According to a statement from Denis Manturov, Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade, the Russian Air Force is expecting its first supersonic strategic bomber by the end of the second quarter of this year.

Flight tests of Russia’s new supersonic strategic bomber, the Tu-160M, are slated to begin in the second half of this year with the likelihood of the aircraft being inducted into the Air Force by the end of this year.

The first Tu-160M ​​was supposed to be delivered in 2023, but “we managed to accomplish this task sooner,” said Manturov while adding, the decision to resume production of the Tu-160 bomber program comes at an opportune time.

The new Tu-160M ​​opens up new opportunities for greater development of “Russia’s promising long-range aviation complex,” said Manturov.

In 2015, the Kremlin had opened a discussion on the Tu-160 program. In the same year, as per a report from TASS, Moscow had placed an order for a total of 50 bombers with serial production slated to begin in 2019.  Towards the end 2019, Russia had begun tests of a second variant of the Tu-160M ​​with flight tests scheduled for early 2023.

Tu-160M ​​/ Mark 2

The differences between the Tu-160 Mark 1 and the Mark 2 boils down to new weapon systems, electronics and avionics. Moscow has not shed light on these systems.

What is publicly known is that, in 2015 Putin had given the go-ahead for the resumption in production of this bomber, manufactured by Kazan Aviation Plant (KAPO). What is also known is that the Mark 2 will have a completely rebuilt hulls; until now, the renovations of the Tu-160M ​​were carried out by assembling old hulls using existing stocks of old bombers.

What can also be safely assumed is that the Mark 2 version will have increased load bearing capabilities given Russia’s advancements in technology.

Incidentally, in 2020, the Russian Ministry of Defense had conducted flight tests of a hypersonic missile Kh-47M2 Kinzhal on a Tu-160 aimed at gauging the bomber’s ability to launch the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missile. With the successful test of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, it can be safely assumed that the Mark 2 variant will be capable of carrying hypersonic weapons.

Confirming this capability, Russian military experts have weighed in saying the Tu-160M ​​/ M2 will be capable of carrying various cruise missiles, including short-range hypersonic aero-ballistic missiles.

Russian military experts also opine that the Mark 2 will be capable of maximum flight speeds exceeding Mach 2 and have a cruising speed of 960 km / h.

The supersonic bomber will be manned by a crew of 4 – the pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and a defensive systems officer.

So far there is no news as what kind of engine will power the Mach 2. The Mark 1 variant used a Kuznetsov NK-32, an after-burning three-spool low bypass turbofan jet engine providing a thrust of 137.3 kN with 245 kN in afterburner.

According to grapevine, a new engine has been designed by Kuznetsov called the NK-32-02. Backing these rumors are flight tests that have been conducted in September 2020, when two Tu-160 set a world record for range and duration for non-stop flying for an aircraft of its class. The pilots were in the air for more than 25 hours, and traveled more than 20,000 kilometers with the flight taking place in airspace above neutral waters.

No other significant differences are expected between the Mark 1 and the Mark 2 version.

An empty bomber will weigh around 110,000 kg, while a fully equipped one, will be able to take off with a maximum weight of 275,000 kg.