Against the background of analogs
In our time, there are only three countries capable of creating strategic bombers. These are the United States, China and Russia. Moreover, the Celestial Empire so far only pretends to be on a par with the leaders. the only Chinese “strategist” Xian H-6 is nothing more than a deep modernization of the Soviet Tu-16 bomber, and the Chinese have yet to build their own aircraft of this type.
If you look even more closely, you will notice that the situation with Russia and the United States is also far from brilliant. The Americans tried for decades to create a replacement for the B-52, but failed to do so. At least in the form in which it was planned: neither the B-1B, let alone the B-2, became a full-fledged alternative to the Stratofortress, while being constant suppliers of various kinds of problems. As for Russia, after the collapse of the USSR, it was left with a considerable fleet of obsolete Tu-95MS aircraft, as well as a small number of Tu-160s (fortunately, Ukraine later returned some of the aircraft), which are clearly not enough to solve the potential problems facing them.
If we talk about promising combat vehicles, then the situation is ambiguous. Until about 2017, the promising American B-21 bomber generally remained “semi-mythical”, but in recent years the issue has begun to clear up. So, last year, Air Force Magazine reported that the first flight of a promising aircraft can be expected in early December 2021: at least this date was announced by the Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General Stephen Wilson.
De facto, the United States became the favorite of this competition, while no one remembered the Russian new generation bomber for a long time. However, at the end of May this year, it became known that Russian engineers were already building the first experimental bomber developed under the PAK DA program (“Advanced Long-Range Aviation Complex”). “One of the aircraft factories in the structure of the United Aircraft Corporation will be engaged in the manufacture of the elements of the airframe of the first aircraft, the development of working design documentation has been completed, the supply of materials has begun,” one of the TASS sources said. “The final assembly of the entire machine should be completed in 2021,” another told the agency, noting that the aircraft cockpit was already being manufactured.
It is difficult to say exactly what the new car will be – now we can more or less confidently talk only about the concept. It has long been known from numerous sources that Russia has long abandoned the creation of a supersonic analogue of the Tu-160: the new bomber will be subsonic, inconspicuous and made according to the “flying wing” aerodynamic scheme. That is, it is seen as a conditional analogue of the American B-2 or B-21 bombers. And rather the first than the second. At least when it comes to size and basic performance characteristics. Recall that the B-21, according to the data presented earlier, will be smaller than the B-2 and will receive more modest characteristics, in particular, a smaller combat radius and a lower combat load.
A general idea of how the plane will look was previously given by the French magazine Air & Cosmos: however, the image is rather rough, and the device itself vaguely resembles the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. You can ignore the rest of the images “walking” on the Web: they, most likely, have nothing to do with reality at all.
What is known for sure is that in 2018, an announcement of a tender for development work on an engine for a promising long-range aviation complex was published on the public procurement website. According to the data presented, the main and back-up electronic systems of the engine should ensure the flight of the aircraft up to 30 hours. The fuel supply and hydromechanical control systems must remain operational at near-zero and negative overloads up to 2.7 g and at temperatures from minus 60 to plus 50 degrees Celsius. The minimum engine life should be 12 years. This is a lot by Russian standards.
As for weapons, the aircraft will have to carry long-range cruise missiles, high-precision bombs, as well as weapons with which it will be able to stand up for itself in aerial combat (probably, we are talking about medium- or short-range air-to-air missiles) … This, incidentally, distinguishes the new bomber from all existing “strategists”, with the exception of the B-21, which must also be able to shoot down enemy aircraft. At least, this information has previously appeared in the statements of the US military.
Be on time
According to Tupolev’s data published on the public procurement website, they intend to build three PAK DA flight prototypes with the start of preliminary tests in 2023. State tests should begin in 2026, the car should go into production in 2027. By the way, earlier Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov called completely different terms. “There is a high probability that we will see him in 2018,” he said in 2016. The first flight, according to the Deputy Minister of Defense, should be carried out in 2021: obviously, now this is no longer relevant. It is pertinent to recall that the stage of testing the engine within the framework of the PAK DA program on the Il-76 military transport aircraft will be completed no earlier than 2021. “According to the contract, ground testing of the PAK DA engine on the Il-76 aircraft will begin at the end of 2020 and will be completed by the end of 2021. After that it will be possible to start flying, “Interfax quoted an informed source in January this year.
A noteworthy fact: in April 2018, the blog of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies reported, with reference to a certain publication Aéronautique Militaire, that the tests of the first prototypes of the bomber were moved outside the new state armaments program and now it is expected no earlier than 2030. As far as the blog post itself can tell, the news was an April Fool’s joke. As they say, in every joke …
The problem is that the program itself is so complex, expensive and filled with all sorts of risks that nothing can be ruled out. There is one more reason why it is possible to postpone testing. Now Russia is implementing a very complex and extremely ambitious (especially by modern standards) program to restore the production of Tu-160 missile carriers: the prototype of a new-built vehicle first took to the skies on February 2, 2020. As it became known later, the combatant Tu-160 “Igor Sikorsky” (tail number 14 “red”) acted as a base. It is difficult to say whether the country has enough human, technical and material resources to implement the two “programs of the century.” Each of them is very costly, one might even say – too much.
However, if we try to summarize the available data, then the situation with the PAK DA is seen in a more positive way than one could imagine. If the data on the start of production of the first prototype is correct, then with a high degree of probability we will be able to see the new aircraft around 2021-2023, and the first flight may take place approximately in 2025-2027.
As for the timing of the adoption of the complex for service, then, as the experience of other modern combat vehicles shows, this should be expected no earlier than 2030. Of course, after the first flight, much more optimistic dates will be named, but these words should hardly be taken at face value: it is enough to remember that the Su-57 took off for the first time in 2010. And still it is not in service. But the new “strategist” as a complex will be much more complicated than the fifth generation fighter.