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Tupolev Tu-160
Role Supersonic strategic bomber and missile carrier
National origin Soviet Union, now Russia
Design group Tupolev
Built by Kazan Aircraft Production Association
First flight 19 December 1981
Introduction 1987 initial operational capability (IOC); 2005 official
Status In service
Primary user Russian Air Force
Produced 1984–1992
Number built 36

The Tupolev Tu-160 (Russian: Туполев Ту-160, NATO reporting name: Blackjack) is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. Although several civil and military transport aircraft are larger in overall dimensions, the Tu-160 is currently the world's largest combat aircraft, largest supersonic aircraft, and largest variable-sweep aircraft built. Only the North American XB-70 Valkyrie had higher empty weight and maximum speed. In addition, the Tu-160 has the heaviest takeoff weight of any military aircraft besides transports.

Entering service in 1987, the Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber designed for the Soviet Union. The aircraft is in service, with at least 16 aircraft currently in use with the Russian Air Force.


The first competition for a supersonic strategic heavy bomber was launched in the Soviet Union in 1967. In 1972, the Soviet Union launched a new multi-mission bomber competition to create a new supersonic, variable-geometry ("swing-wing") heavy bomber with a maximum speed of Mach 2.3, in direct response to the US Air Force B-1 bomber project. The Tupolev design, dubbed Aircraft 160M, with a lengthened flying wing layout and incorporating some elements of the Tu-144, competed against the Myasishchev M-18 and the Sukhoi T-4 designs.[1]

Tu-160 in flight

Work on the new Soviet bomber continued despite an end to the B-1A, and in the same year, the design was accepted by the government committee. The prototype was photographed by an airline passenger at a Zhukovsky Airfield in November 1981, about a month before the aircraft's first flight on 18 December 1981. Production was authorized in 1984, beginning at Kazan Aircraft Production Association.[citation needed]


In 2006, the Russian Air Force was expected to receive five modernised and one new-built Tu-160.[2] The Russian Air Force will receive a further five modernized Tu-160s each year, which means that modernization of the fleet could be achieved within three years if the schedule is kept up.[3]

Changes announced include completely digital, multireserved, neutron and other nuclear emissions resistant avionics; full support of cruising and steering through GLONASS global satellite positioning system; and an updated version the of the NK-32 engine with increased reliability.[3] Weapon upgrades will allow the use of new nuclear/non-nuclear GLONASS-navigated cruise missiles (Kh-55),[4] and drop laser-guided bombs.[5] Planned upgrades are also to add the ability to handle missiles that launch military or civil satellites;[6] and addition of advanced radar emissions absorbing coatings.[7]

On 7 February 2012, it was announced that 10 Tu-160 bombers will be upgraded to the Tu-160M standard by 2020, until a new generation bomber is developed.[8] On 26 July 2013, 3 bombers have been sent to the Kazan Aircraft Plant for modernization. The Russian Ministry of Defense signed a 3.4 billion Ruble contract with the Tupolev Design Bureau, and the Kazan Aircraft Plant to upgrade the 3 bombers as part of the planned 10.[9] The upgraded Tu-160M bombers are planned to enter service in 2015.


Cockpit view

The Tu-160 is a variable-geometry wing aircraft. The aircraft employs a fly-by-wire control system with a blended wing profile, and full-span slats are used on the leading edges, with double-slotted flaps on the trailing edges.[citation needed]

The Tu-160 is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-321 afterburning turbofan engines, the most powerful ever fitted to a combat aircraft. Unlike the American B-1B Lancer, which reduced the original Mach 2+ requirement for the B-1A to achieve a smaller radar profile, the Tu-160 retains variable intakes, and is capable of reaching Mach 2 speed at altitude.[citation needed]

The Tu-160 is equipped with a probe-and-drogue in-flight refueling system for extended-range missions, although it is rarely used. The Tu-160's internal fuel capacity of 130 tons gives the aircraft a roughly 15-hour flight endurance at a cruise speed of around 850 km/h (Mach 0.77, 530 mph) at 9,145 m (30,003 ft).[10] In February 2008, Tu-160 bombers and Il-78 refueling tankers practiced air refueling during air combat exercise, as well as MiG-31, A-50 and other Russian combat aircraft.[11]

Although the Tu-160 was designed for reduced detectability to both radar and infrared, it is not a stealth aircraft. Nevertheless, Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov claimed that Tu-160s managed to penetrate the US sector of the Arctic undetected on 25 April 2006, leading to a USAF investigation according to a Russian source.[12]

The Tu-160 has a crew of four (pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defensive systems operator) in K-36DM ejection seats.[citation needed]

Weapons are carried in two internal bays, each capable of holding 20,000 kg (44,400 lb) of free-fall weapons or a rotary launcher for nuclear missiles; additional missiles may also be carried externally. The aircraft's total weapons load capacity is 40,000 kg (88,185 lb).[13] However, no defensive weapons are provided; the Tu-160 is the first unarmed post-World War II Soviet bomber.

