New Russian Airbase Being Designed Specifically To Test PAK DA Next Generation Stealth Bomber

The Russian Defence Ministry has commissioned work for the creation of a new facility dedicated to the development and testing of a next generation strategic bomber design being developed under the PAK DA program. The announcement comes a month after the rival American program the B-21 Raider saw the first prototype aircraft make its first flight on November 10, and as the Chinese H-20 bomber is expected to make its first flight within 24 months. Russian state owned defence conglomerate Rostec reported regarding work on the new facility: “The staff of a Rostec enterprise composed of Semyon Startsev, Dmitry Pivovarov, Alexander Malanin and Nikita Sokratov won the award in the category: ‘For Contribution to Creating the Testing Base.’ Experts singled out their work for creating a set of bench equipment for testing airborne launchers. Under the Prospective Aviation Complex of Long-Range Aviation [PAK DA] program, the specialists carried out a full cycle of R&D and experimental design work for creating the testing base and a set of test benches.”

After the bomber’s design was finalised in 2019, a next generation engine to power it codenamed Izdeliye RF was reported to have begin bench tests in 2022 – with this expected to use many of the same technologies as the AL-51F engine (previously known as Saturn 30) developed for the Su-57 next generation fighter. Delays to the development of a next generation strategic bomber have nevertheless been a primary factor leading the Russian Defence Ministry to finance resumption of production of the Tu-160 strategic bomber from the late 2010s as the enhanced Tu-160M variant, with at least 50 new aircraft built under this program expected to serve as a stopgap until the first bombers built under the PAK DA program begin to enter service. The first new Tu-160 became operational in December 2022. At the beginning of the decade the PAK DA was expected to enter service by 2027, possibly earlier, with serial production estimated to begin between 2026 and 2027. A lack of significant signs of progress in development since then has led a growing number of experts to predict that service entry could begin only in the 2030s. This would closely coincide with the expected termination of production of the Tu-160, potentially allowing the Kazan Aviation Plant where the aircraft are currently being manufactured to smoothly transition to producing its next generation successor. 

In June 2021 sources in Russia’s military-industrial complex reported that “a completely new airborne defence system is being developed for PAK DA, which will protect it from all types of weapons – radar and optical,” and that the aircraft would place a very strong emphasis on electronic warfare for defence against enemy surface to air and air to air missile attacks. According to the source the new bomber would be built exclusively for launching missile attacks and would not rely on gravity bombs. “This will allow the aircraft not to enter the enemy’s air defence zone, to hit designated targets from the world’s oceans or from the territory of another state.” Such performance requirements would result in far less strenuous requirements for the bomber’s stealth capabilities, and possibly far lower production and operational costs, but would also forgeo the ability to carry large penetrative munitions for strikes on hardened or fortified targets comparable to American B-2 and B-21 bombers’ deployment of the massive 12,000kg GBU-57 bombers. In an era of fast modernising radar capabilities, which increasingly threaten to leave even the stealthiest bombers incapable of launching penetrative strikes using gravity bombs, the PAK DA program’s focus on use of very long ranged missiles and launching electronic attacks may well prove to be a an optimal and far more cost efficient way of pursuing development.