As the Ukraine war goes on, Russia is working relentlessly to ramp up the production of its combat aircraft. Among these, the Tu-160M White Swan nuclear bombers and the Tu-214R reconnaissance aircraft have attracted the most eyeballs.
Following a visit by its Director General Sergey Chemezov to the Gorbunov Aviation Plant in Kazan, Russia’s state firm Rostec announced on March 24 that the upgrades to the Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber would allow it to carry new weaponry, including modern armaments.
However, the announcement that caught global attention was that the company had decided to ratchet up the production of these strategic bombers. The news was widely reported by western and Ukrainian media as the two parties remain wary of Moscow’s nuclear capabilities.
“The company is increasing production of the famous White Swans, the signature piece of our strategic aviation. They are unique machines, beautiful on the outside and formidable in terms of their capabilities,” the Rostec chief said.
The Tu-160 is reportedly the largest and the most advanced supersonic military aircraft built with adjustable wing shape in military aviation history. Russia has deployed the bomber to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.
The Tu-160, for one, is the backbone of the Russian Aerospace Force’s (VKS) long-range aircraft, along with Tu-95MS bombers. This could likely be why the Russian air bases- Engels and Dyagilevo, that house these Russian strategic bombers came under attack in December 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to restart the production of the Tu-160 bombers, which were then modified to become the Tu-160M. As part of the upgrade program, the design documentation for the Tu-160M has been quickly digitalized, the vacuum welding technology for titanium parts has been restored, and production of the aircraft’s airframe has resumed.
EurAsian Times reported in December that the second Tupolev Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber took to the skies for the first time following the upgrade. As per reports in Russian media, the third Tu-160M is currently under production.
In addition to modernizing 16 existing Tu-160 bombers, previous reports indicated that Russia would purchase roughly 50 Tu-160M aircraft in the following years. The serial production of the upgraded bomber was likewise known to start sometime in 2023, with a minimum production rate of three aircraft per year.
However, the production is now being increased from what was previously anticipated, even though the manufacturer stopped short of specifying how many of these Tu-160M strategic bombers would be produced annually.
The Tu-160M is not the only aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces that will see a spike in production. Another strategic asset of the VKS, the Tu-214, is also on the list, according to Sergey Chemezov.
Increasing Production Of Russian’ Eavesdropper’
Chemezov said the company is also ramping production of the civilian Tu-214 airplane to 10 per year. The announcement comes more than a month after Yury Slyusar, the head of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), stated that it would increase the output of the Tu-214 to 20 units per year.
Slyusar told reporters on-site, “We are working on it. We are making a cargo and shortened version for flights in the Far East. We will increase production gradually.”
This has given the impression that even though the production rate has been pegged at 10 per year, it would eventually be increased to 20.
The Tu-214 has long been recognized as dependable and effective equipment despite being produced in small quantities. The first batch of aircraft for commercial passenger air travel is being built at the Kazan Aviation Factory.
In the future, numerous aircraft batches are expected to take off concurrently to accommodate the demands of both government and commercial customers. The increased output aims to revive the commercial aircraft manufacturing sector in Russia.
The Tu-214 also has a variant used by the Russian Aerospace Forces- known as the Tu-214R. It is an aerial ISR platform for signal & optical surveillance. The aircraft has lateral conformal radar stations (RLS) with phased antenna arrays (PAR). It is predominantly used to locate and identify ground targets.
A high-resolution optoelectronic system is also present on the aircraft, presumably to aid in accurately detecting targets.
Russia currently only has a small number of Tu-214Rs. According to some accounts, the plane didn’t enter Ukrainian airspace until September 2022.
According to military expert and Indian Air Force veteran Vijainder K Thakur, “In the absence of the theater-wide surveillance that the Tu-214R is capable of providing, Ukraine was initially able to move its armor and MLRS, such as HIMARS, with impunity.”
Further, Thakur believes that the delay in introducing the aircraft may have been due to some tweaking based on the experience accrued by the VKS in Syria.
It is believed to be roughly equivalent to the US E-8 JSTARS, extensively deployed by it and NATO troops for surveillance. The US E-8 JSTAR is being used round the clock to assist Ukraine with crucial intelligence and “high-quality targeting information.”
Thakur further said, “As soon as Russia can field enough Tu-214R to ensure 24×7 surveillance, it will be in a position to level the playing field as far as ISR goes.”
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