Details have emerged on Russian efforts in creating a digital twin for its upgraded Tu-160М2 strategic bomber. Russia decided to restart production of the Tu-160М2 in 2015 and manufacture of the first aircraft commenced in 2017. Series production is planned for 2021 and up to 50 aircraft are slated for production.

The digital twin of the Tu-160M2 is a full-fledged model of the aircraft, which, "contains all the information necessary for conducting analytical studies and replacing full-scale tests, including all physical constraints - geometry, materials and their properties, kinematic dependencies, and so on," Ivan Golubushin, Deputy General Director of Tupolev for Quality and Management System Development was quoted in a October 12 post on

“We have completed the digitization of the working design documentation, we are making changes to the design documentation in electronic form, now we are digitizing the technical processes, which we also plan to hand over to the customer on time. The problem is that all technical processes are guided by universal equipment that was used at the plant 20-25 years ago,” Golubushin says.

The decision to develop a digital twin was taken as part of the decision to restart production of the Tu-160 supersonic variable-sweep bomber in its upgraded Tu-160М2 variant. Since production of the original aircraft got underway in the early eighties, it was decided to update the manufacturing technologies to current standards and this could be done only with digital tools. 300 Tupolev employees are now working on this project, which is in its third year. Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade had approved financing for the project in 2015.

“Today, thanks to the federal target program, outdated equipment is being updated, replaced with high-performance equipment, but of course there are no technical processes for it in the "paper" (sic). They need to be developed from scratch, and this is already another complexity. In numbers: the number of unique parts and assembly units in a product is more than 250,000. For each part, several technical processes are written according to the types and types of processing, that is, for each redistribution,” Golubushin says of the digitisation effort.

“If the entire aircraft is represented as a set of modelled parts, virtually interconnected in the form of physical links and kinematic constraints, taking into account the actuators, then by adding onboard software, we introduce control signals into this model. We see what happens to the plane, for example, in terms of wing mechanization, we quickly receive feedback, which previously could only be obtained at the stands,” he says.

The digitization effort has also led to benefits in the production process, as the digital copy caters for information of the various resources (each workplace, its state, workload, availability at the moment), thereby allowing improved modelling of various production programs for better operational planning, management of production tasks and accurate forecasting of costs.

As part of the digitisation effort, Tupolev has created new hardware infrastructure with two mirrored data processing centers, a large number of workstations of users, network infrastructure, information backup systems, etc and updated its technical support system. The creation of virtual workplaces for employees was accomplished by the creation of a server cluster with multi-core processors, terabytes of RAM, professional graphics cards and data storage systems which delivered the necessary processing power. The virtual computers run on specialised software.

“An employee goes on a business trip from Moscow to a branch in Kazan and connects exactly to his computer, keeping his profile, installed programs, settings. We manage and configure everything in one place. We add server capacities without shutting down or stopping the work of the company,” Golubushin states.

Tupolev has also incorporated Virtual and Augmented Reality (AR/VR) technologies. “We already have a realized example, the virtual cockpit of our aircraft. Wearing a helmet, you can walk on it, sit down, evaluate the ergonomics without building stands and models.” The design bureau is also looking AR based applications for creating interactive instruction lessons. The design bureau is still assessing the costs and potential benefits of these new technologies.

The Tu-160 entered service in 1987 and production ended at 36 units. An unknown number of in-service aircraft are being upgraded with new inertial navigation and engine control systems along with new weapons. The first deeply modernised Tu-160M made its maiden flight in February, this year.