USSR’s first genuinely intercontinental bomber, the Tu-95 is practically a contemporary of the US B-52 Stratofortress, having entered operational service in 1956 at which time it acquired its iconic NATO reporting name of “Bear”. However, since the Tu-95 production continued until 1992, the Russian Bear fleet is considerably younger than the US B-52 fleet, the youngest of which dates back to the 1960s. It is a testament to the power and reliability of these aircraft that, even though their countries’ respective strategic bomber fleets eventually received more advanced aircraft such as the Tu-160, B-1, and B-2, the 1950s-era bombers remain the mainstay of the aerial strategic deterrents thanks to their conversion into nuclear air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) carriers, the Tu-95MS which is easily distinguished from the earlier variants by having a prominent aerial refueling probe and a large radar blister under its nose, as opposed to the glazed nose of the initial versions. Unlike the B-52, the Tu-95 was never used as a conventional bomber. Apart from having the Tu-22–series bombers for that task, B-52 losses over North Vietnam proved that large subsonic aircraft have no business mixing it up with supersonic interceptors and long-range missiles.
While over 500 Tu-95 bombers and related aircraft like the Tu-142 maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, were produced, only 60 remain in Russia’s Long-Range Aviation, all of them cruise missile-capable Tu-95MS variants. They are assigned to the 184th Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment of the 22nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Division based at the Engels Airbase in Saratov Region, and the 182nd and 79th Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiments of the 326th Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Division, based at the Ukrainka Airbase. Since the Tu-95MS numbers are considerably greater than those of the Tu-160, unsurprisingly the Bears are frequently “hosted” by US, European, and Japanese fighters in the territorial waters off the coasts of the United States, Europe, and Japan.
The ongoing modernization program indicates the Bears will remain in service for decades to come, alongside the Tu-160 whose production will resume in a few years. The modernization is most likely intended to maintain the viability of the Tu-95MS fleet until the PAK-DA heavy bomber is ready for operational service. According to the Tupolev Design Bureau, bomber airframes are in sufficiently good condition to permit operation until at least 2040. Though built for the Cold War, ironically enough the first combat use of the Tu-95 was against jihadist high-value targets in Syria, against which the bombers launched cruise missiles. Since world peace does not appear ready to break out in the current unstable multipolar world, the Bears are almost certain to see more action in the remaining decades of their service.
South Front: Analysis & Intelligence (SF) is a public analytical project maintained by an independent team of experts from four corners of the earth. SF focuses on international relations and crises working through a number of media platforms. They provide military operations analysis and other important data where crisis points affect tensions between countries and nations. They dig out truth barely covered by states concerned and their mainstream media. SF does not receive any funding from corporations or governments. They are supported by reader donations.
*All posts on behalf of South Front are made by Gordon Duff