Does India Need Russian TU-160, Nuclear Capable, Strategic Bombers To Counter China?

Does India need a strategic bomber like the Russian TU-160 which can counter the growing fleet of Chinese bombers? The Russian supersonic bomber TU-160 also called White Swan is the most powerful and largest missile carrier in the world.

TU-160 is called White Swan because a white reflective coating is applied to the bomber. This protects the crew as the plane can carry nuclear warheads whose explosion creates a bright fireball which emits thermal energy.

As EurAsian Times reported citing reports from the Pentagon that the Chinese air force “has been reassigned a nuclear mission”, and is working on long-range strategic bombers to deliver nuclear weapons and India could be one of the possible targets.

“The deployment of nuclear-capable strategic bombers would, for the first time, provide Beijing with a nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air,” it said.

China already fields the nuclear-capable Xian H-6K bomber, with a range of 3,500 kilometres — enough to strike targets deep into India. China is now developing a “stealthy, long-range strategic bomber with a nuclear delivery capability that could be operational within the next 10 years, ” according to Pentagon.

India claims to have a “nuclear triad”, but its air-delivered capability is temporary, based on tactical fighter aircraft like the Jaguar and Mirage-2000 and yet to be acquired Rafale jets.

Experts talking to EurAsian Times explain that New Delhi neither has, nor is developing nor contemplating long-range strategic bombers that China is building or something which global powers like the US and Russia already possess.

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Does India need a strategic bomber like TU-160? EurAsian Times analyses the TU-160 for our readers to analyze whether India needs the strategic bomber?

History: TU-160

The TU-160 was first brought in service by Russia in 1987. The aircraft was manufactured by Tupolev aircraft research and engineering complex joint-stock company of Moscow and Kazan-Gorbunov Aircraft Production Association in Tatarstan from 1980 to 1992.

Currently, Russia has 16 TU-160 aircraft. The aircraft was built to deliver conventional and nuclear weapons. It has an all-weather, day-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes.

Achievements and Upgrades: Tu-160

In 2008 two Tu-160 bombers made the first transatlantic flight from Murmansk to Venezuela, on a training mission. In June 2010, two Russian Tu-160 bombers completed a record-breaking 23hr patrol covering 18,000km of flight range. The bombers flew by the borders of Russia over the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and finally landed at Engels base in the Volga region.

Tupolev completed bench tests of modernised avionics complex for the Tu-160 bomber in March 2013. A Tu-160 aircraft with upgraded airborne radar and navigation equipment made the first flight on 16 November 2014. It entered service with the Russian Air Force in December 2014.

The Tu-160 can carry nuclear and conventional weapons including long-range nuclear missiles. The missiles are accommodated on multi-station launchers in each of the two weapons bays.

The Tu-160 is capable of carrying the twelve strategic cruise missile Kh-55MS which has maximum range is 3,000km, and it is armed with a 200kt nuclear warhead. The plane can also carry Kh-15P, which has a range of up to 200km.

The Kickback can be fitted with a conventional 250kg warhead or a nuclear warhead. The aircraft is also capable of carrying a range of aerial bombs with a total weight up to 40t.

Russia is also looking to include the hypersonic missile system Kinzhal which will considerably increase the destruction radius. The missiles fly at speed of Mach 5 and are almost undetectable thereby increasing its fatalness.

Avionics and Variants:  Tu-160

The aircraft is highly computerised and the avionics systems include an integrated aiming, navigation and flight control system, with navigation and attack radar, an electronic countermeasures system, and automatic controls.

The Tu-160 uses fly-by-wire controls. The aircraft is equipped with three-strut landing gear, a tailwheel and a brake parachute. For take-off, the aircraft requires a 3.5km runway of solid concrete. The crew of the Tu-160 comprises a pilot, co-pilot, a navigator and an operator.

The crew is equipped with zero ejection seats, which provide the crew with the option of ejecting safely throughout the entire range of altitudes and airspeeds including when the aircraft is stationary. The Tu-160 has a control stick for flight control similar to the one in a fighter aircraft – rather than control wheels or yokes, which are usually used in large transporter or bomber aircraft.

The Tu-160 has eight variants: Tu-160S, Tu-160V, Tu-160 NK-74, Tu-160M, Tu-160P, Tu-160PP, Tu-160R and Tu-160SK. Tu-160V is an upgraded version which uses liquid hydrogen as fuel while Tu-160 NK-74 is an advance version powered by NK-74 engines.Tu-160M can accommodate two additional long-range, hypersonic Kh-90 missiles. Tu-160P, also known as Tu-161, is a long-range escort or interceptor aircraft. Tu-160SK is an upgraded commercial version principally used to launch satellites within the Burlak system.

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The Tu-160 can climb at a rate of 70m per second. The maximum and cruise speeds of the bomber are 2,220km per hour and 960km per hour, respectively. The range of the aircraft is 12,300km. Its combat radius is 7,300km. The service ceiling is 16,000m. The Tu-160 has a flight endurance of 15 hours. The aircraft weighs around 110,000kg and its maximum take-off weight is 275,000kg.

Does India Need Strategic Bombers?

As far as nuclear deterrence goes, outnumbering China’s strategic bombers and missiles would almost be an impossible task in the foreseeable future. For conventional strategic bombing too, given the territorial vastness of China, the numbers required would be humongous.

However, given the fact that Chinese bombers can reach most of the Indian cities, airports and defence facilities, New Delhi would be keen to have a strategic bomber like the TU-160, capable threatening both China and Pakistan while getting the Indian Air Force its due recognition of a global aerospace power.

The analysts conclude by saying that having strategic bombers may not be a top priority for New Delhi for now, however, Indian defence experts would be keenly monitoring rapid development of Chinese bombers and at some point, would have to reconsider their strategy.