MOSCOW — Russia’s new prototype Tu-160M bomber has completed its second test flight and will now undergo trials with the Defence Ministry.
The December flight of the aircraft, developed by United Aircraft Corp. subsidiary Tupolev, came nearly a year after the first flight in January 2022.
The tests involved maneuvers to check the stability of the bomber at altitudes of 600 and 2,000 meters; the serviceability of its systems; and the functionality of its engines, avionics, flap controls, and gear-down and landing systems, according to UAC. The test program also includes checking suits, helmets, breathing systems and catapult functionality, the company noted.
With the completion of the factory testing program, the company delivered the aircraft to the ministry on Dec. 30 for a second stage of tests. During that stage, officials will confirm the company met the aircraft requirements.
Pilots will perform tests that simulate long-range flight and combat, while also checking capabilities at low altitude.
The tests are expected to last up to three years, according to Vladimir Rigmant, a former assistant to the general director of Tupolev. Rigmant addressed the process in a speech last month at the Tupolev Museum, where he currently serves as director.
The government expects the Tu-160M to enter service in the 2024-2025 time frame.
During the testing process, the bomber will fly in various directions over Russia and international waters, with some events simulating an approach to North America, Rigmant added.
Modernized systems and equipment make up 80% of the Tu-160M, according to the general director of UAC, Yuri Slyusar. Furthermore, the aircraft is using the new NK-32-02 engine, which itself will undergo flight tests.
The aircraft is also expected to carry the latest Russian-made hypersonic weapons. According to Rigmant, several missile launches would need to first successfully hit targets at the Sary Shagan test range in Kazakhstan or the Pemboy test range in the Arctic region.
The airframe of the Tu-160M did not change, and it’s unclear how the newly added technology will interact with the existing structure.
The Tu-160 strategic bomber first flew in 1981. In 2015, the Defence Ministry announced the launch of a program to create a new, modified version, dubbed Tu-160M2, with plans to make 50 upgraded bombers.
In January 2018, the first contract was signed for the construction of 10 new Tu-160M bombers, which would be complete by 2027. There is also a parallel program to modernize 16 existing Tu-160 bombers to the latest version.
Maxim Starchak is a Russia correspondent for Defense News. He previously worked as an editor for the Russian Defence Ministry and as an expert for the NATO Information Office in Moscow. He has covered Russian nuclear and defense issues for the Atlantic Council, the Center for European Policy Analysis, the Royal United Services Institute and more.