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Confrontation over the Arctic: Soviet/Russian strategic bombers, then and now

Canada's Arctic has long been a major strategic focus for air-defence planners. From NORAD to the DEW line to the BOMARC missile, significant resources have gone into anticipation of airborne threats from the USSR and now Russia.

While nuclear-tipped ICBMs are a strategic threat in a class of their own, conventional planning has traditionally focused on air combat, pitting Canadian and U.S. fighters and interceptors against Soviet / Russian attack aircraft penetrating Canadian airspace in the North.

A brief survey of selected Soviet / Russian bombers dating back to the Cold War:

AP / British National Archive

Tu-95 (NATO designation: Bear)

The four-engine turboprop Tu-95 first flew in 1952 and entered service with the Soviet air force in 1956. Designed as an intercontinental strategic bomber, it was also used for maritime surveillance and forward targeting. In a 1961 test, a modified Tu-95 dropped the largest and most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. The Tu-95 and its variants have a maximum speed of 920 km/h and a range of 15,000 kilometres without refuelling. It can carry various bombloads and/or anti-ship and cruise missiles.

The Bear is expected to remain in service with the Russian Air Force until at least 2040.


Tu-16 (NATO designation: Badger)

The Tupolev Tu-16 is a twin-engine swept-wing strategic bomber which entered service in 1954 and was designed as a high-altitude, free-fall bomber capable of delivering both nuclear and conventional payloads. Subsequent variants were modified to carry missiles and/or perform reconnaissance and electronic-warfare missions. The Badger’s maximum speed was 1,050 km/h and it had a range of 7,200 kilometres. It also carried up to seven 23mm cannons for self-defence.

Armed Forces Update

Tu-160 (NATO designation: Blackjack)

The Tu-160 is a variable-sweep wing heavy bomber which entered service in 1987, and was the last strategic bomber designed for the Soviet Union. It is the world’s largest combat aircraft, with a loaded weight of 267,600 kilograms. Its maximum speed is 2,220 km/h (in excess of Mach 2) and its range is 12,300 kilometres. Like other Soviet strategic attack aircraft, its armament can vary; it is capable of carrying several different types of bombs, nuclear missiles, and cruise missiles, depending on its mission.


Tu-22 (NATO designation: Backfire)

A supersonic long-range strike bomber, the Tu-22 entered service in 1972. It was designed with variable-geometry wings to enable low-level penetration, and had a maximum speed of 2,000 km/h and a range of 6,800 kilometres. It could be fitted with various bombloads and missile complements, depending on its configuration, and carried a 23mm cannon in its tail turret. It was designed for both nuclear-strike and conventional-attack missions, and was used extensively during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980.

Sources: Wikipedia, Federation of American Scientists,, RiaNovosti

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