In April 2013 the Russian Air Force has approved the conceptual design and specification of its future strategic bomber known as ‘PAK-DA’ (future long-range aircraft), paving the way for development of components for the aircraft. Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev was quoted by Novosti news agency saying that the PAK-DA project has been in the works for several years but was given the formal go-ahead by the Russian leadership in 2012. It is due to replace Russia’s aging fleet of 63 Tupolev Tu-95MS Bear and 13 Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers in the next decade. The principal nuclear armed weapon used with these platform is the Kh-102 that has entered service in the 2000s. The Tu-95MS can carry eight missiles and Tu-160 carries 12 on two rotary launchers.
The Tupolev design bureau has won the PAK-DA development tender offering a subsonic “flying wing” design, providing advanced stealth capabilities. It was selected over more speculative ‘hypersonic bomber’ recommended by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The new bomber will carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, including a new long-range cruise missile that has already been adapted for the new bomber. The characteristics of such weapon are still classified, but, according to debate that has surfaced in the Russian media this year, such missile could feature hypersonic performance. In the 1980s the Russians conducted several hypersonic missile researches, although none of the programs reached technological maturity. Experts say the combination of subsonic stealth and hypersonic flight overcoming access denial and counter-air weapons would enable the future bomber superior capabilities over existing platforms. The new bomber is expected to go in production by 2020 and will be built at a new aircraft assembly line at Russia’s Kazan plant (KAPO). The same plant previously built the Tu-95MS and Tu-160. According to defense ministry officials, the PAK-DA could enter service by the year 2025.