Russian Air Force Tu-160 Strategic Bombers in SA


Russian Air Force Tu-160 Strategic Bombers To Make Unprecedented Visit To South Africa…  On 22 October 2019, two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers will land at Air Force Base Waterkloof in what is the first known visit of the strategic bombers to Africa.

The Director at African Defence Review has published on social  media an invite that was issued by the Department of Defence of the Republic of South Africa. According to the invite, the South African Air Force will host some military aircraft belonging to the Russian Aerospace Force during their visit to the country.

The Russian “contingent” will start arriving in South Africa on 21 October and will include an Antonov An-124 Ruslan and  Il-62 aircraft: in fact, an accompanying Ruslan heavy lift cargo aircraft for support equipment and spares and a retro-looking Ilyushin Il-62 passenger aircraft carrying support, diplomatic and media personnel are part of what we could define as a “standard support package” to a Blackjack deployment, as observed in previous deployments.

Dealing with the two Tu-160s, the strategic bombers are slated to touch down at the air base located south of Pretoria, at approximately 06.30AM LT on the following days and they will be escorted by the SAAF Gripen and Hawk aircraft (so there might be some interesting photo opportunity there).

Darren Olivier@darren_olivier

Notice to aircraft spotters in South Africa: You’re going to get the rare chance to see two Tu-160s, an Il-62, and an An-124 arriving in Tshwane, as part of an historic visit by the Russian Air Force to the South African Air Force. Interesting diplomatic move by Russia too.

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“AFB Waterkloof could perhaps be considered the main base of the SAAF, housing four flying squadrons and a host of supporting units like the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre. It’s also the host airbase for nearly all diplomatic engagements, as it’s located in the suburb of Centurion within the capital city’s municipality of Tshwane, only a short distance from Pretoria,” Darren Olivier told us a message.

“There are no fighter aircraft stationed at Waterkloof. The SAAF’s Gripen C/Ds and Hawk Mk120s are all at AFB Makhado in the north of the country. The Gripen and Hawk escort mentioned in the press release will likely take off from Makhado to intercept the incoming aircraft in order to give them an escort to Waterkloof. For spotters it’s not the easiest airbase, with high walls and not that many good high ground spots nearby. If the aircraft come in on on runway 01 then there are decent spots on Theron street south of the base which fall under the landing flightpath.”

The media invite provides some details about the “strong historical links with diplomatic relations established between both countries on Feb. 28, 1992”. The statement goes on to say that “The Military to Military relations between the two countries is not solely built on struggle politics but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests. It is within the context and within the framework of the agreement between the Ministries of Defence of both countries dated June 13, 1995, that the joint unit of the AFRF [Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation] is visiting the RSA [Republic of South Africa]”

Noteworthy, according to Olivier, this visit was originally scheduled for 2016, and was to coincide with that year’s Africa Aerospace & Defence exhibition. “At the last minute it was postponed, seemingly as a result of Russia being unable to spare Tu-160 aircraft during a key period of its operations in Syria.”

Indeed, the Tu-160 has taken part in the Air War in the skies over Syria: at least one Blackjack aircraft flew a strike mission on Nov. 17, 2015 that hit ISIL targets in Syria using Russian 3M-54 Kalibur cruise missiles launched at standoff range.

We’ve asked to Darren Olivier to give us his thoughts about the status of the relations between South Africa and Russia:

“Not as friendly as under President Zuma, but far from antagonistic,” he commented. “There is a deep recognition within the ruling ANC of the role that Russia, in the form of the former-USSR, played in supporting the group during the struggle against Apartheid. This visit however was originally scheduled for September 2016, and it’s not clear whether it indicates any significantly new direction in South African and Russian diplomacy. That being said, this should be viewed in context with the recent announcement of joint Russian-Chinese-South African naval exercises in November:

So, once again the massive Tu-160 “White Swan” (as the aircraft is nicknamed) is used as the flagship of a “diplomatic deployment” as happened in South America with three deployments to Venezuela in 2003, 2008 and 2018.

