Moscow plans to upgrade its Sukhoi Su-25SM3 attack aircraft with a targeting system that uses artificial intelligence (AI), and continues to work on the cruise missile capabilities of its bombers.

The system will allow pilots to select a target, and then let an AI engine prosecute the attack, according to a report by Russian news agency TASS quoting an unnamed defence official.

"As part of further upgrade of attack aircraft, the latest Su-25SM3 versions will be furnished with a new sighting system,” TASS quotes the source as saying. “It will be fully automated, and a pilot will only have to select a target on the screen and all the rest will be done by artificial intelligence.”

The system will be able to track targets, engage them, and even set the optimal flight path for the engagement. It will also work with external systems.

The Su-25M3 is an upgraded version of the venerable Cold War type, with improved navigation and displays.

Cirium’s Fleets Analyzer shows there are 485 Su-25s in service with 21 operators, of which Russia is the largest operator with 199 examples. Other big operators include Belarus (68), and North Korea (34).

Separately, TASS quotes Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that the nation’s Tupolev Tu-160 and Tu-95MS strategic bombers will be upgraded to use more advanced cruise missiles.

While Shoigu did not state specifics about the weapons, he may have been referring to the Raduga KH-101/102 air-launched cruise missile, which has been in Russian service since 2013 and was reportedly being upgraded following use in Syria.

“[The] number one question on the agenda concerns the strategic bombers Tupolev-160 and Tupolev-95MS,” he is quoted as saying. “Currently they are being equipped with new instruments that will let them use advanced air-launched cruise missiles.”

Russia is in the process of remanufacturing its small fleet of Tu-160s with new avionics and engines. In December 2018, TASS reported that an upgraded Tu-160 test fired a salvo of 12 KH-101’s at Russia’s Pemboi practice range.

In a February 2019 blog post, International Institute of Strategic Studies analyst Douglas Barrie noted that long range cruise missiles would allow the Tu-160 to threaten most of Europe while remaining deep in Russian aerospace.

“Along with the reduced risk of operating within national airspace, remaining close to an operating base offers the ability for a comparatively quick reload and turn around,” says Barrie. “For an extended-range bomber flight, a quick launch of all of the cruise missiles also reduces the aircraft’s vulnerability.”

The Russian Air Force has 16 in-service Tu-160s, while United Aircraft Corporation unit Tupolev has three examples. In addition, Moscow has orders for 10 additional Tu-160s.

The Russian Air Force has 42 in-service Tu-95s.