WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Russia is moving back to hair-trigger alert testing for its strategic nuclear bombers and cruise missiles for the first time since the closing years of the Cold War.
The Russian air force announced Thursday that its Tupolev Tu-160 White Swan -- NATO designation Blackjack -- and venerable Tupolev Tu-95MS Bear-H nuclear bombers would carry out what it described as "training flights" while equipped with "full combat payloads and live fire all cruise missiles on board for the first time in over two decades," RIA Novosti reported Thursday.
The ambitious exercises will last seven days from Oct. 6-12 and will take place across Russia's northern regions within the framework of the Stability-2008 exercises being carried out with the former Soviet republic of Belarus, the report said.
RIA Novosti said the purpose of the exercises was to check out "strategic deployment of the armed forces, including the nuclear triad, to counter potential threats near the Russian border."
"During these exercises, for the first time in many years, the crews of Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers will fly missions carrying the maximum combat payload and fire all the cruise missiles on board," Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said, according to the report.
RIA Novosti noted that the Tu-95MS can be armed with up to six KH-55 -- NATO designation AS-15 Kent -- long-range cruise missiles and that the gigantic Tu-160 Blackjacks with their 99,000 pound munitions carrying capacity can be armed with as many as 12 of them.
Drik also described the scale of the maneuvers as "unprecedented." Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers -- NATO designation Backfire -- air superiority fighters, interceptors and aerial tankers also would be participating in the exercises, he said.
"The number and variety of aircraft involved in the drills show the wide range of tasks that will be accomplished during the weeklong exercise," Drik said.
RIA Novosti also quoted former Russian air force commander, four-star General of the Army Pyotr Deynekin, as stating that Tu-95 Bear bombers had only carried out live firing of all their cruise missiles on one previous occasion in all their operational service, in 1984.
"Tu-160 bombers have never done this, because it is very expensive," the general said.
RIA Novosti said the Russian air force currently operated 16 Tu-160 Blackjacks, 40 Tu-95MS Bears and 141 Tu-22M3 Backfires in active service.
Sukhoi checks out second Su-35 Flanker
The Sukhoi company said Thursday it has commenced flight testing for its second Su-35 Flanker multirole fighter to expedite the completion of the testing program, RIA Novosti reported.
"The addition of the second aircraft to the testing program will speed up its completion and ensure the beginning of deliveries to our customers in 2011," Sukhoi said in a statement quoted by the news agency.
The report noted that the first prototype Su-35 carried out a 6-minute demonstration flight on July 7 and has completed no less than 40 more flights since then.
"All of them confirmed superior technical and combat characteristics of the aircraft," the report said.
RIA Novosti said the Su-35 fighter had two 117S engines with thrust vectoring capability, allowing it to sustain "high maneuverability and the capability to effectively engage several air targets simultaneously using both guided and unguided missiles and weapon systems."
The report said the fighter is equipped with Russia's latest Irbis-E radar, which has a phased antenna array, giving the pilot the capability to monitor as many as 30 air targets at the same time while firing his missiles at as many as eight of them.
The aircraft is armed with a 30-mm cannon with 150 rounds and has the capacity to fly with up to 8 tons of combat payload on 12 external mounts.
Sukhoi has described the Su-35 as a "fourth-plus" combat aircraft that already operates "fifth-generation technology." The company plans to deliver the first operational aircraft to the Russian air force and to overseas buyers by 2011 and to continue manufacturing them for at least a decade until 2020, RIA Novosti said.
The report said Sukhoi was already bulging with export orders for the aircraft. It said at least 160 of them were scheduled to be sold to several nations including India, Malaysia and Algeria.