The Buzz

Russia Is Set to Triple Nuclear Supersonic Bomber Force

Russia will purchase at least 50 of the newly revived Tupolev Tu-160 (Blackjack) heavy strategic bombers, dramatically increasing its arsenal.

As The National Interest previously reported, last month Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia would resume production of the Tu-160 strategic bomber, a Soviet-era aircraft that is capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons.

On Thursday, Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s Air Force, revealed that Moscow will purchase at least fifty of the Tu-160 strategic bombers once production resumes.

“No less than 50 aircraft over time will be purchased in order to cover the costs that will go into production,” Bondarev said, according to Russian state media outlets.

(Recommended: Is Russia's Lethal PAK-FA Fighter Stealthier than America's F-22?)

This will dramatically increase Russia’s bomber capabilities as only fifteen Tu-160s currently remain in service (about 35 were originally built, according to Russian media outlets). That is at least a 333 percent increase in the number of Tu-160s in Russia’s arsenal.

Bondarev further revealed that the decision to restart production of the Tu-160 was made by Russian President Vladimir Putin. "The supreme commander [president of Russia] and the Russian defense minister have taken a decision on reviving production of the Tu-160M aircraft,” TASS, a Russian government news outlet, quoted Bondarev as saying.

The decision to restart production on the Tu-160 was made in part because of production delays in Russia’s fifth-generation bomber, the PAK DA. The PAK DA strategic bomber was supposed to be delivered to the Russian Air Force by 2020, however, Bondarev announced earlier this month that this date would be pushed back by three to five years.

(Recommended: Why America Should Really Fear Russia's Armata T-14 Tank)

On Thursday, Bondarev assured his audience that the decision to restart production of the Tu-160s would not delay delivery of the fifth-generation PAK DA bombers, as both would be produced simultaneously. "Of course, we have no right to do it otherwise," he said in response to a question about whether the two planes could be produced at the same time.

Russia has yet to reveal a timeline for when it will begin producing the Tu-160 bombers again.

The Tu-160 is notable for both its supersonic speed and its variable-sweep wings. Tupolev Design Bureau, which designs the plane, claims that the Tu-160 is the largest supersonic aircraft in the world, as well as the heaviest combat aircraft currently in existence.

As Tom Nichols previously explained on The National Interest:

[The Tu-160] is a perfectly capable nuclear bomber that, in time of war, would fold back its swan-like wings and dart toward its targets at top speed. Once in range, it would launch cruise missiles that would make the last part of their journey low and slow under enemy radar.

In announcing the resumption of production at the Kazan Aviation Plant last month, Defense Minister Shoigu praised the Tu-160 as “a unique machine, ahead of its time for many years and even until now [it] has not been exploited to its full potential."

(Recommended: Russia's Supersonic Tu-160 Bomber Is Back: Should America Worry?)

"No one has devised a better plane in the supersonic category up to date," he further boasted.

Besides building the new Tu-160s, Russia plans to modernize the fifteen it currently operates. 

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Rob Schleiffert