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Useful Notes / Mnogo Nukes: Bombers

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Russian and Soviet land attack bombers go here- anti-shipping stuff goes in Naval Aircraft.

The Tu-16 "Badger" and Tu-22M "Backfire" can be used (and were in conventional cases) for land attack too. Both served in the Soviet Air Force and Soviet Navy, but we have placed them in Mnogo Nukes: Other Naval Nukes.

Also includes air-launched missiles not used in the naval role and bombs of note.

One of the elements of the fear of the Red Scare in the United States in the 1950s was something called the "bomber gap". This was the erroneous belief that the Soviet Union had thousands of long-range bombers, capable of delivering death to patriotic Americans on short notice.


In reality the reverse was true: for much of The '50s the mainstay of the Soviet bomber fleet was Tu-4, a copy of the American B-29, which lacked the range and speed to successfully attack the American mainland, and there was exactly nothing in the Soviet inventory to match the enormous range and altitude of B-36, however flammable it wasnote . Its replacements, like jet-engined Tupolev's Tu-16 or Myasischev's M-4/3M, guzzled fuel like crazy and were essentially a one-way machines: while they could reach American soil, they couldn't return from there without the aerial refuelingnote .


Only with the advent of the turboprop Tu-95 with its enormous range and speednote  did this change. After the late '50s, a Soviet bomber could hope to not only bomb the American mainland, but also return back. Just like its Yankee counterpart, the B-52, the Bear is still active and is expected to hang around until 2040 at least.

All aircraft with "B" reporting names go here, unless they are clearly tactical aircraft.



Keldysh Bomber

When the Red Army arrived in Germany in 1945, they learnt about the Silbervogel, Eugen Sanger and Irene Bredt's idea for a sub-orbital bomber. Stalin got obsessed with the thing, tried to have the pair kidnapped by the NKVD (what is this, Iron Man?note ) and got the thing placed as high priority. Initial studies in 1946-7 changed the rocket propulsion to ramjets and concluded it would be the mid-1950s before the thing could get to a feasible draft. At that point, the design had become obsolete, although the work done was used in some experimental cruise missiles (see elsewhere).

Il-28 "Beagle"

A light bomber, with cannons on front and tail, it was exported to over 20 countries. Only North Korea still retains it in service. In China some of them are being sold to civilian air companies and are being used as trainers, photo and weather planes, and most ironically, firefighting foam-sprayers.

A Sledgehammer To Crack An Anvil: M-4 Molot (Hammer) "Bison"

A jet-powered strategic bomber, developed by Myasishchev and comparable to the B-52 in size, as well as function. Intended to attack the United States, it became clear the thing consumed too much fuel to get to the US and back (although in a nuclear war, would you want to return home?). Aerial refueling alleviated the problem somewhat, but it still was seen as suboptimal solution.

Having a rather low flight ceiling, it carried ten 23mm cannon to make up for this. Free-fall bombs only, for reasons as we shall see. The initial version wasn't very good, so the improved 3M version was created. However, this wasn't good enough and most of the aircraft became tankers. Tupolev's influence in the Communist Party and his ability to say "Isn't my lovely Tu-95 better?" led to the "Bear" being the bomber of choice- then Tupolev got his Tu-160 chosen to replace it.

Never saw combat and only 93 were built. The bombers were destroyed under START (their tails were cut off and the inoperable bombers left in the open for US spy satellites to confirm their destruction). The tankers were retired in 1994, being replaced by the Il-78 "Midas".

The VM-T Atlant version was used for transporting Buran, the Soviet space shuttle, but has now been retired. Another variant will be used by Myasishchev for space tourism- taking a suborbital platform up to launch height.

The importance of the M-4 in the early Cold War cannot be underestimated- it caused a metaphorical "brown trousers" moment for the entire Western world. The Soviet Union had a bomber that was capable of reaching the US with nuclear weapons. In 1955, the Soviets did a rather infamous thing. At an Aviation Day Parade, 10 M-4 bombers flew overhead. They left the vicinity, turned around and flew over again. Six times in total. To anyone not in the know, that looked like 60 aircraft. Western analysts extrapolated, badly, concluding the Soviets would have six hundred of the things in the near future. Cue a lot of "leaks" that the Soviets were ahead in a (successful) attempt to increase defense spending, the later, just as false, "missile gap" and the "mineshaft gap".

Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to find the answer and got the U-2 (and RB-36, which were actually much more numerous and not more accessible to the Soviet interceptors of the time) flying over the USSR, determining said gap was non-existent. During a later U-2 flight, Gary Powers encountered some S-75s and the rest is history.

M-50 "Bounder"

A supersonic medium-range bomber. Only one prototype built, it flew in an Aviation Day flyby in 1961,and was made to believe that it was very menacing by also rotat-flying, but never went operational. It was a decent machine but had the same problem that plagued most early Soviet jets: namely, the enormous fuel consumption. Well into its development the ICBMs became operational and made medium bombers redundant. One has to feel a tad sorry for Myasishchev. Khrushchev proceeded to shut down his bureau for this. The bureau was recreated, but never got a combat aircraft into service again. Still around, but has produced nothing of note in recent years.

