Putin Leads High Level Delegation to Inspect New Tu-160M Strategic Bombers

Russian President Vladimir Putin led a high level delegation to the Kazan Aircraft Plant on February 21 to inspect four new Tu-160M intercontinental range strategic bombers. Although the first newly built Tu-160M bomber was delivered to the Russian Air Force in December 2022, the country’s existing fleet of baseline Soviet Tu-160Ms is also being modernised to the same standard at the Kazan plant. The first Tu-160M made its first flight in January 2022. Enhancements have included the integration of entirely new avionics, NK-32-02 engines for reduced maintenance, a superior flight performance and endurance, and a range of new armaments most notably Kh-101/102 cruise missiles. Multiple classes of hypersonic missile are currently under development for the aircraft. Bringing older Tu-160 airframes up to this standard involves replacing approximately three quarters of their systems and mechanisms, with avionics being entirely new. Russia has made three parallel investments to modernise its top intercontinental range strategic bomber units, including modernisation of older Tu-160s, production of 50 new airframes beginning in 2021, and development of a next generation successor under the PAK DA program. In December it was revealed that the Defence Ministry had commissioned the creation of a new facility dedicated specifically for the development and testing of the PAK DA.

Included in the high level delegation accompanying the Russian president were Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, leader of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov, Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov, and the General Director of the United Aircraft Corporation Yury Slyusar, as well as Managing Director of Tupolev Konstantin Timofeev. During the visit President Putin boarded one of the planes and spent approximately ten minutes in the cockpit. The fact that such a large high level delegation visited provides a significant indicator of the importance attributed to the strategic bomber program by the Russian civilian and leadership, and comes at a time of particularly high tensions between Moscow and the Western world. As the Western backed Ukrainian war effort shows growing signs of faltering, Western officials have increasingly widely warned of the potential occurrence of a direct conflict between Russia and NATO over Ukraine. Tensions in the Pacific, Arctic, Middle East, and Africa, have also increased considerably as both Russia and the Western Bloc accelerate moves to strengthen their military positions. 

Update: Shortly after 15:30 Moscow time on February 22 Russian state media reported that President Putin made a flight from the Kazan aircraft plant in a Tu-160M lasting over 30 minutes.