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".
As finalized, the Tu-16 design was given an overall length of 114.1 feet with a wingspan of 108.2 feet and a height of 34 feet. Empty weight was 82,015lb against an MTOW of 174,165lb and power was provided for by 2 x Mikulin AM-3 M-500 turbojet engines outputting 21,000lb of thrust each. Maximum speed reached 655 miles per hour with a range out to 4,500 miles and a service ceiling of 42,000 feet. Internally, there was a crew of six to seven personnel.
The aircraft's design was rather consistent for the period, completed in a bare silver color pattern and carrying over elements from the Second World War (glazed nose, defensive gun positions). The forward section of the fuselage contained the glazed nosecone as well as the stepped cockpit. A dorsal turret was positioned just aft of the flight deck. The fuselage was of a basic tubular shape with slight tapering towards the tail section. The tail section held a single vertical tail fin and low-mounted horizontal planes as well as an manned turret position. The engines straddled the fuselage at midships, being aspirated from the front and exhausting to the rear well-ahead of the tail unit. The wing mainplanes, with notable anhedral, emanated from these outboard structures and were well-swept along their leading and trailing edges with strakes noted as well as clipped wing tips. Like the wing mainplanes, the tailplanes were all swept towards the rear. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement incorporating a tain-wheeled nose leg and quad-wheeled main legs. The main legs recessed into the wing by way of bulges positioned just outboard of the engine installations.
Armament included six to seven 23mm Afanasev Makarov AM-23 cannon emplacements, made up by twin-gunned dorsal and ventral turrets (these being remotely-operated) as well as a manned tail position. One cannon could also be fitted to the glazed nose section to protect from frontal assaults. The bomb bay could accommodate up to 20,000lb of conventional or nuclear type drop munitions while, on some models, the bomber could be equipped as a ship-hunter / missile carrier by carrying several Raduga KS-1, K-10S, or KSR-5 series Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs).
Tu-16 Project Offshoots
The Tupolev Tu-104 and Tu-124 were both direct offshoots of the base Tu-16 design and operated in the passenger airliner role. Both models maintained the general form and function of the bomber.
The narrowbody Tu-104 first-flew on June 17th, 1955 and was introduced for service on September 15th, 1956 through air carrier Aeroflot. The series was produced from 1956 until 1960 and 201 examples were completed - the last retired in 1981. The Tu-104 became just the second jet-powered passenger airliner to achieve service - the aircraft beaten out by the British de Havilland Comet (detailed elsewhere on this site).
The Tu-124 covered the short-ranged airliner market and first-flew on March 29th, 1960 with series introduction being had on Octobe r 2nd, 1962. Production was from 1960 to 1965 and yielded 164 examples of which the last was retired in 1992.
The Tu-90 was a short-lived turboprop-powered version that was not evolved.
Thanks to a license granted in 1957, the Chinese concern of Xian Aircraft Industrial Corporation produced between 162 and 180 Tu-16s as the "H-6" but the country received its first Soviet-made Tu-16s in 1958 which offered perfected specimens for dissection. A first-flight of the Chinese model was had in 1959 and service began a decade later in 1969. Amazingly, these continue in PLAAF service today (2018) despite their Cold War origins and have been progressively updated to meet the demands of the new battlefield - in this fashion, the legacy of the Tu-16 lives on today. Egypt and Iraq are both former operators of this variant. One Tu-16 was used by the PLAAF to conduct the first Chinese air-dropped test involving a nuclear-capable weapon.
The Tu-16 was used by the Soviet Air Force and Navy services to covered a wide variety of overland and maritime roles including deterrence, strategic bombing, anti-ship, reconnaissance, ELINT, ECM, missile direction, target drone carrier, and - of course - nuclear payload delivery. The Tu-16 was also to see extensive combat service in several high-profile conflicts of the Cold War period (1947-1991) ranging from the Arab-Israeli Six Day War (1967) and the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989) where its 20,000lb war load could shine - especially in conventional bombing. its range and added cruise missile support expanded its tactical and strategic value, making it a popular platform for many Soviet-aligned customers and former states into the post-Cold War world. The series was also of particular concern to American war-planners where cruise-missile-equipped Badgers could target USN carriers at range if not dealt with.
In the end, this versatile large aircraft more than proved its worth for its period in military aviation history. It was a tremendous technological achievement for the Soviets which traditional lagged behind the aviation developments of the West. In their late-year service, the Tu-16 fleet served primarily in the aerial tanker role through modification and conversion.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
Equipped to search, track, and engage enemy surface elements through visual acquisition, radar support, and onboard weaponry.
