Russia’s effort took a step forward April 11 when Russian Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev signed off on the conceptual design and specification for the PAK-DA strategic bomber, according to a report by the state owned Russian International News Agency.
Russian plans to replace its Tu-95MS Bear Tu-160 Blackjack bombers with this next generation bomber. Russian air force leaders hope to get the plane into production by 2020 and then into the active service by 2025. Further, the Russians would like to develop an unmanned version of the bomber by 2040.
Russian leaders had discussed the pursuit of hypersonic technology, similar to the U.S., but it appears the first iteration will not feature the engines that could propel the plane to speeds five times the speed of sound. Last August, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the Russian air force would not settle for a U.S. B-2 clone and would try to develop a hypersonic bomber.
Instead, the Russian development will focus on mounting long range cruise missiles that could have hypersonic capability. The Russian air force also hope to take leaps with advanced electronic warfare systems.
The Russian aerospace company, Tupolev, won the contract to design the strategic bomber fleet. Officials have said the bomber will have stealth capabilities and a “flying wing” shape similar to the B-2, according to Russian media reports.
U.S. Air Force leaders continue to press for the development of their own next generation bombers listing it Friday as one of the service’s top modernization priorities despite forthcoming budget cuts.
Plenty of questions remain whether the service could realistically design hypersonic engines for a bomber within budget over the next decade especially when considering a few of the set backs the service has experienced recently.
In August, the X-51 Waverider failed to complete its test over the Pacific Ocean when the missile fell into the water after only 15 seconds. Engineers had hoped the missile designed to fly up to 4,500 miles per hour would fly for 300 seconds.
The hypersonic aircraft uses scramjet technology to reach such high speeds meaning it doesn’t have moving parts and uses oxygen in the air opposed to liquid fuel. The test failure occurred at an inopportune time as it was the last budgeted test meaning the service will have to fight for funding to keep the program alive.