A demilitarized, commercial version of the Tu-160, named Tu-160SK, was displayed at Asian Aerospace in Singapore in 1994 with a model of a small space vehicle named Burlak[14] attached underneath the fuselage.

While similar in appearance to the American B-1 Lancer, the Tu-160 is a different class of combat aircraft, its primary role being a standoff missile platform (strategic missile carrier). The Tu-160 is also larger and faster than the B-1B and has a slightly greater combat range, though the B-1B has a larger combined payload.[15] Another significant difference is that the colour scheme on the B-1B Lancer is usually radar-absorbent black, the Tu-160 is painted with anti-flash white, giving it the nickname among Russian airmen "White Swan".[16]

Operational history

The Tu-160 began service with the 184 Guards Bomber Regiment, based at Pryluky, Soviet Union, in 1987.[citation needed]


Soviet officers in front of a Tupolev Tu-160 in September 1989

Squadron deployments to Long Range Aviation began in April 1987 before the Tu-160 was first presented to the public in a parade in 1989. In 1989 and 1990 it set 44 world speed flight records in its weight class. Until 1991, 19 aircraft served in the 184th Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment (GvTBAP) in Pryluky in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, replacing Tu-16 and Tu-22M3 aircraft. In 1992, Russia unilaterally suspended its flights of strategic aviation in remote regions.

The Fall of the Soviet Union saw 19 aircraft stationed in the newly independent Ukraine. On 25 August 1991, the Ukrainian parliament decreed that the country would take control of all military units on its territory and a Defence Ministry was created the same day. By the mid-1990s, the Pryluky Regiment had lost its value as a combat unit. The 184th GvTBAP's 19 "Blackjacks" were effectively grounded because of a lack of technical support, spare parts and fuel. At this time, Ukraine considered the Tu-160s more of a bargaining chip in their economic negotiations with Russia. They were of very limited value to Ukraine from a military standpoint, but discussions with Russia concerning their return bogged down. The main bone of contention was the price. While Russian experts, who examined the aircraft at the Pryluky Air Base in 1993 and 1996, assessed their technical condition as good, the price of $3 billion demanded by Ukraine was unacceptable. The negotiations led to nowhere and in April 1998, Ukraine decided to commence scrapping the aircraft under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Agreement. In November, the first Tu-160 was ostentatiously chopped up at Pryluky.[17]

In April 1999, immediately after NATO began its air attacks against Serbia, Russia resumed talks with Ukraine about the strategic bombers. This time they proposed buying back eight Tu-160s and three Tu-95MS models manufactured in 1991 (those in the best technical condition), as well as 575 Kh-55MS missiles. An agreement was finally reached and a contract valued at $285 million was signed. That figure was to be deducted from Ukraine's debt for natural gas. A group of Russian military experts went to Ukraine on 20 October 1999 to prepare the aircraft for the trip to Engels-2 air base. The first two (a Tu-160 and a Tu-95MS) departed Pryluky on 5 November. During the months that followed, the other seven "Blackjacks" were brought to Engels, with the last two arriving on 21 February 2001.[17]

Along with the re-purchase of the aircraft from Ukraine, Russia's Defence Ministry sought other ways of rebuilding the fleet at Engels. In June 1999, the Ministry placed a contract with the Kazan Aircraft Production Association for a delivery of a single, almost complete, bomber. The aircraft was the second aircraft in the eighth production batch and it arrived at Engels on 10 September. It was commissioned into service as "07" on 5 May 2000.[17]

The unit that was operating the fleet from Engels was 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment. It formed up in the spring of 1992 and by 1994 it had received 6 aircraft. By the end of February 2001, the fleet grew to 15. The Regiment continues to serve in its role.[17]

Vladimir Putin inside the cabin of a Tu-160 in August 2005

There were 14 Tu-160s in service as of November 2005. Another two new-built aircraft were nearing completion at the Kazan Aircraft Plant, one of which was due to enter service in March 2006, with the other following later in the year. As of 2001, six additional Tu-160 have served as experimental aircraft at Zhukovski, four remaining airworthy. On 30 December 2005, under an order signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Tu-160 officially entered service in the Russian Air Force.[citation needed]

On 17 August 2007, Putin announced that Russia was resuming the strategic aviation flights stopped in 1991, sending its bomber aircraft on long-range patrols.[18] On 14 September 2007, British and Norwegian fighters intercepted two Tu-160s which breached NATO airspace near the UK and Finland.[19] On 25 December 2007, two Blackjacks came close to Danish airspace, and two Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons scrambled to intercept and identify them.[20]

