Skip to comments.Russia’s Backfire Bomber Is Back!
Posted on 06/16/2014 6:17:42 AM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
Tupolev is upgrading Tu-22Ms for ops in Russias expanding sphere of influence
Theres no bomber quite like a Backfire. In many ways, Russias Tu-22M3 is a Cold War throwback. An intermediate-range, variable-geometry machine, the Tupolev design really gave NATO planners headaches in the 1970s and 80s.
If the Cold War had turned hot, Tu-22Ms would have attacked high-profile targets including American aircraft carrier battle groups in the Mediterranean and Atlantic. The bombers also would have struck European ports and key airfields, with the aim of severing supply routes to the U.S.
Today, the Backfire is the only supersonic bomber in its class. And until quite recently, the outwardly archaic warplane seemed likely to fade away. However, with tensions ratcheting up in the Black Sea and Baltic regions, the Tu-22M3 has suddenly become a whole lot more relevant.
Difficult development While its appearance in the early 1970s led to considerable alarm in the West, the aircraft dubbed Backfire by NATO was always something of a compromise. The Tu-22M designation was a political measure designed to secure funding, by suggesting it was a simple upgrade of the previous-generation Tu-22.
The same shortcut meant that it had to retain the radar and rather troublesome missile armament of its predecessor. Early versions struggled to achieve the required range and speed requirements.
After Tupolev finally perfected the Tu-22M, the bomber fell afoul of the START I nuclear treaty. START I forced Moscow to delete the bombers in-flight refueling capabilityand, with it, much of the planes operational relevance.
START I also limited the total number of Tu-22Ms that Moscow could deploy, meaning that veteran Tu-16 and Tu-22 bombers had to soldier on in naval service.
The Russians have been understandably cagey about the precise capabilities of the Tu-22M3. However, we know it has a dash speed of 2,300 kilometers per hour and a combat radius of 2,200 kilometers when carrying armament and flying a high-altitude, partially-supersonic profile.
Increasing relevance When the Russians probe North Americas defenses off the coast of Alaska or even California, they usually send turboprop Tu-95MS and jet-propelled Tu-160 heavy bombers, which with their aerial refueling abilities are truly able to circle the globe.
With no provision of its own for in-flight refueling, the Tu-22M can operate only around Russias immediate sphere of influence. Tu-22M3s fought in the campaigns in Chechnya and Georgia. The Georgians shot one down in 2008the types first combat loss.
Russias recent annexation of Crimea, the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and increased saber-rattling in the Baltic have compelled NATO to reinforce its frontier. Its in this dangerous scenario that the Tu-22M3 now finds itself.
When Russian news agency RIA Novosti announced plans for a major military exercise in the Baltictimed to coincide with NATOs Saber Strike and BALTOPS maneuvers in the same areathe missile-carrying Backfire was the centerpiece. We have completed the redeployment of troops in the designated areas, a Russian defense ministry spokesperson said on June 12. Tu-22M3 long-range bombers are ready to perform air patrol training in the region.
Focusing on an exercise area in and around Russias Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, the joint exercises involve the local Baltic Fleet as well as army airborne and air force units under the commander of Russias Western Military District.
Su-27 fighters, Su-34 attack planes, Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft, A-50 early warning platforms, Mi-24 assault helicopters and Il-76 transports are also participating alongside the Tu-22Ms.
Not coincidentally, the same Novosti report also states that the defense ministry expects to receive at least 10 modernized and refurbished Tu-22M3s before the end of 2014. Moscow is boosting its increasingly busy medium bomber force.
Current status In a report in the current issue of Combat Aircraft magazine, Russian aerospace expert Piotr Butowski reveals interesting details of Moscows plans for the Tu-22M3.
Russia built more than 500 Tu-22Ms of all versions over the decades, but only seven squadronseach with a nominal strength of 10 aircraftremain in service at three bases. Belaya in southeastern Siberia, Shaykovka southwest of Moscow and Ryazan southeast of Moscow.
The latter serves as the training unit for the bomber.
Analyzing satellite imagery, Butowski concludes that there are 28 aircraft at Shaykovka, 40 at Belaya and 10 at Ryazan. However, not all of these aircraft are operational. The actual number of operational Tu-22M3s is probably closer to 65 or 70.
