Shaping this most numerous jet bomber in history began in 1948 as a successor to the Tu-4. The work on the project started in earnest at Tupolev in 1950 and on 27 April 1952 the crew headed by N.Rybko took the prototype to the air for the first time. The plane was then put in production at the factories in Samara and Kazan; the last airframe was manufactured in 1963. Major versions were: nuclear bomber Tu-16A (1954); missile-carriers Tu-16K (1954), Tu-16K-10 (1958), Tu-16K-11-16 (1962) and Tu-16K-26; torpedo carrier Tu-16T, reconnaissance aircraft Tu-16R (1955), electronic warfare aircraft Tu-16P and Tu-16E tanker Tu-16Z (utilsed so-called "wing-to-wing" method or in-flight refuelling) (1955), tanker Tu-16N ("hose-cone" refuelling for Tu-22s) (1963), maritime search and rescue plane Tu-16S (1965).
The Tu-16 was the first Russian heavy bomber with swept wing to become operatioal. It could carry a 9-t weapons load internally, including a FAB-9000 bomb. The Tu-16K carried two KS-1 antiship missiles, while the Tu-16K-10 had a single KS-10 semi-recessed into fuselage in flight. The Tu-16K-11-16 was armed with two KSR-2 or KSR-11 radar-guided missiles (with either active or passive heads) on under wing pylons, whereas the Tu-16K-26 had two KSR-5 supersonic radar-guided missiles (either with active or passive heads).
In 1961, during the conflict between Indonesia and Holland, 25 Tu-16s manned by Soviet crews were deployed in Indonesia as a deterrent force. The bomber was successfully used by the Soviets in Afganistan and by the Egyptians in the Middle-east wars. In Russia the plane was withdrawn from active service in 1994.