A peek inside the two Russian nuclear-capable bombers, nicknamed the White Swan, that has landed in Africa for the first time ever

The Russian nuclear-capable bomber, the Tupolev Tu-160, nicknamed the White Swan. (Goodfon)
  • The arrival of the two bombers in South Africa coincided with the first ever Russia-Africa summit, hosted by President Vladimir Putin.
  • The Tu-160 has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes.
  • The aircraft is capable of carrying up to 12 short-range nuclear missiles and fly 12,000 kilometers non-stop without refueling.

On Wednesday, the world’s biggest military aircraft capable of launching nuclear landed in Africa for the first time ever.

The two bombers, the Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO reporting name of Blackjack) bomber, touched down at the Waterkloof air base in Tshwane, South Africa.

The two bombers capable of launching nuclear missiles were escorted by fighter jets from the South African Air Force in a rare display of cooperation between the defense forces of the two countries.

“The military-to-military relations between the two countries are not solely built on struggle politics but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests,” the SANDF said. Russia’s defense ministry put out a similar statement.

The Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber, nicknamed the White Swan in Russia, is a supersonic Soviet-era aircraft capable of carrying up to 12 short-range nuclear missiles and of flying 12,000 kilometers non-stop without refueling. 

The arrival of the two bombers in Africa’s most industrialized nation coincided with the first ever Russia-Africa summit, hosted by President Vladimir Putin.

South Africa is part of an economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China known as BRICS.

In recent months Russia has been flexing its military muscles and last December, two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Venezuela in a symbolic show of support for the government there, prompting criticism from the United States.

All you need to know about the Tupolev Tu-160 nuclear-capable bomber 

The Tu-160 supersonic strategic bomber was manufactured by the Tupolev aircraft research and engineering complex joint stock company of Moscow and the Kazan-Gorbunov Aircraft Production Association in Tatarstan from 1980 to 1992, according to Airforce Technology.

About 35 aircraft were built of which only 16 are in service in Russia.

The maiden flight of the bomber was completed in December 1981 and it entered service in April 1987.

Production has since restarted and a Tu-160 was delivered to the Russian Air Force in May 2000.

The purpose of the aircraft is the delivery of 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.

The Tu-160 was designated as White Swan due to its manoeuvrability and anti-flash white finish.

In September 2008, two Tu-160 bombers made the first transatlantic flight for the type, from Murmansk to Venezuela, on a training mission.

In June 2010, two Russian Tu-160 bombers completed a record-breaking 23hr patrol covering 18,000km of flight range. The bombers flew by the borders of Russia over the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and finally landed at Engels base in the Volga region.

The Tu-160 is capable of carrying the strategic cruise missile Kh-55MS, which is known in the West by the Nato designation and codename AS-15 Kent. Up to 12 Kh-55MS missiles can be carried, six in each bay. The Kh-55MS is propelled by a turbofan engine. The maximum range is 3,000km, and it is armed with a 200kt nuclear warhead.

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