Developed in the late 1980’s by the Tupolev bureau, the Tu-160 White Swan (NATO designation: Black Jack), was the last strategic bomber produced by the Soviet Union, and the most modern strategic bomber currently in Russian service. A total of 35 of these aircraft have been built, and 16 are currently in service with Russia’s strategic bomber fleet. The Tu-160 White Swan is the largest combat aircraft in the world, the largest supersonic aircraft in the world, and the largest aircraft with sweeping wings in the world. Excluding transports, no other military aircraft has a heavier takeoff weight than the Tu-160.
The Tu-160 has a speed of Mach 2, and an endurance of 15 hours at cruise speed. It is equipped with 4 Kuznetsov NK-321 after-burning turbofans, which are the most powerful engines ever used on combat aircraft. The Tu-160 has an integrated air-to-air refueling system, but it is rarely used due to the aircraft’s long endurance. Although the Tu-160 is not a stealth bomber, it was designed to have a lower radar signature, like its American counterpart, the B-1B. The Tu-160 is piloted by a crew of 4, and includes a toilet and a rest area for long-range flights. The Tu-160 is equipped with two internal weapon bays, with each capable of carrying up to 20,000 kg of ordnance.
The Tu-160 was developed to carry out long range strikes with conventional and nuclear weapons, in response to America’s B-1 strategic bomber project. It got its name, the White Swan, from its white anti-flash finish and maneuverability. The Russian air-force began modernizing its Tu-160’s in 2006. Some of the new upgrades for the Tu-160 included a new EWS (Electronic Warfare Suite) systems, full steering and cruising support via GLONASS, upgraded and more reliable engines, and new avionics that are resistant to nuclear emissions. The upgrade also allows the bomber to fire Kh-55 satellite-guided cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs. There is also a planned upgrade that will allow the bomber to fire missiles that launch civilian and military satellites.