Russia to Send Tu-160 Strategic Bombers to South Africa

Russia will send two of its Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” supersonic strategic bomber to South Africa, in a rare display of cooperation between the two countries.

The aircraft will land at Air Force Base Waterkloof on the outskirts of Pretoria. The landing was initially scheduled to take place earlier but is delayed as a result of bad weather in Russia.

According to a statement from the South Africa Air Force (SAAF), the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) bombers will be escorted on arrival by SAAF Gripen fighter jets and Hawk trainer aircraft.

An Antonov An-124 Ruslan heavy airlifter and an Ilyushin IL-62 aircraft have already arrived at the base. The An-124 is carrying support equipment and spares while the Il-62 passenger aircraft is carrying support, diplomatic and media personnel.

“The purpose of the visit is the development of bilateral military cooperation and the development of issues of interaction between the Russian Aerospace Forces and the South African air force”, said a Russian Ministry of Defence statement.

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 is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic aircraft ever built and second only to the comparable American XB-70 Valkyrie (not operationalized) 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. The bomber can carry cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads.

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 modernization program 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.

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