Two of Russia’s long-range, nuclear capable Tu-160 bombers made the long trek to Venezuela over the past week, prompting an expected exchange of barbs from national diplomats and an utter misrepresentation of the situation from much of the global media.
Russia’s Tupolev Tu-160 bombers bare a passing resemblance to America’s legendary B-1B Lancer, complete with variable-sweep wing design and the ability to maintain supersonic speeds, though the Tu-160 is slightly larger and is claimed to be faster, by Russian officials. While that may be the case, the two things that really set Russia’s Tu-160 and America’s B-1B apart are that America produced nearly three times as many of their own supersonic bombers, and opted to convert them to carry strictly conventional weapons as a part of the START treaty with Russia back in 2011.
If you’re among the millions of Americans that get their news via headlines you scroll past during the brief moments of free time you can steal away from your job and familial responsibilities, the headlines associated with these two bombers (as well as a fleet of support aircraft, including heavy-lift cargo haulers likely jam-packed with spare parts for the aging bombers), you could be forgiven for thinking economically troubled Venezuela is about to become the site of a new generation’s “Cuban missile crisis,” with Russian “nuclear bombers” deploying to South America — placing the mainland within striking distance.
While technically true that these bombers now have the mainland United States within their operational range, and technically true that they are capable of carrying nuclear weapons… these headlines misrepresent the actual circumstances of this deployment rather egregiously. This is not the first time Russia has sent these supersonic and nuclear capable bombers — and although previous deployments have come during times of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia, one would be hard pressed to find a suitable span of time in contemporary history within which the U.S. and Russia didn’t find themselves eyeballing one another from opposing sides of diplomatic channels.