According to Russian government sources, on 11 September 2007, a Tu-160 was used to drop the massive fuel-air explosive device, the Father of all bombs, for its first field test.[21] However, some military analysts expressed skepticism that the weapon was actually delivered by a Blackjack.[22]

On 28 December 2007, the first flight of a new Tu-160 was reported to have taken place following completion of the aircraft at the Kazan Aviation Plant.[23] After flight testing, the bomber joined the Russian Air Force on 29 April 2008, bringing the total number of aircraft in service to 16. One new Tu-160 is expected to be built every one to two years until the active inventory reaches 30 or more aircraft by 2025–2030.[24][25]

Tu-160, No. 02 "Vasily Reshetnikov" at the Engels airbase

On 10 September 2008, two Russian Tu-160 landed in Venezuela as part of military maneuvers, announcing an unprecedented deployment to Russia's ally at a time of increasingly tense relations between Russia and the United States. The Russian Ministry of Defence said the two Tu-160 bombers were on a training mission. It said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies, that the aircraft would conduct training flights over neutral waters before returning to Russia. Its spokesman added that the aircraft were escorted by NATO fighters as they flew across the Atlantic Ocean.[26]

On 12 October 2008, a number of Tu-160 bombers were involved in the largest Russian strategic bomber exercise since 1984. A total of 12 bombers including Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 Bear conducted a series of launches of their cruise missiles. Some bombers launched a full complement of their missiles. It was the first time that a Tu-160 had ever fired a full complement of missiles.[27]

On 10 June 2010, two Tu-160 bombers carried out a record-breaking 23-hour patrol with a planned flight range of 18,000 kilometers. The bombers flew along the Russian borders and over neutral waters in the Arctic and Pacific Oceans.[28]

On November 1, 2013, two Tu-160 bombers went into Colombian airspace in two different occasions without receiving previous clearance from the Colombian Government. This sparked a note of protest on the first trajectory and one the second one Kfir jets stationed at Barranquilla were scrambled to intercept and escort the two blackjacks out of Colombian airspace.[29][30]


  • Tu-160: Production version.
  • Tu-160S: designation used for serial Tu-160s when needed to separate them from all the pre-production and experimental aircraft.[31]
  • Tu-160V: proposed liquid hydrogen fueled version (see also Tu-155).[31]
  • Tu-160 NK-74: proposed upgraded (extended range) version with NK-74 engines.[31]
  • Tu-160M: upgraded version that features new weaponry, improved electronics and avionics, which double its combat effectiveness.[8] Will carry the hypersonic Kh-90 (3M25 Meteorit-A) missiles.
  • Tu-160P (Tu-161): proposed very long-range escort fighter/interceptor version.
  • Tu-160PP: proposed electronic warfare version carrying stand-off jamming and ECM gear (Russian: ПП – постановщик помех).
  • Tu-160R: proposed strategic reconnaissance version.
  • Tu-160SK: proposed commercial version, designed to launch satellites within the "Burlak" (Russian: Бурлак, "hauler") system.[31]


  • Russian Air Force - 16 were in service (12 combat and four in training) as of April 2008,[32] with the 121st Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment at Engels/Saratov.[33] As of 2012, 11 of them are combat-ready.[34][35]


  • Ukrainian Air Force inherited 19 Tu-160s from the former Soviet Union, but subsequently handed over eight Tu-160s to Russia as exchange for debt relief in 1999; the remainder have been withdrawn from service.
  • 1 in museum of the strategic aviation in Poltava[36]
 Soviet Union
184th Guards Heavy Bomber Regiment (TBAP), Pryluky, Ukrainian SSR

Specifications (Tu-160)

Orthographic projection of the Tupolev Tu-160

Data from Jane's All The World's Aircraft 2003–2004,[13]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4 (pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, defensive systems operator)
  • Length: 54.10 m (177 ft 6 in)
  • Wingspan:
    • Spread (20° sweep): 55.70 m (189 ft 9 in)
    • Swept (65° sweep): 35.60 m (116 ft 9¾ in)
  • Height: 13.10 m (43 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area:
    • Spread: 400 m² (4,306 ft²)
    • Swept: 360 m² (3,875 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 110,000 kg (242,505 lb; operating empty weight)
  • Loaded weight: 267,600 kg (589,950 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 275,000 kg (606,260 lb)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Samara NK-321 turbofans
    • Dry thrust: 137.3 kN (30,865 lbf) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 245 kN (55,115 lbf) each


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.05 (2,220 km/h, 1,200 knots, 1,380 mph) at 12,200 m (40,000 ft)
  • Cruise speed: Mach 0.9 (960 km/h, 518 knots, 596 mph)
  • Range: 12,300 km (7,643 mi)practical range without in-flight refuelling, Mach 0.77 and carrying 6 × Kh-55SM dropped at mid range and 5% fuel reserves[37]
  • Combat radius: 7,300 km[38] (3,994 nmi, 4,536 mi,)2,000 km (1,080 nmi, 1,240 mi) at Mach 1.5[13]
  • Service ceiling: 15,006 m (49,235 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 70 m/s (13,860 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 742 kg/m² with wings fully swept (152 lb/ft²)
  • lift-to-drag: 18.5–19, while supersonic it is above 6.[39]
  • Thrust/weight: 0.37


