The Tu-160 supersonic bomber with variable geometry wings has been manufactured since 1984 and was adopted by the Air Force in 1987. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, only one such plane was built, and was adopted in 2000.
The new bomber has become the 16th aircraft of its type currently in service with the Russian Air Force. The plane features a new set of fire-control systems, overhauled navigation equipment and avionics.
"Together with Tu-95 Bear bombers, these aircraft will help us maintain strategic parity with potential foes and will bolster Russia's national security," Air Force Chief of Staff Igor Khvorov said.
The new bomber will join the 121st heavy bomber regiment based at Engels airbase in the Saratov Region.
According to various sources, in addition to Tu-160 bombers the Russian Air Force currently deploys 141 Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and 40 Tu-95MS bombers.
The plant in Kazan, the capital of the Volga republic of Tatarstan, has the capacity to manufacture a small number of Tu-160s in the near future, the president of Russia's Unified Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said at the ceremony in the city.
"We will soon complete the construction of several more strategic and long-range bombers and deliver them to the Russian Air Force," Alexei Fyodorov said without specifying the number of additional aircraft.
"As to the future aircraft, they will probably have a completely different design and specifications," he said, adding that it could take several years to develop specific demands for a new concept of a future strategic bomber.
"After we finish outlining the technical make-up of the future plane, we will start designing prototype models," Fyodorov said.
The Tu-160 Blackjack is a supersonic, variable-geometry heavy bomber, designed to strike strategic targets with nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation.
The aircraft has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes. Its two internal rotary launchers can each hold 6 Raduga Kh-55 cruise missiles or 12 Raduga Kh-15 short-range nuclear missiles.
The plane bears a strong resemblance to the U.S. B-1A Lancer strategic bomber, although it is significantly larger, and with far greater range, up to 11,000 miles without refueling.
Russia plans to upgrade the existing fleet and build at least one new bomber every one-two years to increase the number of available aircraft to 30 in the near future.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights last August, saying that although the country had halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, other nations had continued the practice, and that this compromised Russian national security.
Although it was common practice during the Cold War for both the U.S. and the Soviet Union to keep nuclear strategic bombers permanently airborne, the Kremlin cut long-range patrols in 1992. The decision came as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ensuing economic and political chaos.
However, the newly-resurgent Russia, awash with petrodollars, has invested heavily in military technology, and the resumption of long-range patrols is widely seen among political commentators as another sign of its drive to assert itself both militarily and politically.
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