MOSCOW --- The serial production of the upgraded Tupolev Tu-160M2 (NATO reporting name: Blackjack) strategic bomber will begin in 2020, a source in Russia’s defense and industrial sector told TASS.
There are plans to produce two or three Tu-160M2 planes annually, the source added.
"Work to manufacture the plane has begun. Under the contract signed between the United Aircraft Corporation and the Defense Ministry, the Tu-160M2 plane is expected to perform the first flight in 2018," the source said.
"The Gorbunov Aircraft Plant in Kazan [an affiliate of the Tupolev Company] is expected to launch the serial production of the plane in 2020. It will produce two or three strategic bombers for the Aerospace Force annually," the source added.
According to the source, it will be an absolutely new plane.
"The upgraded Tu-160M2 plane will retain only the airframe of the baseline model, which meets all modern standards. The plane’s equipment, including its avionics, electronics, cockpit, communications and control systems and a number of weapons, will be replaced. This will considerably improve the plane’s operational capabilities, in particular, the thrust of the NK-32 engines and the unrefueled range," the source added.
Long-range aircraft, in particular, the Tu-160 and Tu-95MS (Bear) strategic bombers and the Tu-22M3 (Backfire-C) long-range bomber, are being upgraded simultaneously.
"Despite the planes’ venerable age, they can fly for many years to come. For example, the Tu-160 and Tu-95MS can operate for at least 15-20 years and the Tu-22M3 can fly for about 15 years," the source said.
"However, the planes should be modernized. They have good upgrade potential," the source added.
A proposal to resume the production of the Tu-160 aircraft in an upgraded version was made by Russian Defense Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu during a visit to the Kazan Aircraft Plant in April 2015.
In May 2015, President Vladimir Putin ordered to resume the production of the plane.
In October 2016, Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said that 50 planes of the type were planned to be produced.