Tupolev Tu-160: Russia’s Supersonic Nuclear Deterrent Bomber

The Tu-160 is the most powerful bomber in the Russian Air Force.

The Tu-160 is the fastest and biggest supersonic heavy strategic bomber of the Russian Aerospace Forces. The Tu-160 is the world’s heaviest supersonic bomber ever created, and it can perform both high-and low-level penetrations at a supersonic speed of over Mach 2.

The Tupolev Designs Bureau in the Soviet Union designed this aircraft in the 1970s to carry an extensive attack payload of 88,000 pounds or 40,000 kilograms for 12,300 kilometers (7,600 miles).

Why did the Soviet Union build the Tu-160?

HeavyBomberExercise2019-03 by Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation. Licensed under CC by 4.0.

During the cold war, the Soviet Union began looking into a new long-range supersonic bomber qualified for dropping nuclear warheads on American soil, but the Soviets had nothing that could get anywhere near their targets. 


After China invaded Vietnam in 1979, the Soviet Union decided it needed to speed up its innovation process. So, the Tu-160 production started in 1984, and 36 Tu-160s were built in the Soviet Union, and later, in Russia. The Tu-160 was made for one task: to deliver a nuclear payload to the continental United States.

However, Russia is planning to upgrade its fleet and build 50 new Tu-160s to be prepared for future conflicts with NATO or the US. 


  • Crew: 4
  • Length: 177 feet 6 inches (54.1 meters)
  • Wingspan: 182 feet 9 inches (55.7 meters)
  • Height: 43 feet (13.1 meters)
  • Max takeoff weight: 606,271 pounds (275,000 kilograms)
  • Maximum speed: 2,220 km/h (1,380 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 960 km/h (600 mph)
  • Range: 7,600 miles (12,300 kilometers)
  • Service ceiling: 52,000 feet (16,000 meters)
  • Payload: 45,000 kilograms (99,208 pounds)

Variants of Tu-160

Tupolev Tu 160 Naumenko 2
Tupolev Tu-160 Naumenko-2 by Kirill Naumenko. Licensed under CC by 3.0.

The Tu-160 supersonic has multiple variants that are serving the Russian Aerospace Forces. These include Tu-160S, Tu- 160 NK-74, Tu-160M, Tu-160M2, Tu-160 PP, Tu-160 R, and Tu-160SK. 


All of them have been developed to carry nuclear payloads at supersonic speeds, which makes them ideal bombers for strategic reconnaissance and attack missions. 

One of the most recent models, the Tu-160 M2, has expanded its flight range by around 621 miles or 999.4 kilometers due to its new, more efficient engines.  

Why is the Tu-160 such a dangerous aircraft for the enemy?

Tu 160 12467428634
Tu-160 (12467428634) by Rob Schleiffert. Licensed under CC by 3.0.

Given its significance to Russia’s nuclear deterrence strategy, Russia resolved to carry out a major upgrade program for its Tu-160s, with new electronics and upgraded engines.


Russia only has 16 Tu-160s in service, which isn’t enough for Russian requirements. Like the USAF modernization process of the B-52 Stratofortress, Russia is upgrading the Tupolev and assembling 50 more to achieve air supremacy in future wars.

The new Tu-160 will feature a cutting-edge radar suite capable of delivering accurate air targeting information. In addition, its design presents excellent fuel efficiency with less than 10% loss at medium altitudes below Mach 2. 

Once its modernization process is finished, the Russian Tupolev Tu-160M strategic bomber will be the first aircraft with air-to-air missiles capable of shooting down missiles and fighters jets approaching from behind using its rear-facing radar.


Tu-160 has no stealth capabilities

Tupolev Tu 160 in 2011
Tupolev Tu-160 in 2011 by Alex Beltyukov. Licensed under CC by 3.0.

The Tu-160 supersonic aircraft is a powerful development in the history of the Russian Aerospace Forces – and the state-of-the-art versions of this behemoth will be capable of detecting enemy missiles and planes in its rear hemisphere. They will use reverse-launch cruise missiles to protect themselves. 

It can hit targets with conventional and nuclear armaments in the battle arena while surpassing the speed of sound. But its lack of stealth capacities makes it an effortless target for ground-to-air missiles.

Feature image credit: Туполев Ту-160 by Alex Beltyukov. Licensed under CC by 3.0