A Russian Air Force Tu-160 strategic bomber (file photo)
The Russian military has finished upgrading a Tupolev Tu-160 long-range bomber, following an order by President Vladimir Putin earlier this year to revamp the country’s fleet of strategic aircraft.
The Russian Defense Ministry received the upgraded missile carrier, code-named Blackjack by NATO, after it underwent a major first-stage upgrade, Russia’s state news agency TASS reported Thursday.
The Tupolev Aircraft Company noted in a statement that it had also transferred two modernized turboprop-powered Tu-95MS (Bear) bombers as well as a supersonic Tu-22M aircraft to the ministry.
“The modernized Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 aircraft have undergone the required ground-based and flight tests in full," the company said.
Russia has used fleets of all three bombers to hit terrorist positions across Syria, as part of an aerial campaign that began in 2015 upon a request from Damascus.
The Tu-160 and the Tu-95MS are Soviet-era aircraft designed to carry nuclear warheads. They are also armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles.
Besides the two aircraft and a variety of fighter jets, Russia relies on its large arsenal of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarines to deliver nuclear payloads.
According to latest official data, Russia currently operates 16 Tu-160 aircraft, about half of which already modernized over the past years. The Tu-160 is considered the world's largest and heaviest combat aircraft, the fastest bomber currently in use, and the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane to have ever flown.
The upgrade program was sped up in January this year, when Putin ordered Tupolev to resume producing Blackjacks.
The Russian head of state also instructed the company to develop the aircraft’s more advanced successor, the Tu-160M2, and start working on the PAK-DA, the next generation Russian strategic bomber.
Viktor Bondarev, the commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, said in June that the first Tu-160M2 was expected to take off in 2018.
In the words of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov, the new Blackjacks have a combat effectiveness “two-and-a-half times greater” than their predecessors.
Russian military experts claim that the Tu-160M2 is “leagues ahead of all other strategic bombers in the world” and “outperforms” its stealth American counterparts B-2 Spirit and the B-1B Lancer in terms of speed, range, flight altitude and operational payload.
The Russian aircraft compensates the lack of stealth features and exposure to radar detection by employing the new Kh-101 and Kh-102 missiles with a maximum range of 5,500 km, which Russian commanders claim is the longest in the world and allows them to attack from distance.

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