Russia recently announced plans to restart production of the Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” heavy strategic bombers, alongside the manufacturing of the country’s new bomber, called PAK DA. But all these declarations by Russian officials are deemed unfeasible by many experts, who say the country does not have enough qualified personnel and funding necessary to support the claims, according to a report by IHS Jane's Defence Weekly on Friday.
The skepticism follows the country’s recent claim that it would buy at least 50 Tu-160 bombers when the aircraft's production is renewed. Russia also stated that the revival of the Tu-160 production would not interfere with the production of the PAK DA aircraft, scheduled to make its first flight in 2019.
“The people issuing these orders still believe we are living in Soviet times, where you simply make proclamations and an entire constellation of design bureaus and production plants charge forward and no one is estimating the money required or - even worse - calculating anything like the opportunity cost created,” a Moscow-based analyst of the Russian defense sector told IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
The lack of qualified workforce is considered to be one of the significant weaknesses in the Russian defense sector, which currently has only a small fraction of skilled personnel, compared to its former, Soviet-era size. The number of Russia’s current qualified workforce to complete the Tu-160 production is estimated to be less than 10 percent of the country’s apex in the 1980s, IHS Jane's Defence Weekly reported.
However, the Kremlin is apparently not in sync with the experts’ views. Yuri Borisov, the Russian deputy minister of defense, said last week that the new Tu-160 bomber would be a redesigned aircraft, which will go into production in 2023. According to Borisov, the aircraft’s onboard systems would be several generations beyond the original Tu-160.
“In essence, it will be a new plane, dubbed Tu-160M2. It will have new technical specifications, new capabilities,” Russia’s Sputnik quoted Borisov as saying. “According to the current schedule, this will happen sometime after 2023.”
Russia is also planning to equip 130 Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptors with the MiG-31BM configuration, which includes the installation of a new avionics suite, modernized crew stations with enhanced displays and a new onboard radar set.
In addition, Colonel General Viktor Bondarev, the chief of staff of the Russian Air Force, has reportedly called for large numbers of warplanes, including Sukhoi Su-30MK, Su-35 and Su-34 fighter-bombers.