernization that revamped the bombers’ radar and avionic systems in the past two years. The aircraft is one of three undergoing the upgrade, under a contract worth  RUR3.4 billion (US$103  million) awarded in 2013.

The flight that lasted two hours and 40 minutes took off from the Kazan airfield, in the Tatarstan Republic, of Russia, where the upgrading work was processed by the aircraft’s builder.

The Blackjack is the Russian strategic bomber designed to match and even exceed the capability of the U.S. B-1B Lancer bomber. The Tu-160 was officially delivered to the Russian Strategic Force (VVS) in 1987 but was accepted into operational service 18 years later, reaching a fleet of 16 in 2008. Eight Tu-160 bombers were delivered to Russia from the Ukraine, these were part of 19 bombers delivered to the Ukraine Air Force before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The remaining Tu-160s were destroyed in 2001 as part of the nuclear disarmament of Ukraine.

Given this renewed strategic importance of the VVS fleet, it is likely that the funding to complete this upgrading plan will be allocated

Part of this fleet went through several upgrades to extend the life of the aircraft. As of 2013 the Russian Air Force had 11 Tu-160M on duty. 10 will receive engine refurbishment as part of another modernization scheduled to begin in 2016, when refurbished NK-32M engines are expected to be ready for delivery.

Tu-160 avionic suit includes a Missile Targeting and Navigation System (MTNS), a communications suite including a multichannel digital satellite communications system, self-defense system, automatic flight control and more. The MTNS provides for the automatic aircraft flight and use of weapons on all latitudes, day, night and in adverse weather conditions..

The NK-32M is a rebuilt, redesigned version of the Kuznetsov NK-321 turbofan engines, four of which will accelerate the Tu-160M to a maximum speed of Mach 2. The engine maker  Metallist-Samara JSC has already built and bench tested the rebuilt  engines but will be ready to deliver a flight ready engine only in two years.

[ismember]Russian bombers have increased the frequency and range of their flights over the arctic, pacific ocean and European air space in recent months, In addition, these bombers have launched missions to the Northern Pacific, Caribbean sea and Latin America, with more flights to the Gulf of Mexico beginning soon, bringing the Russian air patrols closer to the Continental USA. Given this renewed strategic importance of the VVS fleet, it is likely that the funding to complete this upgrading plan, which has been scarce so far, will be allocated over the next years, to complete the modernization of the remaining Ti-160 and Tu-95 bombers before the end of the decade, and before the next generation Russian bomber, (PAK/DA) will make its first flight.[/ismember]

The partially upgraded Tu-160M made its maiden flight in November 2014, 33 years after the first ‘Blackjack’ prototype, the pride of the Soviet Union at the time, took to the airfor the first time in 1981. (Photo: UAC/Tupolev design Bureau)