Fastest Military Bombers in the World

Updated on August 15, 2018
Savio Dawson profile image

Savio is a resident of Mumbai, India. Cars, bikes and everything fast are his passion and he writes about them on numerous reputable sites.

Introduction

Bombers are actually a dying breed. We will see less and less of them as time goes by. They were a concept which made sense at a time when cruise missiles and ballistic missiles were still on the drawing board. That was a time when a manned bomber carrying the missiles and dropping them on the war zone made sense. World War 1 and 2 saw its share of bombers. Even the Iraq war in the early 90s saw bombers but they would defy practicality if still in use. I mean, why would you risk a man flying a bomber, losing his life to a surface to air missile? I understand stealth bombers, but still. Doesn’t make sense, right? Also, they are not designed for dogfights like the ones we saw in the movie Top-Gun. The newest version is the fighter-bomber hybrids which further corroborate my point of a standalone bomber being history.

Speed wise bombers will be falling a bit behind the fastest military aircraft but way behind the fastest military drones. There, you have one more reason for bombers being history.

So, then why are we discussing them? Well, for what they existed and when they existed they were some really cool aircraft and fast ones too; many are still in operation. Let’s take a look at them from the fastest to the relatively slower ones.

1. XB - 70 Valkyrie

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The XB-70 Valkyrie was to be christened as the B-70 at the end of its testing and development phase and would have replaced the aging B-52 bombers. It could do a stellar Mach 3+ and was directly in the SR-71’s bracket. However, for its role as a bomber it had to be high flying and fast so as to be out of reach of any Soviet interceptors; in fact, in its expected parameters, no interceptor in the Soviet arsenal could have caught it. But a new development of the surface to air missile by the Soviet in the late 50s (same time as XB-70’s development) put a question mark on the XB’s survivability. So changing course, it was decided to make it low flying but that restricted its use and was costlier than using the B-52 for the same purpose. So in the end, they had to pull the plug on the XB-70. History is witness to the fact that this was one well - discussed and media-covered aircraft.

  • Aircraft: XB-70 Valkyrie
  • Speed Record: Mach 3.08 [2,068 mph or 3,266 kmph]
  • Engine: 6 * General Electric YJ-93-GE-3 Turbojet
  • Engine Power: 28,800 lbf (128 kN)
  • Speed Record Created: April 1966
  • Total Built: 2
  • Status: Retired

The XB – 70 had massive six engines and that was unparalleled in the 50s. Following the surface-to-air missiles, the development of the first ICBM by the Soviet’s ensured that any lingering thoughts of using the XB-70 were closed for good. And that is what happened. Only two were ever built and one of them adorns the Edwards Air Force Base.

2. Sukhoi T - 4

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This was one bomber which was being developed by Sukhoi in response to the XB-70. Its design won despite competing models from Tupolev and Yakovlev. Ironically, this aircraft which was supposed to take on the XB - 70 met the same fate as the XB. Although four were produced for testing, it never took off and the program was officially closed down in 1975. When compared with the XB, the T-4 was less famous just because of differing priorities at that time. This is obvious from the fact that while XB-70 still has a strong recall, not many know much about the T-4.

  • Aircraft: Sukhoi T - 4
  • Speed Record: Mach 3 [2,015 mph or 3,243 kmph] [Expected]
  • Engine: 4 * Kolesov RD-36-41 Turbofan
  • Engine Power: 35,000 lbf (157 kN)
  • Speed Record Created: Achieved Mach 1.3. The program was canceled after that
  • Total Built: 4
  • Status: Retired

The T – 4 was expected to cruise at Mach 3 and not just do spurts of Mach 3. This requirement meant a lot of design research, testing and development had to follow. Unlike the XB which went down due to the alleged enemy getting better, this one went due to internal politics and competition from Tu-22M. Interestingly, the Tu-22M still survives and is one of the strategic bombers of Russia.

3. F111 Aardvark

F111A with the pioneering variable sweep wings
F111A with the pioneering variable sweep wings | Source

The F111 Aardvark was one of the earliest fighter-bomber aircraft bringing to light the limited use of an aircraft with only a bomber role. It was replacing the B-58 which was supposed to be a full-fledged Bomber. The aircraft had multiple roles like attack, fighting, reconnaissance and nuclear bombing. This was the first aircraft to sport the variable sweep wings which can also be seen in the picture.