  • Two internal bays for 40,000 kg (88,185 lb) of ordnance including
  • See also



    1. Sergeyev, Pavel. "Белый лебедь" (Russian)., 30 April 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2009.
    2. "Russia can hope for new Blackjack bomber in 2006 – Ivanov.", Russian News and Information Agency, 5 July 2006. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    3. 3.0 3.1 "Информационный портал United Volga / Новости / Самара. Сергей Иванов поддержал ОАО \"СНТК им. Кузнецова\." (in Russian), 27 July 2006. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
    4. Minakov, Alexander. "Информационный портал United Volga / Новости / Самара. Бомбардировщик Ту-160 получил новые двигатели." (in Russian) (archive), 7 June 2006. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
    5. "The Voice of Russia (Efir-Daigest 93)."[dead link], 4 July 2006. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
    6. "Новый военный бренд России." Retrieved 6 August 2009.
    7. "ЕВРАЗИЯ :: информационно-аналитический портал.", 4 July 2006. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
    8. 8.0 8.1
    10. "Aircraft Museum – Tu-160 'Blackjack'.", 16 August 2008. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
    11. "Tu-160 bombers practice air refueling in Feb 2008 exercises" Retrieved 3 September 2011.
    12. "Russian bombers flew undetected across Arctic – AF commander." RIA Novosti, 22 April 2006. Retrieved 22 April 2008
    13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Jackson 2003, pp. 425–426.
    14. Burlak
    15. The Directory of the World's Weapons 1996, p. 140.
    16. “'White swan’ – Russian supersonic aircraft."[dead link] Moscow Top News, 2009. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
    17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Butowski, Piotr. "Russia's Strategic Bomber Force". pp. 552–565. 
    18. "Russia orders long-range bomber patrols." USA Today, 17 August 2007. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
    19. Satter, Raphael G. "NATO jets intercept Russian warplanes." USA Today, 14 September 2007. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
    20. "Danish fighter jets v. Russian bombers: 18-minute chase.", 26 December 2007. Retrieved 19 July 2009.
    21. "Russia tests giant fuel-air bomb." BBC News, 12 September 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    22. Axe, David and Daria Solovieva. "Did Russia Stage the Father of All Bombs Hoax?" Wired, 4 October 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    23. "New serial Tu-160 Blackjack bomber undergoes flight test.", Russian News and Information Agency, 12 December 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    24. "Russian Air Force receives new Tu-160 strategic bomber'" RIA Novosti, 10 January 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    25. "На КАПО им.Горбунова испытали новый серийный Ту-160" (Russian). Tatar-Inform Information Agency, Kazan, 6 January 2008. Retrieved 5 August 2009
    26. "Russian bombers land in Venezuela." BBC News, 11 September 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    27. "Russia plans biggest missile test for 24 years." The Daily Telegraph, 7 October 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    28. "Russian strategic bombers complete record duration flight." The Moscow News via, 10 June 2010. Retrieved 30 June 2010.
    31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 Aviation and Cosmonautics magazine, 5.2006, pp. 10–11. ISSN 168-7759.
    32. "Ъ-Власть – Куда летит российская авиация" (in Russian). Retrieved 17 November 2012.
    33. "Russian Air Force receives new Tu-160 strategic bomber." RIA Novosti. 29 April 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    34. Karnozov, Vladimir. "In focus: Russian's next-generation bomber takes shape." Flight International, 15 October 2012.
    35. Axe, David. "We Just Hunted Down All of Russia’s Long-Range Bombers". Retrieved 13 November 2013. 
    36. "Музей дальней авиации, Полтава" (in Russian).. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
    37. Taylor 1996, p. 103.
    38. "Tu-160 Blackjack (Tupolev)." Retrieved 3 August 2009.
    39. "ХАРАКТЕРИСТИКИ БОМБАРДИРОВЩИКА Ту-160." ('Tu-160 bomber specifications') Retrieved 3 August 2009.


    • The Directory of the World's Weapons. Leicester, UK: Blitz Editions, 1996. ISBN 978-1-85605-348-8.
    • Eden, Paul, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft. London: Amber Books, 2004. ISBN 1-904687-84-9 CITEREFEden2004. 
    • Jackson, Paul. Jane's All The World's Aircraft 2003–2004. Coulsdon, UK: Jane's Information Group, 2003. ISBN 0-7106-2537-5.
    • Taylor, Michael J. H. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory. London: Brassey's, 1996. ISBN 1-85753-198-1.

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