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Tu-160 Tupolev
ASCC codename: Blackjack
Intercontinental Strategic Bomber

The Tu-160 is the largest combat aircraft in the world and the largest bomber ever built. Though bearing a strong resemblance to the American B-1 bomber, particularly the cancelled B-1A, the Blackjack is much larger. Also like the B-1A, the Tu-160 is optimized to penetrate enemy air defenses at high altitude and supersonic speeds.

The Tu-160 maintains good handling and performance both at low speeds and during supersonic flight thanks to variable geometry wings. The wing position is adjusted manually to three settings of 20 for takeoff and landing, 35 for transonic cruise, and 65 for high-speed flight. Also improving performance at low speeds are full-span leading edge slats and double-slotted flaps along the trailing edge. An unusual feature of the innermost section of flaps is that there is no slot in the fuselage for these devices to slide into when the wings are swept fully back. Instead, the flaps fold upward to align with the aircraft centerline and form a large fence at the wing root.

The long slender fuselage of the Tu-160 provides room for a crew of four. The cockpit contains joysticks similar to those in fighters, but the Tu-160 does not have electronic Heads-Up-Displays (HUDs) like most western aircraft. The long pointed nose contains a large terrain-following radar, and a fairing underneath the nose houses a video camera to assist in weapon targeting. The Tu-160 carries a large payload internally within two tandem bomb bays in the center fuselage. Each bay is normally fitted with a rotary launcher compatible with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

Tu-160 production began in the mid-1980s but had been stopped prematurely following President Yeltsin's announcement in January 1992 that no further strategic bombers would be built. A total of 36 examples of the Tu-160 are believed to have been completed by June 1994. Of these, 20 ended up in Ukraine after the Soviet Union dissolved, 6 more were operational with the Russian Air Force, and another 6 test aircraft were kept at the Zhukovskii flight test center in various states of repair. Ukraine rarely flew its Blackjacks and signed an agreement in 1995 to give up any nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, including the Tu-160. Ukraine returned eight of the bombers to Russia in exchange for natural gas while the remainder were destroyed under the watch of international inspectors. Only 15 of those built were estimated to be operational as of 2004.

Tu-160 operations during suffered not only because of the changing political climate, but also due to numerous development problems and parts shortages. Difficulties with flight controls, poor reliability of the engines and onboard systems, as well as a lack of basic equipment for aircrew and ground crew caused repeated problems throughout the 1990s. Most of the bombers were also delivered before the production configuration had been finalized, so no two aircraft are alike and components differ from plane to plane degrading maintenance and serviceability.

Despite these troubles, the bomber was revitalized when President Putin restarted strategic patrol flights and ordered Tu-160 assembly to resume. Deliveries of new-build Blackjacks began in 2007 and Russian officials expect one additional bomber to be completed every 18 months. The Air Force hopes to bring the total Tu-160 fleet up to 30 operational aircraft by 2025.

Further enhancing the combat capability and operability of the fleet is a modernization program aimed at the surviving bombers built before 1994. The updates include new engines upgraded to improve reliability, digital flight controls and avioics, compatibility with Russia's GPS system called GLONASS, and the ability to carry new weapons such as laser-guided bombs and advanced conventional cruise missiles. Plans call for three to five Blackjacks to be updated each year to bring the original Tu-160 fleet up to the same standard as new production models by about 2012. A commercial derivative known as the Tu-160SK has also been proposed as a potential launch platform for a small rocket to low-Earth orbit.