Yogi Flyer: Tu-95 "Bear"

The only strategic turbo-prop (think a jet engine with propellers) bomber to have reached operational service in world history, these could be sticking around in Russian service until 2040. The current (and sole remaining bomber) version is the Tu-95MS6 "Bear-H", which can fire six Kh-55 missiles. It has a very long range- Kola Peninsula to Cuba was done on a weekly basis for much of the Cold War. The propeller tips break the sound barrier when they go round, meaning it is insanely loud; reports of it being heard by the crews of submerged submarines are not unknown, and hearing problems aren't just common in Tu-95 crews, they've also been reported in NATO fighter pilots who intercepted them.

Due to the range of the thing, it was often used for non-stop runs from the Kola peninsula to Cuba, as well as simulated attacks against North America and the UK. Along the way, it often would be escorted by NATO aircraft for much of the way. The crews would wave at each other and the "Bear" would point its tail guns straight up to avoid misunderstandings. A common legend is that Soviet political officers who were assigned to the bombers were none too pleased with the friendliness, so it became a game among NATO pilots to adjust their airspeed while waving, forcing the commissars to crawl back and forth between the cockpit and tail gunner's position (through a rather cramped shaft) to make sure the Soviet crews weren't waving back. Which they invariably were whenever the commissar couldn't see them.

Which, as fun as it gets, is, sadly a complete fabrication. Either by the NATO pilots for their own amusement, or by the Soviets themselves, pulling those Westerners legs. The Soviet aviation of the time had in general about one political officer on the squadron level (which is generally 8 to 9 aircraft), and it usually was a lazy and useless paper-pusher who for the love of God won't be strapping himself into a cold, uncomfortable flying sausage. And, more importantly, Tu-95 has no transfer corridor between the cockpit and tail-gunner station, the Guy in Back enters via the separate door in the tail.

Not fabricated, however, are incidents where one side or the other would hold up copies of the latest issue of Playboy...perhaps slightly more dubious is the claim that sometimes the Russians had issues the NATO pilots' hadn't gotten yet!

Recently, long-range patrols have been resumed, giving, USAF, Canadian, RAF and Norwegian pilots a bit of an exercise.

The "Bear" got its capability estimates revised upwards several times during the Cold War. It is rightly considered an icon of the period.

The name "Bear" (used proudly by the Russian military) may have actually been given by a Soviet pilot at the Paris Air Show.

Tu-142 "Bear-F"

Dedicated maritime variant of the Tu-95, capable of carrying nuclear depth charges. Still seriously noisy.

  • Used a lot in Red Storm Rising and features in the movie version of The Hunt for Red October.


A nuclear-powered bomber. Yup. A variant of "Bear" designed to have its propellers driven by steam, rather than gas turbines, with the steam supplied by an onboard nuclear reactor. Its unusual turboprop design came really handy here, meaning that a closed circuit system, similar to a common nuclear power station, could be used, thus making the plane relatively "clean", unlike several other American and Soviet projects that used open circuit engines that peppered everything around with radioactive fallout. Never got beyond the prototype stage: a common "Bear" was equipped with steam turbines in inboard positions on both wings, and even made one flight with a "hot" reactor, to test the radiation shielding for pilots and ground crews. The results showed that the shielding was generally effective, but by that point the concerns about possible accident outweighed the potential advantages, and the project was scrapped without the plane actually making any flights under nuclear power.

Russia's Fifth Card: Tu-160 "Blackjack"

The heaviest combat aircraft ever built (although not the largest- that title goes to the B-36). Called "Belyj lebed" (White Swan) by its pilots because of its manoeuvrability and because it's painted white. The most modern and capable heavy bomber in the Russian inventory, more are currently being built at a slow pace, with a modernised version recently built. It has the world's highest bombing capacity, since the B-1B would need to use external hard points to beat it and that would ruin its "stealth" capabilities. It is also much faster than the Lancer. However, it's had maintenance issues and didn't see action until recently. However, it's been showing off its stand off attack capability in the ongoing Russian intervention in Syria.

Two recently flew to Venezuela for a visit.

  • The "Blackjack" also appears in Plan of Attack.

Russia's Limo: "Tupolev PAK-DA [Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Dalney Aviatsyi- Future Air Complex for Strategic Air Forces]"

This recently announced aircraft is a fifth-generation bomber, expected to make its maiden flight around 2015-2020. Everything claimed about this, apart from the fact that Tupolev is developing it (and even that is probably a bullshit, given the sad state of Tupolev right now), must be considered as pure speculation at present. Mainly because at this stage it is more of a design competition name, rather than actual aircraft designation. Recently the grapevine brought the rumors that it would be developed not by Tupolev but by Sukhoi, and based on one of their late-Soviet rejected designs, T-60S, in its final form of "object 54". From the look of the said prototype it'll probably be stealthy and look rather good — with the flat lifting belly and variable wings it seemed to be something out of a Sci-Fi movie.

Air-Launched Missiles

Kh-20/AS-3 "Kangaroo"

A Mach 1.8 capable air-launched cruise missile with a range of about 400 miles. It was too slow, too vulnerable and rather large.

Kh-55 Granat/AS-15 "Kent"

The Soviet attempt to emulate the AGM-86 American cruise missile and the Tomahawk, with sea-based and land-based versions (see elsewhere). Has a range of 3,000km in its the newest version, the Kh-55SM "Kent-B". Carried by the Tu-95 and Tu-160.

P-750 Grom/AS-X-19 "Koala"'''

Air-launched version of the "Scorpion". Never entered service.

  • Used in Plan of Attack.

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