  • Aircraft: F111 Aardvark
  • Speed Record: Mach 2.5 [1,679 mph or 2,703 kmph]
  • Engine: 2 * Pratt & Whitney TF30-P-100 Turbofans
  • Engine Power: 25,100 lbf (112 kN) each
  • Speed Record Created: 1962
  • Total Built: 563
  • Status: Retired (last ones in 2010)

The F111 had later versions the 111A and 111B, all intended for high penetration at low altitude. The other pioneering introduction in the F111 was the automated terrain following radar which allowed it to fly at a high speed at low altitude. It could achieve a top speed of Mach 1.2 at low altitude which was a record of the time considering no other aircraft could go supersonic at lower altitudes. The F111 served both the American and Australian Air Force and the Australian Air Force was the last to retire it in 2010.

4. Sukhoi Su - 35

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The Su-35 is one of the most advanced fighter-bombers in Russia’s arsenal. It is a fourth generation fighter seeing four decades of development over one of the first fighter-bombers, the Su-24. In many cases, it is pitched as being better than the American F-35. The F-35, however, is a fifth-generation fighter.

  • Aircraft: Sukhoi Su-35
  • Speed Record: Mach 2.25 [1,511 mph or 2,433 kmph]
  • Engine: 2 * Saturn AL-41F1S afterburning Turbofans
  • Engine Power: 31,900 lbf (142 kN) each
  • Speed Record Created: 2008
  • Total Built: 96
  • Status: In active service

The Su-35 was actually made for the export market though, a bulk of them serve the Russians, as of now. Many countries have evinced interest and 14 have already been sold.

5. Sukhoi Su - 24M

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The Sukhoi Su – 24 M was the earliest fighter-bomber aircraft in the Russian arsenal bringing to light the aspect of obsoleteness of a bomber alone aircraft; it was much like the F111 for the Americans. With their own anti-aircraft missiles, the Russians understood the need for a fighter cum bomber aircraft. In that sense, Su-24M was one of the first models built for both. It was also one of the first Russian aircraft carrying an integrated navigation and attack system. This aircraft came into service in 1974 with the Russian Airforce and still continues to serve the other nations operating it.

  • Aircraft: Sukhoi Su – 24M
  • Speed Record: Mach 2.18 [1,464 mph or 2,357 kmph]
  • Engine: 2 * Lyulka AL – 21F – 3A Turbojet
  • Engine Power: 24,675 lbf (109.8 kN)
  • Speed Record Created: 1969
  • Total Built: 1,400
  • Status: In-service

The Su-24, initially, was capable of achieving a speed of Mach 2.18 at high altitudes, however, the main operational need of the aircraft was to fly low for its bomber and fighter capability. Having taken that into account some modifications were brought in which limited the high altitude speed to Mach 1.6. That, however, did not alter the operational capability of the Su-24 M.

6. Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack

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This one I would like to call, Mr. Putin’s new toy, designed to trample the nerves of the British; if not NATO, that is. Those who had read the article on the fastest commercial aircraft would have been introduced to the Tupolev in the passenger version. That was the base for the military version. However, the Blackjack comes after multiple iterations of the military one and now in operation. The resemblance to the passenger version still continues.

  • Aircraft: Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack
  • Speed Record: Mach 2.05 [1,377 mph or 2,216 kmph]
  • Engine: 4 * Samara NK-321 Turbofan
  • Engine Power: 55,115 lbf (245 kN)
  • Speed Record Created: 1969
  • Total Built: 36
  • Status: In-service

Why were we talking about the British in particular? Well, the fastest fighter aircraft that the British have is the Typhoon which can do a top speed of Mach 2, so it can hardly catch up with the Tupolev if there is a decent distance between the two. Not only that but also the Tupolev can fly farther than the Typhoon without refueling, so you see the point? Whenever Russia feels like teasing a NATO nation, they will just send the Tupolev near-shore of the British to trigger a response and then continue laughing at the response till the Tupolev lands back safely. A bit of a tease, isn’t it?

7. Tupolev Tu - 22M Backfire

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The Tupolev Tu-22M forms part of the strategic bomber group of Russia, the other two being Tu-160 and Tu-95. The 22M was developed from the Tu-22, which in turn had direct roots in the passenger version Tu-144. Before the Tu -160, this was one of the fastest bombers in the Russian arsenal.

  • Aircraft: Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire
  • Speed Record: Mach 1.88 - 2.05 [1,377 mph or 2,216 kmph]
  • Engine: 2 * Kuznetsov NK – 25 Turbofan
  • Engine Power: 55,100 lbf (247.9 kN)
  • Speed Record Created: 1982
  • Total Built: 497
  • Status: In-service

The Tu-22, predecessor of 22M, was fraught with numerous issues. At the time Tupolev was awaiting government go-ahead for the production of 22M, it was facing stiff competition from the Sukhoi which was developing the T-4 (this was covered under T-4 also). However many aspects weighed in favor of the 22M, including face-saving in terms of the failed Tu-22 aircraft, leading to the approval of the 22M as an improvement and closure of the T-4 program.

