Warplanes: April 6, 2000


Russia has rebuilt its strategic air command, reorganizing it as the 37th Strategic Air Army. This includes two divisions of Tu-160 Blackjack bombers, two divisions of Tu-95 Bear bombers, and four divisions of Tu -22M Backfire medium bombers. This canceled a 1998 plan to take all long-range aircraft away from the Air Force and put them under a new joint strategic force with the Strategic Rocket units. This force is currently tasked almost entirely for strategic nuclear deterrence, with the planes carrying the Kh-55SM (AS-15 Kent) cruise missile with a 200KT nuclear warhead. This force is steadily being moved into the conventional role and will be dual-capable within a few years. The Backfires are increasingly old, but the Tu-95s are no more than 15 years old and the Tu-160s are about 10 years old. Both types can be refurbished to keep flying for two or three more decades. The bombers are being rearmed with the new non-nuclear Kh-101 long-range cruise missile. It is fitted with a high-explosive penetrating warhead of 400kg. It is reasonably accurate, with a circular error probable of 6-20m. The Kh-55SM missiles are being upgraded into Kh-555s with conventional warheads and precision homing capabilities.--Stephen V Cole




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