Russia aims to deploy an unmanned strategic bomber by 2040. But first it’s going to try to deploy a new manned stealth bomber.
Lt. Gen. Sergey Kobylash, commander of long-range aviation for the Russian air force, announced the plan in an interview with newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.
"It is expected that by the year 2040 a sixth-generation strategic bomber will be created, which will already be unmanned," Kobylash said, according to a TASS summary of the interview.
Meanwhile, the air force is going to modernize its existing Tupolev Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22MZ bombers, Kobylash said. It also plans to develop a “fifth-generation” strategic bomber that would enter service before the sixth-generation robotic bomber does.
That interim bomber, the PAK-DA, reportedly is under development by Tupolev and could take to the air in 2025 or 2026, according to some outside experts. The Kremlin has released very little information about the bomber.
Details are equally scarce when it comes to the sixth-generation unmanned bomber. It will be subsonic and "will be able to solve all the tasks of long-range aviation," Kobylash said.
“On the one hand, the projection is in line with Russian [defense ministry] thinking about its future force composition -- the growing role of unmanned and robotic systems in the land, air and maritime forces, especially given the increasing role of UAVs in the Russian forces today,” Samuel Bendett, a researcher with the Center for Naval Analyses and a Russia studies fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, told The National Interest. “There have also been previous statements about the Russian sixth-generation aircraft having unmanned capabilities.”
“On the other hand,” Bendett added, “the 20-year projection arc is meant to ‘buy time’ to figure out the most important technological issues with respect to this aircraft.” The Russian aerospace industry cannot yet build a fully reliable and combat-capable large drone.