MOSCOW, January 24. /TASS/. Russia’s upgraded Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO reporting name: Blackjack) strategic missile-carrying bomber with Factory No. 0804 produced at the Kazan Aircraft Enterprise started flight trials last week, a source in the Russian defense sector told TASS on Wednesday.
"The 804th plane made using Soviet aircraft breakthroughs took to the skies for the first time last week and has been performing evaluation flights since then. The missile-carrying aircraft will be delivered to the Aerospace Force until the end of this year," the source said.
Commenting on various media reports, the source said the new plane was not a modernized bomber prototype.
"The plane underwent only small-scale upgrade while its airframe and the engines have remained the same. Fully digitalized documentation on the new missile-carrying aircraft will be issued no sooner than the middle of this year and the work on building the Tu-160M is impossible without it," the source noted.
TASS has not yet received an official confirmation of this information.
As was reported earlier, a ceremony was held at the Kazan Aircraft Enterprise on November 16, 2017 to roll out the upgraded Tu-160 missile-carrying bomber. On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin overseeing the defense sector in the Russian government told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that the debut flight of the upgraded strategic missile-carrying bomber was scheduled for February 2018.
The Tu-160 is the Soviet strategic missile carrier armed with cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Along with the Tu-95MS missile carrier, the Tu-160 makes part of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces along with the ground-based missile systems and submarines.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, several unfinished Tu-160 planes remained at the Kazan Aircraft Enterprise at various degrees of their readiness but the work on them was put on hold due to economic woes. As a result, the construction of one plane had been finished only by 2000 and the other by 2008.
It was reported in 2015 that Russia had made a decision to resume the production of Tu-160 bombers in their upgraded Tu-160M2 modification and reschedule the development of the new-generation bomber PAK DA (Perspective Airborne Complex of Long-Range Aviation) for a later term.
The Russian Defense Ministry reported that the serial production of Tu-160M2 bombers should begin in 2023. The Russian Aerospace Force intends to purchase no less than 50 such aircraft. Aerospace Force then-Commander-in-Chief Viktor Bondarev said in June 2017 that the Tu-160M2 might take to the skies for the first time already in late 2018.
The Tupolev Aircraft Company has launched work on developing heavily-upgraded Tu-160M bombers, which are scheduled to take to the skies in 2019. The upgrade program supervised by Russia’s Defense Ministry envisages fully replacing the bomber’s onboard avionics. This measure is expected to boost considerably the efficiency of using the aircraft system according to its designation.