Russia Is Upgrading Its Old, Propeller-Driven Tu-95 Bombers

Charlie Gao

Key point: The current backbone of the Russian strategic bomber force is the Tu-95MS.

The Tu-95 is one of the oldest designs in active service in the Russian Air Force. Driven by eight contra-rotating turboprop engines, it is the only propeller-powered bomber that remains in service today. It shows no signs of leaving service either, with the Russian Air Force rolling out the Tu-95MSM modernization that adds significant capability to the Tu-95, far beyond its original role of dropping unguided bombs.

The current backbone of the Russian strategic bomber force is the Tu-95MS. While the main purpose of the Tu-95MS variant was to integrate new air-to-surface missiles into the Tu-95, this was a continuation of an existing trend. The Soviet Union experimented with air-to-surface missiles on Tu-95s starting in the 1950s, with the Tu-95K. This continued throughout the Cold War, culminating in the Tu-95MS series in 1981. The Tu-95MS series was a deep modernization of earlier versions of the Tu-95, replacing a myriad of equipment: everything from the defensive guns to the radars. The purpose was to create a new strike variant of the Tu-95 that could be used to launch new longer ranged air-to-surface cruise missiles. Due to the older Tu-95 airframes not being suitable for modernization, production lines for the Tu-95 were actually restarted in the 1980s to produce the new Tu-95MS variants, so those flying today are relatively young compared to some NATO aircraft.

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