Russia has started construction of PAK DA (Perspective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation), the country’s first stealth bomber, TASS news agency reported on Tuesday. The unprecedented aircraft is expected to be completed in 2021, according to an unidentified source.
“The production of airframe elements will be handled by one of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) ‘s plants; development of working design documentation is complete, material shipping has commenced,” the source said to TASS.
Also known as “Product 80” and “Courier”, the new bomber is being developed by Tupolev, which was also responsible for the current Russian Air Force bombers, including the TU-22M and TU-160. The company is part of the United Aircraft Corporation conglomerate, which manages the country’s leading aerospace names such as Sukhoi, MiG and Ilyushin.
In December, Deputy Minister of Defense Alexey Krivoruchko told a Russian newspaper that the draft project had already been approved by the government, allowing Tupolev to produce the aircraft’s technical documentation. In February, the same minister revealed that tests with the aircraft’s engine would be carried out in 2020.
Unlike PAK FA, the project that gave rise to the Su-57 fighter, the new bomber has been developed under secrecy. There is little confirmed information as to the same flying wing concept used by the American bomber B-2 Spirit to make it less visible to radar. Like the Northrop Grumman model, the PAK DA will be subsonic and capable of transporting cruise missiles and hypersonic weaponry.
Without the same financial resources as decades ago, Russia has been struggling to maintain a leading role in the military field. But that task has been difficult, as the long development of the Su-57 shows. PAK DA has been no different. The Russians have been planning a stealth bomber since the 1990s, but only in 2007 did the air force deliver Tupolev a list of requirements for the project.
Since then, unconfirmed information about the bomber has emerged, such as an estimated range of 12,000 km, a payload of 30 tonnes and aerial refueling capacity. It is estimated that the first test bomber will be able to make the inaugural flight in 2023, but it should not start operating until the end of the decade.
By then, the United States will already have the second generation of stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, also a Northrop Grumman flying wing project that is due to make its first flight in late 2021.
Most uncomfortable, however, will be to watch China come to rely on its own bomber, the Xian H-20, which is about to be introduced in 2020. A clear sign that Vladimir Putin’s ambitions have not been echoed by the lack of resources of the former superpower.