The Russian Air Force has received four modernised Tu-160M missile carriers

Photo by © UAC

On 21 February 2024, four Tu-160M strategic missile carriers were demonstrated to Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to the S.P. Gorbunov Kazan Aviation Plant (KAZ). Production of the Tu-160 in the modernised guise resumed with the signing of a contract worth RUB 160 billion between the Russian Ministry of Defence and PJSC Tupolev on 25 January 2018. The document provides for the construction of ten new Tu-160M missile carriers by 2027, previously designated Tu-160M2.

Under the programme of upgrading the Tu-160 to the level of Tu-160M first in the prototype was converted bomber with serial number 4-05 “Igor Sikorsky”, which previously had the flight number “14” and registration – RF-94103. After modernisation, the aircraft made its first flight on 2 February 2020. Then new NK-32-02 engines were installed for testing and the first flight was performed on 3 November 2020. On 10 March 2021, after completion of the factory test phase, the Igor Sikorsky flew from Kazan to Tupolev’s flight test and development base in Zhukovsky to continue flight testing.

The first prototype Tu-160M bomber built under the 2018 contract has serial number 9-01. This machine is made from the stock left at KAZ from the Soviet times. The aircraft made its maiden flight on 12 January 2022, with factory flight tests completed in December 2022. In February 2023, it was named Valentina Tereshkova, its flight number is “21 Red” and its registration number is RF-66017.

On 23 February 2024, in a congratulatory message on the occasion of Defender of the Fatherland Day, Vladimir Putin said that “just the other day in Kazan, four Tu-160M missile carriers were handed over to the Armed Forces”. A few days earlier, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at an enlarged meeting of the Ministry’s board that “the delivery of four Tu-160M strategic missile carriers to the aviation strategic nuclear forces is being completed.”

The CAST speculated that the four Tu-160Ms in question are the 06 Red Ilya Muromets and 07 Red Alexander Molodchy, as well as the two first Tu-160M bombers of new construction, the 21 Red Valentina Tereshkova and the 22 Red, which will be named Mintimer Shaimiev.

Tu-160Ms transferred to the Russian Air Force in February 2024:

  • Ilya Muromets – s/n 8-01, b/n “06 red”
  • Alexander Molodchiy – s/n 8-02, b/n “07 red”
  • Valentina Tereshkova – s/n 9-01, b/n “21 red”
  • Mintimer Shaimiev – s/n 9-02, b/n “22 red”.