The most frightening thing about the Tu-160M is that it is equipped with a new cruise missile
Tu-160M maiden flight with new NK-32-02 engines
November 2020 marks a major milestone for efforts to restart production of the Cold War-era missile carrier, the Tupolev Tu-160. The Russian strategic bomber has conducted its first flight with United Engine Corporation’s NK-32-02 engines.
The maiden flight took place in Kazan, at an altitude of 6,000 meters and lasted 2 hours and 20 minutes. The new engines have better performance and will be a key factor in reviving mass production of the Tu-160 in Russia.
The Tu-160M is a deeply improved version of the Tu-160
Nuclear weapons are an important security asset for the Russians, and strategic bombers are a key component of the country’s nuclear trio. Compared with the huge investment in the PAK-DA stealth strategic bomber, Russia’s improvement of the most powerful supersonic strategic bomber today, the Tu-160M, is a reasonable choice.
The Tu-160M is a deeply improved version of the Tu-160, formerly known as the Tu-160M2. The Tu-160 was born in the 1980s, despite its powerful power, a range of up to 12,300 km and a top speed of up to Mach 2.05, but its electronic systems are out of date.
The Tu-160M version is equipped with the new Novella NV1.70 fire control radar. The mechanical cockpit is replaced with a digital cockpit. In addition, the Tu-160M is also integrated with a new electronic communication and warfare system.
The most frightening thing about the Tu-160M is that it is equipped with a new cruise missile, which is expected to be used on Russia’s new stealth long-range bomber. Among them, the Kh-101 missile with conventional warhead has undergone many tests on the Syrian battlefield and its range can be up to 5,000 km. Meanwhile, the Kh-102 is an improved version of the Kh-101 that can carry a nuclear warhead.
Tu-160M is designed with two internal weapon bays, one in the front and the other in the rear of the fuselage, using rotary launchers. The aircraft can carry a total of 12 Kh-101/102 missiles. The combat radius of the Tu-160M is about 7,000 km, it can easily deterrence the entire west coast of the United States when taking off from the Russian Far East.
The cost of Tu-160M
Under the contract between the Russian Defense Ministry and the Tupolev Company, the existing 15 Tu-160s of the Russian Aerospace Forces will be upgraded to Tu-160M. In addition, Tupolev will also build 10 brand new Tu-160Ms by 2027.
The first new Tu-160M is expected to fly in 2021 and be delivered in 2023. The 10 newly produced Tu-160Ms are estimated to cost 160 billion rubles, or $ 2.5 billion, about $ 250 million each, a fair price for an epic bomber like the Tu-160M.
The NK-32-02 engine of Tu-160M
Compared with the radar, glass cockpit and avionics, the biggest challenge of the Tu-160M project was the improvement of the Kuznetsov NK-32 turbofan engine. The Kuznetsov NK-32, as installed in the original Tu-160, is widely reported as the most powerful combat aircraft engine in the world, developing over 55,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner.
The NK-32-02 is considered a “new” engine, it actually dates back to the mid-1980s, when the Soviet Union canceled its production on cost grounds. The improvements over the initial design included new blades for the compressor and turbine, plus more efficient cooling.
Compared to the original NK-32, it improved thrust by 10%, and the range of the Tu-160M was increased by 1,000 km.
It is worth mentioning that, after using the NK-32-02 engine, the “orange smoke” of the Tu-160M at take-off seemed to have been resolved. The cause of this phenomenon is due to the NK-32 engine emitting too much nitrogen oxide when operating at low altitude, seriously affecting the life of the engine.
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