The Tu-160 Blackjack is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber. As explained in a previous post here at The Aviationist:

The Tu-160 is a noteworthy aircraft because of its size, speed and rarity. While the U.S. cancelled its ambitious XB-70 Valkyrie super bomber program in 1969 and later developed the B-1 and low-observable B-2 along with the upcoming B-21 Raider, Russia has begun a program of updating avionics, engines and weapons systems on the Tu-160 and starting production of the upgraded bombers again. The first of the “Tu-160M2” upgrades, essentially a new aircraft built on the old planform, flew earlier this year with operational capability planned for 2023. The new Tu-160M2s will not be rebuilt, upgraded existing Tu-160s, but rather new production aircraft coming from the Tupolev plant. Russia says it will build “50” of the aircraft.

We don’t know how many aircraft are combat capable. According to most sources, no more than a handful are operational at any given time, making the Blackjack an interesting as well as rare aircraft to see, especially outside of Russia. Hopefully, some interesting photographs of the bombers during their South African tour will emerge in the following days!

Russian Air Force Tu-160 Strategic Bombers To Make Unprecedented Visit To South Africa



Come the last week in November, SA Navy fleet headquarters at Simon’s Town will be a hive of activity as three navies prepare for a multi-national naval exercise.

South Africa’s maritime service will – for the first time – host the Chinese and Russian navies. According to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate: Corporate Communications, the exercise will focus on “maritime economy, inter-operability and mending (sic) relations between participating navies”.

This is the only at sea exercise the South African maritime service will take part in this year as the exercises Oxide with the French naval forces in the Indian Ocean and Good Hope, with the German Navy, have been postponed. Indications are Exercise Oxide will be staged next year with Exercise Good Hope, at present, set for 2022. The rescheduling is by mutual agreement between the countries involved.


The Republic of South Africa will be visited by an air group of the Russian Aerospace Forces. The RF Ministry of Defense says that the RSA will see two Tu-160 strategic missile-carrying bombers and Il-62 and An-124 Ruslan military transport aircraft. The sides will discuss military cooperation and work out joint operations between Russian and South African aircrew.


Russia has announced plans to send two nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to South Africa in what observers say would be the first such deployment on the African continent.

The Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber, nicknamed the White Swan in Russia, is a supersonic Soviet-era aircraft capable of carrying up to 12 short-range nuclear missiles and of flying 12,000 kilometers non-stop without refueling.

An Oct. 18 statement by Russia’s Defense Ministry notes that the air group’s visit aims to deepen military cooperation with South Africa’s air force and is part of “friendly relations” between the two countries that are built on strategic partnership and understanding.

South Africa is part of an economic bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China known as BRICS.


Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 aircraft, also known as the White Swan, is truly an iconic work of aviation technology. This majestic and beautiful aircraft created in the USSR is a supersonic strategic missile carrying bomber that has a swing-wing design.

This is the largest and most powerful supersonic aircraft in the history of military aviation. USA’s main strategic bomber is the supersonic B-1 Lancer, as well as the heavy and stealthy B-2 Spirit bomber. However, even though the B-2 was considered the best strategic bomber in the world for a long time primarily due to its stealth technology, facts speak for themselves. The B-2 can fly at a speed of 0.95 Mach, whereas its maximum range of combat radius makes up 5, 000 km. The White Swan can fly at a speed of 1.84 Mach, whereas its maximum range of the combat radius is 7,300 km.

The American aircraft is inferior to the White Swan in terms of the combat payload as well: 23 tons for the B-2 and 45 tons for the Tu-160. The White Swan does not have the stealth technology. However, the Russian strategic bomber carries cruise missiles on board. First and foremost, it goes about X-101 cruise missiles. This is a strategic missile that is capable of striking targets at a distance of up to 5,500 km. The missile has a technology to reduce radar visibility. There is also a nuclear version of this missile – X-102. To crown it all, the Tu-160 can cover a distance of 13,000 km without refueling. One may conclude that the White Swan aircraft can overcome any air defense system. It was reported that Rostec State Corporation develops a unique composite material, which would be applied to glass cockpit windows of the Tu-160. The technology will reduce the radar visibility of the aircraft significantly. Videos provided by the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation.

Russia’s Tu-160 White Swan bomber undoubtedly superior to USA’s B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit

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