Dave Majumdar for The National Interest:
Early next year in February, the first of Russia’s new production Tupolev Tu-160M2 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers will take to the air.
The new bomber is essentially a prototype of a next generation variant of the venerable Blackjack, the first generation of which was built during the 1980s in the last days of the Soviet Union. Russia operates 16 of the surviving aircraft as long-range cruise missile carriers as a key part of its strategic bomber force. The aircraft have performed well during Russia’s Syria campaign acting as launch platforms for the stealthy MKB Raduga H-101 cruise missile, which is thought to have a range between 4,500MKm and 5,500Km.
The Russians plan to buy about fifty of the new Tu-160 variant. It is also likely that the 16 original model Tu-160 airframes will be upgraded to the new standard. Moscow can make do with the upgraded Tu-160M2 for its strategic bomber force because unlike the United States Air Force, the Russian Air Force does not expect the massive aircraft to penetrate into enemy airspace to deliver its payload. Instead, the Tu-160—which is capable of speeds of over Mach 2.0—would dash into position to launch long-range standoff cruise missiles. As such, stealth is not considered to be particularly important. Indeed, one of the advantages of a highly visible strategic bomber is that it enables nuclear signaling.
Interesting point that if the missiles have a range of over 4000 kilometers, the aircraft doesn’t need to be stealth.