There is little concrete information about the new Russian bomber—but a stealthy long-range penetrating strike aircraft is not cheap. The Pentagon’s secretive new Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program is aiming to develop an aircraft that will cost roughly $550 million per jet. Developmental costs for the American aircraft—which will supposedly rely on “mature” technologies–are likely to be in $50 billion range. While the Russia PAK-DA is not likely to be nearly as expensive, it is going to cost tens of billions of dollars at a time when Russia’s resource-based economy is collapsing into what could be a prolonged recession. Unlike the Soviet Union—which had a more or less full-service, if dysfunctional, economy—modern Russia is little more than a glorified petro-state. There are very real questions as to whether Russia can afford to complete the development of the PAK-DA.
Nonetheless, Russia’s Tupolev design bureau appears to be moving full steam ahead with the development of the new aircraft. Mikhail Pogosyan, head of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC)—a state enterprise that includes Tupolev—told RIA Novosti, a state-run Russian new agency (now known internationally as Sputnik International), earlier in the year that development of the PAK-DA had started in earnest in 2014. Pogosyan said that preliminary design work for the new aircraft was completed in April 2014 and some components are already being fabricated.
The PAK-DA is expected to make its first flight in 2019. Russia is expected to complete operational testing of the new jet in 2023—which puts the timeline for the new bomber slightly ahead of the U.S. Air Force’s LRS-B, which is expected to become operational in the mid-2020s. “The maiden flight should be performed in 2019. State tests and supplies will be completed in 2023,” Russian Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev told RIA Novosti in May.
The PAK-DA is expected to become fully operational in 2025 according to earlier statements attributed to Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, commander of the Russian Air Force’s long-range aviation fleet by the news agency.
Like its American LRS-B counterpart, few concrete details have been released about the PAK-DA. What is known about the new bomber is that the PAK-DA will likely be a stealthy subsonic flying wing design optimized to fly over long distances while remaining undetected. Flying wings lend themselves well to low observable characteristics—particularly against low frequency radars operating in the UHF and VHF bands. But there remain questions about Russia’s ability to manufacture a stealth aircraft even if the country can design such a machine. Stealth aircraft require a level of manufacturing precision that neither Russia nor the Soviet Union has ever previously demonstrated.
The PAK-DA design is a break from previous Russian bomber designs like the Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire and Tu-160, both of which rely on high supersonic speeds for survivability. The PAK-DA is also not a small aircraft—with a maximum gross take-off weight of about 250,000 lbs—about the size of a Boeing 757 airliner. According to Russia & India Report, Russian Air Force’s requirements state that the bomber will have a range of 6,740 nautical miles. It will also be able to carry 60,000lbs of weapons.
Though the PAK-DA is likely going to be a very low observable aircraft, like other new Russian combat aircraft such as the PAK-FA fighter, the new bomber does not entirely rely solely on its stealth for survivability. Stealth appears to be just one tool in the PAK-DA’s bag of tricks. The aircraft is also being developed with advanced electronic warfare systems according to RIA Novosti—and Russian jammers are nothing short of excellent according to U.S. Air Force sources.
Full article: Get Ready, America: Russia Wants a New Stealthy, Long-Range Bomber (The National Interest)