Is There a Race Between US and Russia to Upgrade the Afterburner Engine in Jets?

  • The Russian equivalent of the B-1 Lancer is the TU-160.
  • Originally, the B-1 Lancer had nuclear weapons carriage capabilities.
  • The B-1 Lancer is smaller in comparison to the TU-160, but it has amazing performance capabilities.

The Rockwell B-1 Lancer is one of the three strategic bombers in the  U.S. Air Force fleet as of 2020. The additional two are the B-2 Spirit and the B-52 Stratofortress. Nicknamed “The Bone,” the B-1B Lancer is a long-range, multi-mission, supersonic conventional bomber, which has served the United States Air Force since 1985. The Russian equivalent of the B-1 Lancer is the TU-160.

B-1 Lancer.

The B-1 was designed in the 1970s as a high-altitude strategic deep-invasion aircraft. Initially, it was developed for the use of nuclear weapons. However, when the US government became aware that Soviet air defenses were already capable of shooting down aircraft at such a high altitude, the program was curtailed.

It was restored under US President Ronald Reagan and reclassified. The new purpose was solely to break through the enemy air defenses with high speed, low visibility and low altitude. The capability of carrying the nuclear weapons was dropped.

In comparison, the TU-160 was developed as a high-altitude strategic bomber that was supposed to deliver cruise missiles, including those with nuclear warheads to the launch site. It still remains the largest and most powerful supersonic aircraft in the history of military aviation and an aircraft with a variable wing geometry. Tu-160 is also the heaviest combat aircraft in the world, having the highest maximum take-off weight among bombers. Nevertheless B-1 Lancer should not be discounted and is a very strong contender capable of maintaining low visibility and great execution of tasks. It is also much smaller in comparison to the TU-160.

Russian Supersonic Bomber TU-160.

The Rockwell B-1 Lancer has the afterburner engine. Inside the afterburner engine is the afterburner chamber, inserted between the turbine and the jet nozzle. Essentially it is a large pipe with fuel injectors in the front.

At the afterburner, additional pounds of fuel are burned in the chamber. When they burn, the gas is strongly heated before entering the jet nozzle. The flow rate from the nozzle increases along with the reaction force, giving an afterburner increase in thrust.

The amount of air passing through the engine does not change. Fuel consumption increases significantly, several times. Therefore, most aircraft are able to move in afterburner mode only for a short time.

If this factor is not taken into account, the pilot may encounter huge issues. The air flow to the air intake on the afterburner does not grow. Combustion of fuel in the chamber heats the gas, increases its pressure, which is why there is an afterburner increase in thrust.  A nozzle is a heat engine that performs work by dispersing gas with a reserve of energy.  This is a condensed version of the afterburner.

Russia has been working on a new generation afterburner engine.

The drawing of the engine model without details released in 2019.

At this time the engine testing phase has been delayed as per their announcement on the May 8.  The delivery is being delayed to the Russian Armed Forces at this time. The Russian defense sector will have to settle for the SU-57 4th generation engines at this time.  In 2019, there was a glimpse of the new engine image that became available but full specifications are not available.

Overall, Russia continues its upgrade, but as of late has been encountering significant delays in the defense sector. Perhaps, the fast tracked projects to appease the Kremlin are not meeting the time frames and are plagued with challenges.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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