ALMATY -- Concerns are growing over reports the Russian regime has begun manufacturing the prototype of its first strategic stealth bomber, as the country presses ahead with the modernisation of its military.
Citing defence industry sources, state news agency TASS said the state-controlled United Aircraft Corporation was overseeing the project, AFP reported.
Material is being shipped for the project and work has begun on the cockpit of the bomber, known as the PAK DA or "Courier", said TASS.
"The final assembly of the entire machine should be complete in 2021," one of the sources told TASS on May 26.
Stealth bombers are designed to evade radar detection while carrying large amounts of weaponry.
Russian officials have revealed few details of the project, though last year Deputy Defence Minister Alexey Krivoruchko said aircraft maker Tupolev -- which is part of United Aircraft Corporation -- was in charge.
Reports have said the plane will feature a flying wing design similar to US stealth bombers, fly at subsonic speeds and carry strategic cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons.
The aircraft "will fly to the enemy unnoticed, with 30 tonnes of bombs and missiles", claimed an article published on May 26 in the Kazakh online edition of the pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.
The range of the Courier is 12,000km, and the aircraft can fly more than a quarter of the globe on one fuel tank, according to the report.
The missiles on board will have a range of 2,000km to 7,000km, including with nuclear warheads, said the newspaper.
The new aircraft will "compensate" for its predecessors' shortcomings, it added.
"Today's Tu bombers can either break through the enemy's air defence or fly for record distances. But the new 'Russian stealth' should combine both of these 'killer' features," said the report.
The report comes amid an apparent Kremlin information campaign touting the Russian military and its modernisation.
However many of the Kremlin's claims are dubious, as the reputation of Russia's military over the past few years has been tarnished by a series of deadly mishaps.
For example, the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier, accidentally caught fire last December after undergoing repairs for more than two years in Murmansk and suffered previous damage in October 2018 when a crane crashed onto its deck.
Last August, an explosion during a test of a nuclear-powered missile killed five Russian nuclear agency personnel near Severodvinsk and released elevated radiation levels.
Last July, 14 seamen, including seven high-ranking officers, were killed in a fire on a deep submersible in the Barents Sea.
At the same time, ambiguous statements by officials in Moscow are causing concern.
On May 27, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, cited Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying at a recent meeting of his ministry's officials that "the greatest threat to Russia's security is currently the West".
The publication reported concerns in Germany regarding a possible confrontation between Russia, which is building up its military might, with other powers, which "could be dangerous for European countries".
Moscow traditionally demonstrates its military capabilities at exercises and parades, say analysts, in order to make it clear that that it should be feared.
A recent example is a parade honouring the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany scheduled for June 24, despite the COVID-19 pandemic and risks to the health and lives of citizens. The event was postponed from May 9 because of the spread of the coronavirus in Russia.
The victory parade and the development of a new stealth bomber indicate that the Kremlin wants to "flex its muscles" before other powers such as the United States and China, said former Kyrgyz diplomat Murat Konokbayev.
At the same time, if the political confrontation between Russia and the United States is more traditional, then relations with Beijing, which in recent years has been actively expanding its presence in Central Asia, may become tense in the foreseeable future, said Konokbayev.
"This prospect won't add stability to the Central Asian region," he said.
On the contrary, Moscow itself has become a source of instability in Central Asia, and has been responsible for significantly worsening the socio-economic situation in the region.
The recent strict anti-COVID-19 quarantine measures in Russia left thousands of Tajik migrant workers unemployed and their families on the verge of poverty, said Dushanbe-based political analyst Parviz Mullojanov.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, whose economies suffered from a radical decline in remittances from Russia, have also faced similar problems.