KAZAN, Russia, June 12 (UPI) -- Russia will move ahead with the development of a fifth-generation strategic bomber, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said over the weekend.
Medvedev, while visiting aviation manufacturing facilities Kazan, Russia, Saturday confirmed the government's plan of developing the new bomber as well as a fifth-generation fighter, RIA Novosti reported.
The need for building a new generation of strategic bomber has been hotly debated within the Kremlin's top echelons and in the country's defense industry since plans for it were announced in 2009, with some believing modern air defense and missile defense systems could make it redundant.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin – whose portfolio includes the Russian defense industry -- questioned the need to develop it last week but Medvedev gave the plans a boost Saturday, asserting it wasn't enough to maintain and revamp the existing strategic bombers.
"Alongside a fifth-generation fighter there are also plans to develop an advanced long-range aviation complex. I am talking about a new strategic bomber," Medvedev said.
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov added Saturday the prime minister has ordered the construction of an aircraft manufacturing plant in Kazan that could in the future be used for the production of a new generation strategic bombers.
In the meantime, it will be employed to build Antonov An-70 propfan tactical transport aircraft, Serdyukov said.
A new Russian strategic bomber is expected to replace the Tu-95MC Bear, Tu-160 Blackjack and the Tu-22M3 Backfire long-range bombers currently in service with Russia's strategic aviation.
Earlier reports had indicated production of a new strategic bomber using radar-evading stealth technology wouldn't begin until 2025.
The clash between the Kremlin and the military over the new bombers was thrust into the spotlight last week Rogozin called its usefulness into question.
"Look at the current level of air defense and anti-missile defense -- these aircraft will not get anywhere. Not ours, not theirs," Rogozin told the Izvestia daily Wednesday.
But Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov countered that the new bomber project was under way as planned.
"We have made some progress in the development of the new bomber," he said. "If we reach production phase, this plane will outperform any modern aircraft of the same class, including those built by the Americans."
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said last year that Russia wasn't going to ramp up plans for new long-range bomber until at least 2015, instead modernizing Tu-95MC and Tu-160 bombers until 2025 or 2030.
A commentary by RIA Novosti military analyst Ilya Kramnik carried Sunday by Voice of Russia contended the country "risks having no long range bombers at all by 2040-2050" if it stops working on developing a new aircraft now, due to the long gestation time of such massive bombers.
In the meantime, he said, if new technology emerges "that will enable it to do without a traditional heavy bomber, the work on its development can be suspended but only after a new viable alternative is found."