Last modified 17 March 2011

First Flight 19 December 1981
Service Entry

25 April 1987


four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator/offensive weapons operator, navigator/EW and communications operator



Wing Root unknown
Wing Tip unknown

Length 177.50 ft (54.10 m)
Wingspan unswept: 182.75 ft (55.70 m)
swept: 116.81 ft (35.60 m)
Height 43.00 ft (13.10 m)
Wing Area 3,870 ft (360.0 m)
Canard Area

not applicable

Empty 257,940 lb (117,000 kg)
Normal Takeoff 589,955 lb (267,600 kg)
Max Takeoff 606,260 lb (275,000 kg)
Fuel Capacity internal: 326,285 lb (148,000 kg)
external: none
Max Payload

36,000 lb (16,330 kg)

Powerplant four Samara/ Trud NK-321 afterburning turbofans
Thrust 123, 370 lb (548.8 kN)
220,460 lb (980.6 kN) with afterburner

Max Level Speed at altitude: 1,380 mph (2,220 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,200 m), Mach 2.05
at sea level: 640 mph (1,030 km/k)
cruise speed: 530 mph (850 km/h) at 30,000 ft (9,145 m), Mach 0.77
Initial Climb Rate 13,780 ft (4,200 m) / min
Service Ceiling 52,495 ft (16,000 m)
Range 6,650 nm (12,300 km)
Endurance 15 hr
g-Limits +2

Gun none
Stations two internal bomb bays
Air-to-Surface Missile up to 12 Kh-55/AS-15 'Kent', up to 24 Kh-15P/AS-16 'Kickback' cruise missiles
reportedly to be upgraded to carry up to 12 Kh-101 or up to 12 Kh-SD cruise missiles
Bomb theoretically compatible with various free-fall nuclear or conventional bombs, but none have yet been integrated
Other unknown

Tu-160 'Blackjack-A' Production strategic bomber; approximately 30 built
Tu-160S 'Blackjack-A' Designation sometimes applied to serial production aircraft to differentiate from prototypes and pre-prodcution models
Tu-160P Proposal for an interceptor armed with medium- and long-range air-to-air-missiles to escort and defend bombers; cancelled
Tu-160PP Proposal for an electronic countermeasures model to escort bombers; cancelled
Tu-160M Proposed model with a stretched fuselage to carry two long-range Kh-90 missiles; cancelled
Tu-160 NK-74 Proposed version carrying NK-74 engines to increase range; cancelled
Tu-160V Variant designed to carry liquid hydrogen fuel; cancelled
Tu-160R Proposed reconnaissance model; cancelled
Tu-160SK Proposal for a commercial variant to carry a small space vehicle named Burlak underneath the fuselage to high altitude and then launch the vehicle into low-Earth orbit
Tu-170 Proposed derivative of the Tu-160 designed to carry only conventional non-nuclear weapons and avoid limitations imposed by the SALT-2 treaty; cancelled




Russia, Voyenno Vozdushniye Sili (Russian Air Force)
Ukraine, Voyenno Vozdushnyye Sily (Ukraine Military Air Forces)
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Voyenno Vozdushniye Sili (Soviet Air Force)



  • Bishop, Chris, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Weapons: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Weapon Systems from 1945 to the Present Day. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1999, p. 269.
  • Donald, David, ed. The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1997, p. 887, Tupolev Tu-160.
  • Donald, David and Lake, Jon, ed. The Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft. NY: Barnes & Noble, 2000, p. 431, Tupolev Tu-160 'Blackjack'.
  • Gunston, Bill, ed. The Encyclopedia of Modern Warplanes. NY: Barnes & Noble, 1995, p. 276, Tupolev Tu-160 'Blackjack'.
  • Gunston, Bill, ed. The Osprey Encyclopedia of Russian Aircraft. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1995, p. 442-444, Tu-160.
  • Munro, Bob and Chant, Christopher. Jane's Combat Aircraft. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers, 1995, p. 238-239.
  • Paul Nann's Military Aviation Photo Gallery
  • Taylor, Michael. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1996/1997. London: Brassey's, 1996, p. 102-103, Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO name Blackjack).
  • Taylor, Michael J. H. Brassey's World Aircraft & Systems Directory 1999/2000. London: Brassey's, 1999, p. 84-86, Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO name Blackjack).

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