Russian Tu-95: Looks like Boeing's Stratofortress, serves like the Stratofortress

The Soviet-era aircraft first took flight nearly seven decades ago.
Ameya Paleja
Russian Tu-95
Russian Tu-95

Getty Images 

The invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has brought out the realities of the Russian military and its capabilities. A lot of media attention has focused on how Ukraine has been able to push back against the Russian aggression and how the latter's new-age technologies rely on foreign-made components. But if there is anything that has stood the test of time on the Russian side, it is long-range bombers, more specifically the Tupolev Tu-95.

The Tu-95s have been major players in the Russian strategy of staying outside Ukrainian airspace yet causing damage on the ground. Here's everything we know about the aircraft.

The Tupolev Tu-95

Designed by Andrei Tupolev, the Tu-95 is a successor to the Tu-85 heavy bomber, Russia's first intercontinental bomber that first flew in 1951. With the Tu-95, the then Soviet Union wanted a greater range and higher payload capacity bomber. Tupolev found the right mix with turboprop engines, and after two prototype aircraft, the Tu-85 was shelved to favor the Tu-95.

The aircraft is slightly over 150 feet (46.2 m) long and has a wingspan of 164 feet (50.1 m). With the swept-back wing design, the Tu-95 could be easily mistaken for the B-52 Stratofortress, except for the four turboprop engines that keep it in the air.

According to Pentagon's initial estimates, the Tu-95 had a range of 7,800 miles (12,500 km) and a top speed of 400 miles (640 km) an hour. Over the years, though, these estimates had to be revised on multiple occasions and are now believed to be 9,300 miles (15,000 km) and 440 miles (710 km) per hour.

More than 500 of the Tu-95s were built under the Soviet flag, designed to drop nuclear weapons in free fall during the years of the Cold War. As time passed, the aircraft's missions changed, and it now fires cruise missiles and has electronic warfare systems under upgrades which have changed its designation to Tu-95MS.

In 2010, two Tu-95MS aircraft flew across the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific oceans and the Sea of Japan, covering a distance of over 19,000 miles (30,000 km) and setting a world record of 43 hours of non-stop flight for its class of aircraft.

Role in Ukraine invasion

According to The Drive, the Tu-95MS were engaged from the Engels Air Force Base from day one of the Ukraine invasion. The only armament available to these bombers is the Kh101 cruise missile (NATO name AS-23A Kodiak). The missile flies at a low altitude at subsonic speeds and has a range of over 2,000 miles (3,500 km).

The long range of the aircraft, accompanied by the long range of cruise missiles, makes it a deadly attack option in any conflict. On August 24, Ukraine's Independence Day, the Russian Aerospace Forces conducted 200 missions that involved the Tu-95 bombers alongside the Tu-22M3s, which sent air alerts across Ukraine.

Luckily for the Ukrainians, all these missions together fired just eight missiles which is being attributed to Russia exhausting its firepower rapidly in the past six months with low rate of production to replenish them.

This has meant that the world record-setting bomber has been reduced to a long-range aircraft without a mission.

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