Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger)
Multirole Twin-Engined, Jet-Powered Fast Bomber
The Tu-16 Badger was one of the most important medium aircraft of the USSR during the Cold War.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the Soviet Air Force and Navy - as well as several other global military services - operate the technological success that was the Tupolev Tu-16 strategic bomber (codenamed "Badger" by NATO). The type was developed to a specific Soviet defense requirement calling for a fast, high-altitude, medium-class, nuclear-capable bomber to penetrate enemy airspace and unleash a lethal war load at range. As such, the design was outfitted with the most powerful turbojet engines available to Soviet engineers at the time and featured swept-back wings for high-speed flight - the first Soviet-originated bomber to feature this quality. Before the end, just over 1,500 examples were completed and these went on to serve with Soviet-aligned nations such including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Iraq, and Ukraine. The reborn Russian Air Force (as well as other global players) simply absorbed the existing fleet of Tu-16s with the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991. Amazingly, these final forms were not retired until 1993 - not bad for an aircraft born in the 1950s!
Following World War 2 (1939-1945), the East and West were divided in what became known as the "Cold War" (1947-1991) pitting the Soviet Union and its allies against the United States and its allies. As such, the militaries of these two powerful global players were often in a tit-for-tat affair with one another in which technology gains were the deciding factor. In time, nuclear weaponry became the ultimate deterrence and both sides strove to develop ever-more potent weapons-delivery platforms to outdo the other side.
With the widespread adoption of turbojet technology in military aircraft following the close of World War 2, bomber platforms simply became faster and higher-flying than ever before. This led the Soviet Union to invest heavily in development of various bomber designs, particularly those able to carry and deliver nuclear-minded payloads over range and at altitude. At this time, the Soviet Air Force could only deploy its limited fleet of Tupolev Tu-4 "Bull" heavy bombers but these were four-engined, prop-driven aircraft simply illegal, reverse-engineered from captured American Boeing B-29 Superfortress with technology rooted in the fighting of World War 2. As such, more was expected from the Soviet bomber fleet leading to the rise of a new generation of aircraft still to come.
Around this time, Soviet engineers were also making great strides in the field of aerospace aided largely by access to the British Rolls-Royce "Nene" turbojet engine as well as captured wartime German data and technology. The Mikulin AM-3 turbojet series was a development of the period that would prove instrumental to providing Soviet engineers with a capable powerplant to drive medium-to-heavy-class platforms. Its development began in 1948 and ultimately encompassed the original Am-3 offering as well as the later AM-3A, AM-3D, and AM-3M-200 model engines (this series was also copied by the Chinese as the "WP-8"). The engine would eventually go on to power the Tu-16 and Myasishhev M-4 products (the latter detailed elsewhere on this site).
Tupolev was in competition with Ilyushin for the lead in the new Soviet medium jet-powered bomber project. Tupolev went on to develop their "Aircraft 88" (or "Tu-88" or "Aircraft N") while Ilyushin laid down the framework for what was their "Il-46" twin-engine jet bomber. Both companies supplied prototypes for state acceptance trials to which Tupolev won out on the grounds of better performance from their Tu-88 offering. The Tupolev prototype recorded its first-flight on April 27th, 1952.
The Tu-88 was followed by "Aircraft 97" which led to the "Aircraft 103" model form. Serial production (to come out of Kazan) was then ordered in December of 1952 which led to series introduction occurring in 1954 under the formal designation of "Tu-16". Once recognized by NATO observers, the series was given the codename of "Badger" so early-form Tu-16s were appropriately codenamed "Badger-A". The Tu-16 directly succeeded the line of Tu-4 bombers in same role with the Soviet Air Force.
In May of 1954, no fewer than nine new Tu-16 bombers were featured in a Moscow flyover in Red Square festivities - officially marking the unveiling of the advanced bomber.
The Badger-A codename covered several Tu-16 operational marks: Tu-16A, Tu-16Z, Tu-16G, Tu-16N, Tu-16T, Tu-16S, and Tu-16Ye.
The Tu-16A was modified to carry nuclear war loads and production reached 453 units before the end. The Tu-16Z was modified to serve as an aerial tanker but retained their combat profiles. The Tu-16G was a specially-developed mailplane and crew trainer while the Tu-16N of 1963 was another tanker form and carried a "probe-and-drogue" fuel delivery system. The Tu-16T was utilized in the torpedo bomber role with the Soviet Navy and could carry an armament load out consisting of aerial torpedoes, depth charges, and naval mines as needed - some 26 were built to the standard. The Tu-16S was used in the Search-and-Rescue (SAR) role and the Tu-16Ye in the Electronic Warfare (EW) / ELectronic INTelligence (ELINT) roles.
Next came the Tu-16KS in late 1954 to form the "Badger-B" variant. These were equipped to carry air-to-surface missiles primarily for the anti-ship role. One hundred seven examples were built from 1954 until 1958 and these were operated under the banner of the Soviet Navy for their time in the air. Additionally, both Egypt and Indonesia purchased the type.
The Tu-16K-10, or "Badger-C", also served the Soviet Navy and was, again, outfitted with anti-ship missile armament but now a radar system was installed in the nose section - considerably expanding the lethality of the bomber. Some 216 were produced from 1958 until 1963.
The Tu-16RM-1 (the "Badger-D") was built in 23 examples and used in the ELINT maritime patrol role. It was armed through missiles and also carried radar in its nose section. The Tu-6R (the "Badger-E") was a dedicated maritime reconnaissance platform complete with ELINT equipment and support for missiles. Sub-variants of the R-model were the KSR-2 missile-armed Tu-16RM-2 and Tu-16KRM target drone carrier.
The Tu-16K and Tu-16K SR fell under the NATO codename of "Badger-G" and operated as maritime reconnaissance bombers and missile carriers. Sub-variants were the Tu-16K SR-2, Tu-16K-11-16, Tu-16K-26, and Tu-16K-26P. All appeared during the 1960s and the G-models were regarded as the "definitive" Badgers.
The Tu-16 "Elka" ("Badger-H") and used in the dedicated EW / ECM roles. The Tu-16P "Buket" followed in a similar role and was known to NATO as "Badger-J". Another ELINT model became the Tu-16Ye "Badger-K" form. The Tu-16P was a modernized ELINT model and recognized as "Badger-L".