Against the background of analogues
Nowadays, there are only three countries capable of creating strategic bombers. These are the United States, China and Russia. Moreover, the Middle Kingdom so far only claims to be on a par with the leaders. the only Chinese “strategist” Xian H-6 is nothing more than a deep modernization of the Soviet Tu-16 bomber, and the Chinese have yet to build their own aircraft of this type.
If you look even more closely, you can see that the situation with Russia and the United States is also far from brilliant. The Americans tried for decades to create a replacement for the B-52, but could not do it. At least in the form in which it was planned: neither B-1B, nor even B-2 became a full-fledged alternative Stratofortress, while being regular suppliers of all kinds of problems. As for Russia, after the collapse of the USSR, it remained with a considerable fleet of morally aging Tu-95MS aircraft, as well as a small number of Tu-160 (fortunately, Ukraine later returned some of the aircraft), which are clearly not enough to solve their potential tasks.
If we talk about promising combat vehicles, the situation is ambiguous. Until about 2017, the promising American B-21 bomber generally remained “semi-mythical,” but in recent years the issue has begun to clear up. So, last year, Air Force Magazine reported that the first flight of a promising aircraft can be expected in early December 2021: at least this date was announced by the Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General Stephen Wilson.
The de facto USA became the favorite of this contest, while for a long time no one ever remembered the new generation Russian bomber at all. However, at the end of May of this year, it became known that Russian engineers were already building the first experienced bomber developed under the PAK DA program (“Perspective aviation long-range aviation complex ”). “One of the aircraft factories in the structure of the United Aircraft Corporation will be engaged in the manufacture of glider elements of the first machine, the development of working design documentation has been completed, the supply of materials has begun,” one of TASS sources said. “The final assembly of the entire machine should be completed in 2021,” another told the agency, noting that the cockpit was already being manufactured.
It is difficult to say exactly what the new car will be - now we can more or less confidently talk only about the concept. It has long been known from numerous sources that Russia has long abandoned the creation of a supersonic analogue of the Tu-160: the new bomber will be subsonic, inconspicuous, and made with the “flying wing” aerodynamic design. That is, it is seen as a conditional analogue of the American B-2 or B-21 bombers. Moreover, the first rather than the second. At least if we talk about the size and basic performance characteristics. Recall that the B-21, according to the previously presented data, will be smaller than the B-2 and will receive more modest characteristics, in particular, a smaller combat radius and lower combat load.
A general idea of how the plane will look was previously given by the French magazine Air & Cosmos: however, the image is rather rough, and the device itself vaguely resembles the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. You can ignore the rest of the images "walking" on the Web: they, most likely, have nothing to do with reality at all.
What is known for sure is that in 2018, an announcement on a tender for experimental design work on an engine for a promising long-range aviation complex was published on the government procurement website. According to the data presented, the main and duplicate electronic engine systems must ensure the flight of the aircraft for up to 30 hours. Fuel supply and hydromechanical control systems should remain operational at near-zero and negative overloads of up to 2,7 g and at temperatures from minus 60 to plus 50 degrees Celsius. The minimum engine life should be 12 years. This is a lot by Russian standards.
As for weapons, the aircraft will have to carry long-range cruise missiles, high-precision bombs, as well as weapons with which it can stand up for itself in aerial combat (probably we are talking about medium or short-range air-to-air missiles) . This, by the way, distinguishes the new bomber from all existing "strategists", with the exception of the B-21, which also must be able to shoot down enemy aircraft. At least, such information previously appeared in statements by the US military.
Be on time
According to Tupolev’s data published on the public procurement website, they intend to build three flight prototypes of the PAK DA with the start of preliminary tests in 2023. State tests should begin in 2026, the car should go into a series in 2027. By the way, earlier Deputy Minister of Defense Yuri Borisov called for completely different terms. “There is a high probability that we will see him in 2018,” he said in 2016. The first flight, according to the deputy defense minister, should be carried out in 2021: obviously, now this is no longer relevant. It is appropriate to recall that the stage of engine testing within the framework of the PAK DA program on the Il-76 military transport aircraft will be completed no earlier than 2021. “According to the contract, ground development of the PAK DA engine on the Il-76 aircraft will begin at the end of 2020, and will be completed by the end of 2021. After that, it will be possible to start flights, ”Interfax quoted an informed source in January of this year.
A noteworthy fact: in April 2018, the blog of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies reported with reference to a certain publication of Aéronautique Militaire that the tests of the first prototypes of the bomber were transferred outside the new state arms program and now it is expected no earlier than 2030. As far as judging by the blog post itself, news was an April Fools joke. As they say, in every joke ...
The problem is that the program itself is so complex, expensive and filled with all sorts of risks that nothing can be ruled out. There is another reason why the postponement of test dates is possible. Now Russia is implementing a very complex and extremely ambitious (especially by modern standards) program to restore the production of Tu-160 missile carriers: the prototype of a new-built machine first flew up to the sky on February 2, 2020. As it became known later, the combatant Tu-160 “Igor Sikorsky” (tail number 14 “red”) acted as a base. It is difficult to say whether the country has enough human, technical and material resources to implement two “programs of the century”. Each of them is very expensive, one might even say too much.
However, if you try to summarize the available data, then the situation with PAK YES is seen in a more positive way than you could imagine. If the data on the start of production of the first experimental machine is correct, then with a high degree of probability we will be able to see a new aircraft around 2021-2023, and the first flight can take place approximately in 2025-2027.
As for the timing of the adoption of the complex into service, then, as the experience of other modern combat vehicles shows, this should be expected no earlier than 2030. Of course, after the first flight they will be called much more optimistic dates, but these words should hardly be taken at face value: it’s enough to recall that the Su-57 took off for the first time in 2010. And still it is not in service. But the new "strategist" as a complex will be much more complicated than a fifth-generation fighter.