Vladimir Putin says Russia’s purchase of 10 “hi-tech” supersonic bombers will “strengthen” the country’s nuclear capabilities.
The modernised TU-160M strategic bombers, codenamed Blackjacks by Nato, will be delivered to the Russian Air Force between now and 2027 at a cost of 15 billion rubles (£189m).
The giant plane, which is able to sweep its wings backwards for extra speed, is a modernised version of a Cold War-era bomber the USSR would have deployed in the event of nuclear war.
“This is a serious step towards developing our hi-tech sphere and strengthening the country’s ability to defend itself,” said Mr Putin, who watched the strategic bomber in flight on Thursday.
The TU-160M is capable of carrying 12 cruise missiles or 12 short-range nuclear missiles and can fly 7,500 miles non-stop without refuelling.
Mr Putin, who is standing for re-election on 18 March, a contest polls show he is likely to easily win, inspected the factory in Kazan, a city in Tatarstan, where the new plane is being built, as well as an airstrip, hangars and modernised workshops.
Under Mr Putin, who has dominated the political landscape for the last 18 years, Russia has significantly increased defence spending and used military force in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria.
Existing versions of the TU-160 have flown from bases in Russia to Syria where they have bombed forces opposed to president Bashar al-Assad, one of Moscow’s closest Middle East allies.
Tupolev, the plane’s manufacturer, says the modernised version will be 60 per cent more effective than the older version with significant improvements to its weaponry, navigation and avionics.
Rinat Khamatov, the plant’s chief welder, said Russia needed a modernised version of the bomber.
“The TU-160… is a weapon of deterrence and it is great that Russia is able to start making it again,” he said.
Russia also aims to produce a modernised version of its Il-78 refuelling tanker, codenamed Midas by NATO, which can refuel the TU-160 mid-air, enabling it to reach any point on the planet.