UKRAINIAN AND RUSSIAN MINISTERS TALK OF USING EX-SOVIET BOMBERS.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 158
Although visiting Defense Minister Igor Sergeev reiterated yesterday in Kiev that Russia no longer wants to buy the 42 ex-Soviet strategic bombers inherited by Ukraine, he and his Ukrainian counterpart suggested that the two sides might cooperate in finding some other use for the planes. Ukrainian defense minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said that experts from the two countries had been instructed "to think how the bombers can be utilized in another sphere." (Russian agencies, August 26) Last month Ukraine’s Air Force chief had suggested the bombers would be scrapped.
The most important component of Ukraine’s inherited bomber force is its 19 Tu-160 "Blackjack" jets — planes that have previously been considered for a space role. One concept calls for a variant of the jet, to be designated the Tu-160SK, to carry a "Burlak" space booster aloft on its back. The converted bomber would, in effect, act as the first stage of the space-launch system. (Voennye znaniy, October 1996) Ukraine is eager to increase its role in space and is already cooperating with Russia in a number of space-related programs. Joint exploitation of the Tu-160’s space launch potential could be profitable for both sides.
Some in Russia, however, also continue to look at the military value of these giant bombers. The head of the Tupolev design bureau said recently that one of the company’s priority military programs is to update its Tu-22M and Tu-160 bombers. According to Igor Shevchuk, the modernization would be oriented toward "building up their attack potential."(Western media, August 25) Since Ukraine inherited the bulk of the Tu-160 inventory, Shevchuk’s plans — to be practical — would have to include some of the Ukrainian aircraft.
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