What We Know About Russia’s Upcoming PAK DA Next Generation Heavy Bomber

Russian PAK DA Strategic Bomber Concept Art

Russian PAK DA Strategic Bomber Concept Art

Russia’s next generation PAK DA heavy bomber currently under development by the Tupolev Design Bureau, planned to enter service from 2022, is set to modernise the country’s long range strike capabilities and alongside the new Tu-160M2 and Tu-22M3M will revolutionise the bomber arm of the country’s strategic nuclear forces. Entering service alongside the Chinese H-20 and U.S. B-21, the Russian platform will represent a new generation of strategic bomber capabilities building on a long history of highly formidable Russian and Soviet platforms built by the Tupolev Design Bureau. North Korea, the fourth operator of heavy bombers, remains the only one which is not known to have invested in a similar next generation platform – with the country’s strategic deterrent heavily reliant on the more cost effective submarine and ballistic missile systems. With the Tu-160, Russia’s prime strategic bomber, retains a considerable advantage over rival platforms today, the PAK DA is expected to also become a world leading platform which may well also surpass the upcoming H-20 and B-21.

While the PAK DA was initially speculated to be a further modification of the Tu-160, or a platform heavily based on its highly successful ”˜White Swan’ airframe, later reports indicated that the aircraft would be an entirely new design. Other reports indicated that the PAK DA may make use of a flying wing design and a stealth profile. This design would be similar to that of the U.S. B-2 Sprit bomber and RQ-170 stealth drone, though unlike the American bomber the Russian aircraft will not be designed for penetrative strikes to operate above enemy airspace – and will instead be equipped with missiles to strike targets from standoff ranges. While there was considerable doubt under the Presidency of Dimitri Medvedev as to whether a new strategic bomber was needed, with upgraded variants of the Tu-160 set to maintain a considerable lead over all rival platforms and the cost of developing a strategic bomber extremely high, the aircraft’s development was later confirmed by the succeeding Putin administration. The platform’s need for stealth capabilities has also been called into serious question due the serious constraints this would put on its other capabilities – and Russian aircraft generally relying more heavily on other measures such as electronic warfare to ensure their survivability. The Su-57 air superiority fighter, which retains a higher radar cross section than its Chinese and U.S. counterparts the J-20 and F-22, remains a key example of this.

To maximise their survivability, Russian bombers have long relied on the ability to strike enemy targets at extreme standoff ranges – ensuring they can maintain a safe distance from hostile air defences and fighter jets. The Tu-160 best exemplifies this, with its Kh-55SM cruise missiles retaining a phenomenal 3000km engagement range and its high operational altitude and Mach 2.05 speed allowing it to conduct hit and run attacks in relative safety. The PAK DA is likely to follow this highly successful trend, with the bomber reportedly set to deploy hypersonic missiles to better evade enemy air defences and engage hostile targets with precision at extreme ranges. This falls in line with Russia’s recent emphasis on hypersonic missile development to upgrade its forces across the spectrum, from air defence combat vehicles to ship hunting interceptors and nuclear armed intercontinental range glide vehicles. Also like the Tu-160, the aircraft is set to deploy both conventional and nuclear armed missiles – though whether it will deploy air launched ballistic missiles alongside cruise missiles remains to be seen.

To cut costs on the PAK DA’s development, the aircraft is set to make use of modified systems previously designed for other combat aircraft – which will be considerably less costly than developing them from scratch. This will reportedly include an enhanced version of the Tu-160M2’s engines and AESA radar system based on those of the Su-57. A number of reports have indicated that several technologies are being jointly developed by the Russian and Chinese militaries for the H-20 and the PAK DA, in line with their growing defence cooperation and shared interests in developing the most capable strategic bomber possible – with both aircraft set to be aimed primarily at deterring attacks by the Western Bloc. Much is yet to be revealed regarding the PAK DA, but with Air Force Commander in Chief Viktor Bondarev stating in 2017 that the bomber’s first prototype is nearing completion many details regarding the new platforms are set to emerge in the near future.

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