Russia’s PAK DA Is No Match to American B-21 Stealth Bombers

A computer-generated image of PAK DA. Photo by UAC.

Russia has reportedly begun construction of its next-generation PAK DA bomber as part of an apparent strategic effort to usher in a new era of bombing technology. Moscow hopes to get ahead of the U.S. Air Force’s emerging B-21 stealth bomber and China’s H-20 strategic bomber.

Serial production of the new bomber is expected to kick off in 2027.

Russia will build three prototypes of its next-generation nuclear-capable strategic bomber, dubbed PAK DA (an acronym for “Prospective Aviation Complex for Long-Range Aviation”), for evaluation and testing, according to Russian media reports.

Citing a research and development contract between the Russian government and the Tupolev design bureau signed at the end of 2017, Izvestia newspaper offered a number of new details surrounding the Russian Air Force’s next-generation strategic bomber.

Contrary to earlier speculations, the bomber will reportedly be manned by a crew of four. Preliminary tests of the three prototypes have been scheduled for April and are expected to be concluded by the fall of 2025. This will also include the bomber’s maiden flight.

State trials are set to begin in February 2026, which are expected to last for around two years. Serial production might kick off as early as 2027 or 2028. 

Russia previously setup many deadlines for Su-57 fighter jets but the deadline slipped to 2028 now. Military experts doubt that under current financial pressure on Russian economy would allow Russian defense Industries to fulfill any deadline of any military project.

Interestingly, its appearance seems to parallel elements of the U.S. B-2 and emerging B-21 bombers, with some key differences. Of course, its horizontal blended wing-body shape is to be expected for these kinds of stealthy platforms, yet available renderings of the PAK DA show rectangular-shaped inlets aligned with or somewhat parallel to the top of the fuselage.

While upon initial examination, more rectangular inlets may seem less stealthy than the more rounded inlets seen on the B-2, the Russian bomber seems to create a distinct horizontal line or clear linear configuration across the inlets and fuselage in a clear effort to reduce or eliminate and return radar signature potentially enabled by having peaks and valleys between the inlets and fuselage. Even if rounded, an indent or downward slope between the inlets and fuselage is decidedly less horizontal and potentially less stealthy.

The B-21 Raider - artist's impression.
The B-21 Raider – artist’s impression. (U.S. Air Force)

This might explain why the Air Force B-21’s inlets are even more indented and rounded than the B-2, and the new B-21 bomber does have a smaller or more blended incline between the fuselage and wings. Granted, protruding configurations of any kind, if even rounded or covered in a radar-absorbing exterior, are more likely to generate some kind of radar “ping” return from ground-based air defense systems. Vertical structures and uneven contours are therefore more likely to generate radar returns, as electromagnetic “pings” will discern the differences in shape.

The concept with these kinds of stealth bombers is to not only elude surveillance radar systems but also evade higher-frequency, more precise engagement radar, ensuring that the platform will not only be difficult or impossible to hit, but also remain completely undetected. The idea is for adversaries to “not even know something is there.” A stealthy platform can succeed by appearing as a “bird” or “insect” to enemy radar.

The back of the PAK DA does appear somewhat similar to early models of the B-21 in that there appears to be little or no protruding external exhaust or heat release area; such a configuration does seem to suggest that perhaps some newer kind of internal heat dissipation or cooling technology has been discovered and applied as part of an effort to minimize heat signature.

Some reports say the PAK DA may place Russian Air Force in a position to deploy long-range bomber, however much of its actual technical sophistication may remain a bit of a Soviet-era. Russia is yet to demonstrate that it can produce a production aircraft with AESA radar and next generation avionics and armament.

PAK DA maybe another attempt to revive Soviet-era Tupolev aircraft facilities as Russia struggle to find any buyer for Russian aircraft, — China was the only buyer of any aircraft Tupolev manufactured in 1980’s but China moved on to developing its own H-20 strategic bomber.

“The PAK DA is expected to deploy Kh-102 nuclear tippled cruises missiles, and a number of newer hypersonic designs including derivatives of the Kh-47M2,” reports Military Watch Magazine, citing TASS.

That being said, the U.S. B-21 is slated to deploy with a new, high-tech Long-Range Stand-Off (LRSO) weapon, a conventional or nuclear-armed cruise missile reported to be the most advanced in the world. Now in development by the U.S. Air Force, the LRSO is expected to bring new dimensions to cruise missile attack possibilities by introducing longer ranges, advanced guidance systems and new weapons’ payload options.

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