8. Convair B - 58 Hustler

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This was one of the first operational bombers capable of doing a Mach 2 and was developed by Convair, the American aircraft manufacturer. Although the first flight was in 1956 and it came into service in 1960 (around the time the XB -70 was all but history), it followed the same set of arguments as the XB - 70 of not being useful at high altitude because of the Soviet surface-to-air missiles. It was therefore expected to fly low altitude which reduced its operational capability coupled with the fact that it was too small for a bomber.

  • Aircraft: Convair B – 58 Hustler
  • Speed Record: Mach 2 [1,343 mph or 2,163 kmph]
  • Engine: 4 * General Electric J79 – GE – 5A Turbojet
  • Engine Power: 15,600 lbf (69.3 kN) each
  • Speed Record Created: 1954
  • Total Built: 116
  • Status: Retired

The B-58 had a stunted operational career, doing only ten years in service from 1960 to 1970. There is one record of the B-58 which still stands and that is of the longest supersonic flight. The B-58 did this between Tokyo and London, a distance of ~8000 miles, at roughly Mach 1.5. That record is yet to be broken for any type of aircraft.

9. Sukhoi Su - 34

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The Su – 34 is the next generation of fighter-bombers. It was introduced as late as 2014 and continues to be in service. The Su-34, incidentally, is expected to replace two aircraft from this list; they are the Su-24 fighter aircraft and Topolev Tu – 22M bomber.

  • Aircraft: Sukhoi Su - 34
  • Speed Record: Mach 1.8+ [1,208 mph or 1,946 kmph]
  • Engine: 2 * Saturn AL - 31FM1 turbofans
  • Engine Power: NA
  • Speed Record Created: 1954
  • Total Built: 114
  • Status: In service

The Su-34 also boasts of an improved flight range as compared to the Su-24. The ongoing Syria war saw the Su-34 as one of the newest breed of fighter-bombers entering the conflict.

10. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

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The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth multi-role fighter aircraft. It is one aircraft which generated a lot of interest globally and yet saw it undergo many development changes and therefore, put a question mark on its capabilities. The aspect of not ironing out the flaws before going into production saw earlier models being plagued with issues, corrections, and re-correction. Because of this, the F-35 till date remains the costliest program of any kind for American defense. At one point, the cost incurred on the program had far outgrown the rationale to kill it and hence development continued despite criticism from all quarters.

  • Aircraft: F-35 Lightning II
  • Speed Record: Mach 1.61 [1,080 mph or 1,740 kmph]
  • Engine: 2 * Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburning turbofans
  • Engine Power: 43,000 lbf (191 kN)
  • Speed Record Created: 2011
  • Total Built: 275+ (Production on-going)
  • Status: In service

The F-35 had three variants, the F-35A for conventional take-off and landing, F-35B for short take-off and vertical landing, and the F-35C for Carrier based landing and take-off. The Russian claims on the Su-35, a fourth-generation fighter, being operationally better than the F-35, had raised too many eyebrows in the American contingent. If the internal bashing was not enough, a Russian analysis was the last that Lockheed was looking forward to and the result was Lockheed’s own report card claiming that the F-35 was better than most aircraft, barring the F-22 Raptor. History will remember this aircraft as one of the most spoken about!

Few Other Sub-sonic Bombers

B - 2 in Flight
B - 2 in Flight | Source

11. Xian H - 6: Mach 0.97

The Xian is basically developed from the Tupolev Tu-16 and continues to serve the Chinese Air Force.

12. B - 2: Mach 0.95

It was the second in the stealth bomber domain following the F-117. Unlike the F117, the B-2 is still in service.

13. Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk: Mach 0.92

It was the first stealth bomber the world had seen. It was in service since 1981 and was retired in 2008. The retirement was due to the F-22 Raptor coming into service and capable of a fighter-bomber role.

14. Tupolev Tu – 95 Bear: Mach 0.85

Tu-95, as mentioned earlier, is part of the Russian strategic bomber group along with Tu-160 and Tu-22M.

Back to Base

Though the bombers may not remain as a concept, chances are that they may become faster under the guise of the fighter-bombers. That said, the only known stealth bombers, B2 and F117, seemed to do well at low speeds. So the future may go either way. Like in case of all my articles if we see the future going towards speed demons, rest assured they will be updated here.

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Disclaimer: The videos added in the article belong to the users who have posted them on youtube. The Author does not own them nor validates that they belong to the ones who posted them on youtube. The videos are included to give some additional information about the subject being discussed.

© 2018 Savio Koman

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