Russia has deployed two Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” nuclear-capable supersonic strategic bombers to Venezuela amid rising Russia-U.S. tensions.
The bombers landed at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetia outside Caracas on Monday (Dec. 10) following a 6,200-mile flight, according to Russian Defense Ministry. They were also accompanied by an Antonov An-124 Ruslan heavy-lift cargo aircraft and an Ilyushin IL-62 passenger aircraft.
The flight was in strict compliance with the international rules of the use of airspace, said the Defense Ministry statement.
The flight covered a distance of 10,000 km over the Atlantic Ocean, the Barents, Norwegian and Caribbean Sea. The bombers were escorted during part of the flight by a pair of Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 fighter jets which were scrambled from the Bodø Air Station. Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon jets followed the bombers further out to the Atlantic Ocean.
This is not the first time Russia has deployed Tu-160s to Venezuela. Similar trans-Atlantic deployment took place in September 2008 and in October-November 2013.
The U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, posted a strong-worded tweet condemning the deployment.
#Russia‘s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to #Venezuela. The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer. pic.twitter.com/bCBGbGtaHT
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 11, 2018
Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO reporting name: Blackjack) is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau in the Soviet Union. Tu-160 can carry cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads.
Tu-160 is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic aircraft ever built and second only to the comparable XB-70 Valkyrie in overall length. It is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber now in use and the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown. The Tu-160 is powered by four Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan engines, the most powerful ever fitted to a combat aircraft.
Entering service in 1987, the Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber designed for the Soviet Union. As of 2016, the Russian Air Force, Long Range Aviation branch has at least 16 aircraft in service.
The Tu-160 active fleet has been undergoing upgrades to electronics systems since the early 2000s. The Tu-160M modernisation programme has begun with the first updated aircraft delivered in December 2014. The upgrades integrated the ability to launch two new conventional versions of the long-range Kh-55 nuclear cruise missile — the Kh-101 and Kh-555.