The Russian Ministry of Defence has released the footage of the March 12 mission of its Tu-160 “Blackjack” strategic bombers over the Barents, and Norwegian Seas, and the Atlantic Ocean.
During the mission, the bombers operated by the Russian Aerospace Forces’ (VKS) Long Range Aviation Command conducted air-to-air refueling with Il-78 “Midas” aerial refueling tankers. The MoD has also confirmed that the bombers were escorted by Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 fighters and the UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoons at certain stages of the route.
“Long-range aviation pilots regularly fly over the neutral waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, Black and Baltic Seas, as well as the Pacific Ocean. All of them are carried out in strict accordance with the International Rules for the Use of Airspace”, said an MoD statement.
According to the RAF, the two Russian Tu-160 aircraft tracked along a similar flight path as the two Tu-142 Bear-F ASW aircraft which performed the mission a day earlier.
This was the third time in the past few days NATO jets have been scrambled to monitor Russian aircraft. On March 7 and March 11, NATO Air Forces scrambled fighter jets, including Norway’s new F-35s, to intercept Russian Tu-142s.
Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack”
Tupolev Tu-160 Beliy Lebed (“White Swan”), also known with its NATO reporting name Blackjack, is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber designed by the Soviet Union’s Tupolev Design Bureau.
The Tu-160 is the largest and heaviest Mach 2+ supersonic aircraft ever built and second only to the North American XB-70 Valkyrie bomber in overall length. It is the largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber currently in use, and is the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing aircraft ever flown.
The Blackjack can be armed with long-range cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Along with the Tu-95MS missile carrier, the Tu-160 makes part of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces along with the ground-based missile systems and ballistic missile submarines.
Entering service in 1987, the Tu-160 was the last strategic bomber designed for the Soviet Union. It was reported in 2016 that the Russian Aerospace Forces’ Long Range Aviation branch has around 16 aircraft remaining, with fewer being airworthy and in service.
In 2015, it was reported, that Russia had made a decision to resume the production of Tu-160 bombers in their upgraded Tu-160M2 modification and reschedule the development of the new-generation bomber PAK DA (Perspective Airborne Complex of Long-Range Aviation) to a later term. The Russian Aerospace Force intends to purchase no less than 50 such aircraft.