Russia is looking to begin producing the Tu-160M2, an upgraded version of the Tu-160, in April.
The CEO of United Aircraft Corporation, Yuri Slyusar, stated on February 9, 2017 that he expects production of a modernized Tu-160 to begin in the next few months, probably in April. The plane, called Tu-160M2, is a strategic bomber.
The Tu-160M2 will be built by Kazan Aviation Factory, in Kazan, Russia. Last month, Russia confirmed it was procuring components to begin assembly of the bomber.
The aircraft’s production line ended in 2008, just over two decades after the bomber first entered service.
However, in April 2015, the Russian Defense Ministry made the announcement that it would begin Tu-160 production again. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying, “Today it is already necessary to solve the task of not only maintaining and modernizing long-range aviation, we must also produce the Tu-160 missile carrier.”
Shoigu emphasized that the aircraft still had a significant amount of potential for upgrades, noting, the Tu-160 is “a unique aircraft that was several decades ahead of its time and its constructive potential was still to be fully unlocked.”
The Tu-160M2 will come with a number of improvements over the previous version, such as new weapons developed for the bomber and an improvement on its engines. Russian officials expect it to be twice as effective as the original Tu-160.
Previously, Aerospace Forces Commander Viktor Bondarev has stated that Russia expects the Tu-160M2 to make its first flight in 2018. He told journalists last year, “The first Tu-160M2 is expected to take off by the end of 2018, followed by full-scale production in 2021.”
Russian officials have alternatively stated either 2021 or 2023 as the expected starting year for serial production, though more recently officials have stated the former.
Russia is likely to purchase 50 Tu-160M2s throughout the life of the program, though it is unclear what the size of an initial order will be.
Production of the Tu-160M2 will push back production of the PAK DA, a next-generation stealth bomber that will eventually replace Russia’s fleet of bombers. That aircraft was initially going to be produced before 2023, but, with Tu-160M2 production restarting, the PAK DA is likely not to be produced for some time, even more so considering a weakened budget outlook and the fact that Russian bombers are still useful for the country’s deployments.
Given Russia’s recent experience in producing the Tu-160, restarting its production in an upgraded form will be more cost-effective than building an entirely new stealth platform while the budget remains tight. Even so, work continues on designing the PAK DA — it may be unveiled in some form next year.