A source in Russia’s defense industry told Tass News Agency on April 13, 2017 that a contract regarding the development of prototype PAK DA bombers has been signed. The strategic bomber will be created in the early 2020s, according to the source.
The first stage of development work reportedly concluded in 2016.
Tass quoted the source as saying, “Now we are switching to the second stage: the development of design documentation and further on – the manufacture of the aircraft’s experimental prototypes. The military has signed a contract for the fulfillment of works at this stage with the United Aircraft-Building Corporation. The first experimental prototype is expected to be manufactured in the early 2020s.”
Tass stressed that there has been no official confirmation of the source’s information.
The first PAK DA prototype may take flight in 2025.
Russia initially aimed to produce the PAK DA much sooner, but opted instead to restart Tu-160 strategic bomber production, in a modernized form called the Tu-160M2. Budget challenges brought on by economic sanctions and a collapse in global energy prices helped shape the decision to delay the PAK DA’s development in favor of modernizing the Tu-160.
Russia currently expects to begin serial production of the Tu-160M2 no later than 2022 and produce two to three planes annually.
The military may order 30 to 50 Tu-160M2s over the life of the program. It is likely that the pace of PAK DA development, as well as the unit cost of a serial model, will play a role in determining how many Tu-160M2s the military ultimately opts to procure.