Warplanes: January 24, 2004


Russia's  Tu-160 ("Blackjack") heavy bombers airworthy and flying again, after they were grounded when one crashed last September. The cause of that crash (the fuel system) was found and fixed. These aircraft are roughly equivalent to the U.S. B-1's, but were largely out of service since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Half the 36 Tu-160s built actually belonged to Ukraine, because that's where they were stationed when the Soviet Union was dissolved. Last year, it was found that only eight of the Ukraine Tu-160s were salvageable and these were sold back to Russia. There are now 14 flyable Tu-160s and Russia is upgrading the electronics and other systems on these aircraft. The aircraft is huge, weighing 275 tons and capable of carrying up to 40 tons of bombs. It originally entered service in 1987, and was meant, like the B-1, to deliver cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Noting the success of the B-1 in Afghanistan and Iraq with smart bombs, the Tu-160s are being modified to do that as well. Later this year, Russian plans to use some Tu-160s in joint exercises with the United States. 


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