Russia Defense Watch: Biggest bomber test

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.
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