✓Aerial Refueling (Tanker)
Dedicated or converted airframe used to deliver fuel to awaiting allied aircraft.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
114.2 ft (34.80 m)
108.2 ft (32.99 m)
34.0 ft (10.36 m)
88,185 lb (40,000 kg)
167,110 lb (75,800 kg)
+78,925 lb (+35,800 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger-A) production variant)
2 x Mikulin RD-3M turbojet engines developing 20,944 lb of thrust each.
2 x 23mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 cannons in remote-controlled dorsal turret.
2 x 23mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 cannons in remote-controlled ventral turret.
2 x 23mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 cannons in manned tail position.
1 x 23mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 manned cannon in fixed nose position (OPTIONAL).
1 x AS-6 "Kingfish" (Kh-26) anti-ship missile along portside underwing hardpoint.
1 x AS-2 "Kipper" (Kh-10) anti-ship missile in semi-recessed bomb bay.
Up to 20,000lb of conventional and nuclear drop ordnance.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 2
Tu-16 (Badger-A) - Base and Initial Production Model Designation.
Tu-16A (Badger-A) - Nuclear-Capable Tu-16; 453 examples produced.
Tu-16Z (Badger-A) - Airborne Aerial Refueling Tanker; retaining bomber capabilities.
Tu-16G (Badger-A) - Fast Air Mail Transport
Tu-104G (Badger-A) - Trainer for Aeroflot civilian aircrews.
Tu-16N (Badger-A) - Dedicated Aerial Refueling Platform servicing Tu-22 and Tu-22M series bombers; similar to Tu-16NN production models; probe and drogue fuel systems; conversions from Tu-16Z models.
Tu-16T (Badger-A) - Naval Aviation Variant; maritime strike platform; converted to Tu-16Z models.
Tu-16S (Badger-A) - Search and Rescue (SAR) Platform.
Tu-16Ye (Badger-A) - ELINT Platform
Tu-16KS (Badger-B) - Naval Aviation Variant; AS-1/KS-1 missile launch platform; 107 examples produced.
Tu-16K-10 (Badger-C) - Naval Aviation Variant; anti-ship missile capability; nose-mounted radar; 216 examples produced.
Tu-16K-10-26 (Badger-C) - Missile Launch Platform; further development of Tu-16K-10 model; some later converted to ELINT; anti-ship missile capability.
Tu-16RM-1 (Badger-D) - Maritime Reconnaissance Platform; fitted with ELINT equipment; nose-mounted radar system; K-10S missile guidance compatibility; 23 examples converted from existing Tu-16K-10 production models.
Tu-16R (Badger-E) - Maritime Reconnaissance Platform; fitted with ELINT equipment; KS missile guidance capability.
Tu-16RM-2 (Badger-E) - Naval Aviation Variant; modified Tu-16R production model; KSR-2 missile guidance capability.
Tu-16KRM (Badger-E) - Based on the Tu-16K-26; target drone launch platform.
Tu-16RM-2 (Badger-F) - Reconnaissance Platform based on the Tu-16R and Tu-16RM models; additional ELINT equipment mounted on external fittings.
Tu-16K (Badger-G) - Naval Aviation Conversion Models; air-to-surface missile and conventional drop bomb capability.
Tu-16KSR (Badger-G) - Variant of the Tu-16K.
Tu-16KSR-2 (Badger-G) - Variant of the Tu-16K; modified to carry K-16 missiles.
Tu-16K-16 - Variant of Tu-16K; previous Badger models converted to Tu-16KSR-2 capabilities.
Tu-16K-11-16 (Badger-G) - Variant of Tu-16K; modified to carry K-11 or K-11 missiles.
Tu-16KSR-2-11 - Variant of Tu-16K; similar to Tu-16K-11-16.
Tu-16K-26 (Badger-G) - Variant of Tu-16K; modified to carry K-26 missiles as well as KSR-2 and KSR-11 missiles.
Tu-16KSR-2-5-11 - Variant of Tu-16K; similar to Tu-16K-26.
Tu-16KSR-2-5 - Variant of Tu-16K; similar to Tu-16K-26 sans KSR-11 capability.
Tu-16K-26P (Badger-G) - Variant of Tu-16K; modified to carry K-26P missiles.
Tu-16 "Elka" (Badger-H) - Electronic Warfare Platform; Electronic Countermeasures.
Tu-16P "Buket" (Badger-J) - Electronic Warfare Platform; Electronic Countermeasures.
Tu-16Ye (Badger-K) - Badger-F model with ELINT equipment.
Tu-16P (Badger-L) - Modernized Badger-J; ELINT platform.
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry.
Rating is out of a possible 100 points.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (597mph).
Graph average of 563 miles-per-hour.
Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger-A) operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
Max Altitude Visualization
The 3 qualities we look at for a balanced aircraft design are altitude, speed, and range.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
Unit Production (1,509)
This entry's total production compared against the most-produced military and civilian aircraft types in history (Ilyushin IL-2 and Cessna 172, respectively).
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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