PAK DA: Russia's Stealth Bomber Nightmare Won't End

PAK DA Russian Stealth Bomber
March 22, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: PAK DAB-21B-2B-21 RaiderBombersStealth BombersMilitary

PAK DA: Russia's Stealth Bomber Nightmare Won't End

While Russia's resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity are noteworthy, the protracted development of the PAK DA bomber serves as a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead in maintaining parity with global stealth technologies.

Summary: The urgency for Russia to prioritize the PAK DA's completion is palpable, as failing to do so could leave a strategic void for U.S. aerospace forces to exploit. While Russia's resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity are noteworthy, the protracted development of the PAK DA bomber serves as a reminder of the challenges that lie ahead in maintaining parity with global stealth technologies.

Tupolev PAK DA: Russia's Answer to the Stealth Bomber Challenge

Codenamed “Poslannik,” (which means “envoy” or “messenger” in Russian), Russia’s Tupolev PAK DA bomber is the Russian Aerospace Forces’ newest toy. It is a long-range, stealth strategic bomber that is intended to ultimately replace the aging Tu-95 Bear bomber. The Poslannik has a projected range of 12,000 km (7,500 miles) and can stay airborne for 30 hours while carrying a nuclear payload. 

Russia’s new warbird is a bit of a slowpoke. It cannot reach supersonic speeds. But, according to the designers of the Tu PAK DA, their emphasis was less on speed and more on stealth capabilities. 

In fact, the plane’s designers have argued that the plane’s slower speed allows it to carry a larger payload package that not only includes nuclear weapons, but Russia’s innovative hypersonic missiles. The Poslannik bomber is rumored to have a payload capacity of 30 tons, which exceeds the US Air Force’s B-2 stealth bomber maximum payload capacity. In fact, the PAK DA bomber has elements that stealth plane geeks would recognize from America’s B-2 stealth bomber plane. 

Like American stealth bombers, the Russian Tu-PAK DA is commanded by a powerful suite of sophisticated computers that do everything from maintaining flight control to monitoring enemy movements. 

The PAK DA Looks Like a Marvel Comic Book Villain’s Plane

The Tupolev designers believe that the PAK DA’s superior stealth technology coupled with its ability to launch hypersonic payloads negates the need to outrun enemy air defenses. Although, it should be noted that a persistent problem in Russian bomber design has been its engines. When Tupolev designed the Tu-95, for example, they opted to make the long-range nuclear-capable bomber a turbo-prop-driven plane rather than a turbojet-driven plane, as the American B-52 Stratofortress is. 

It is possible that the Russians are again having issues with their engines for this new, fifth-generation stealth bomber and they are simply opting out of acquiring more powerful engines altogether.

Looking like something that a Marvel Comic book villain would fly, the Tupolev PAK DA is probably Russia’s best attempt at employing stealth technology. I say “probably” because the warbird has yet to take flight. Russian sources report that Moscow plans to deploy the Tu-PAK DA Poslannik in service at some pointbetween now and 2027, with most acknowledging that it’ll be closer to 2027. The issue at hand for Russia is the longer the stealth bomber’s deployment is delayed, the greater the capabilities gap exists in Russia’s offensive air capabilities.

In the meantime, the Russians have upgraded their Tu-160 “White Swan” bombers to continue fulfilling mission critical roles. Although, these planes are not of the fifth-generation series and, therefore, Moscow wants to ultimately place the Tu-PAK DA’s as their lead bomber in today’s age of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) warfare. This has led to some speculation in the West that the Tu-PAK DA Poslannik will never fly. 

After all, it has been in development since 2007. 

Faced with delays for 17 years (and still counting), whatever progress has been made on the planes, now that the Ukraine War has erupted and is diverting considerable Russian resources away from such projects, like the Tu-PAK DA bomber, one can anticipate more delays.

The PAK DA is Not Ready for Showtime

The Russians have been lying for a few years about how far along they are with the Tu-PAK DA’s development. After all, the Russians were supposed to have a demonstration plane ready for use by 2023. Now, Russia’s defense ministry says it won’t be until next year, two years after it was originally supposed to be ready for use, that a demonstration Tu-PAK DA will be available.

And the longer the delay lasts for the deployment of the Tu-PAK DA, the greater the capabilities gap is for Russia’s air force. Not only have the Americans outpaced the Russians with the recent successful demonstration of the B-21 bomber, but the Chinese have gotten their own long-range stealth bomber, the H-20, which Beijing claims can “out-bomb” US Air Force facilities in the Indo-Pacific.

One thing that is working in Russia’s favor is the fact that the Ukraine War has forced its manufacturing sector to go on a war-footing—where it will likely remain for some time to come. 

Will Russia Be Able to Keep Up with Stealth Planes?

Still, Russian aerospace firms are having difficulty meeting increased demand for their products. This has especially been felt in the Su-35 series, a “fourth-generation ++” warplane. Nevertheless, the Russians have remained in the fight. What’s more, as I have noted previously, the Russians are winning and are likely to defeat Ukraine (and their NATO backers) simply through attrition. 

Inevitably, the Russians will have to prioritize the creation of their Tu-PAK DA bomber. 

Otherwise, they will have left a significant strategic gap for the Americans to fly through with their B-21. 

As an American, I hope this remains the case. Although, after two years of the Ukraine War, the Americans should learn never to underestimate the Russians. Theirs is a society that is compelled by necessity, the kind of necessity that total war brings. At some point, they’ll get the Tu-PAK DA right.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.