To be clearlike many of the Russian air forces mid-life upgrade initiatives, the effort to revamp the Tu-22M3 has run into repeated delays and revisions. The program has languished since the early 1990s and has yet to produce a single upgraded aircraft.
In early 2012, the Kremlin outlined plans to upgrade around 30 bombers to the new Tu-22M3M standard by 2020. In February 2013, after little movement, Russias new defense minister Sergei Shoygu tried to jumpstart the program.
The plan to deliver 10 or more Tu-22M3M aircraft before the end of 2014 seems ambitious, to say the least. Currently, Russia is refurbishingnot upgradinga maximum of four to six aircraft annually.
Moscow clearly aims to retain the bomber for many more years, however. Russia just needs the resources and technical capacity to match its will.
Upgrade options Just how capable will the new Tu-22M3M be? That depends on a number of factors. Chiefly, whether Russia pursues the top-of-the-range upgrade or opts for a cut-price option. The latter wouldnt be a surpriseRussia has already reduced upgrades for the Su-24 attack aircraft and Su-27 fighter.
Whatever shape it takes, the Tu-22M3M should get a new primary weapon. The Raduga Kh-32 missile is a successor to the Kh-22NATO codename AS-4 Kitchenthat has been in service since the 1960s. The Kh-32 reportedly boasts twice the range of the Kh-22, which can hit a ship target at 350 kilometers.
While it remains a relatively primitive, liquid-fuel missile, the Kh-22 possesses an impressive terminal speed in excess of Mach 4, making it a serious threat to even the most advanced air-defense systems. The Kh-22 is compatible with nuclear and conventional warheads.
Kh-32s have already been seen on a Backfire at the Zhukovsky flight test center.
Beside the Kh-32, the Tu-22M3M might also carry the subsonic Kh-SD missile and the supersonic Kh-MT, both still under development. The new munitions offer ranges of up to 2,000 and 1,000 kilometers, respectively, and combine stealthy airframes with modern guidance systems and warheads.
Intriguingly, Butowski also notes that Russia is testing a hypersonic research vehicle, using the Tu-22M3 as a launch aircraft. Such technology could provide the basis for a new, hypersonic cruise missile.
Other provisions of the Tu-22M3M upgrade include a new Novella-45 radar. Upgraded Tu-95MS and Tu-160 strategic bombers could get similar sensors.
Complicating matters is the presence of a more modest, cheaper upgrade package that the Gefest company recently pitched. This is based on the firms upgrade for the Su-24, and essentially adds digital avionics for a precision-bombing capability.
Beginning in 2009, a number of Tu-22M3s received the modifications, yielding impressive results. Should the full-scale Tu-22M3M program falter, Gefest will be well placed to continue its work.
Clearly, the Russian air force sees the continued relevance of the Tu-22M3. Regardless of its combat potential, it carries considerable political weight. Once Russia claimed Crimea, one of its first military projects on the peninsula was to overhaul the runways at Gvardeyskoye air base, with a view to deploying Backfires there from 2016.
Even in Tu-22M3M form, however, the Backfire upgrade is relatively modest. Combined with the fact that only around half the fleet is getting the upgrades, this is a strong indicator of Tupolevs main prioritythe all-new PAK DA heavy bomber.
This secretive project could finally yield a successor to the Tu-95MS, Tu-160 and Tu-22M3. Until that happens, however, the Backfire seems set to play a important role alongside its bigger brothers in Russias assertive new strategy.
Soviet Backfire’s are back, rested, revamped, and ready.
There was an article just last week that Putin had personally reviewed the first of the upgraded TU-22M’s.
They have been spending big money to upgrade capabilities in the last ten years, and those efforts are just now beginning to role off the lines.
Long ago in the 1980s I was at a major joint CPX at Fort Bragg. My roommate was an AF officer who was “playing” Soviet Naval Aviation. The battle space was the Indian Ocean and Middle East. According to this USAF officer, he kept sinking our aircraft carriers by launching giant supersonic anti-ship missiles from “his” Backfires, beyond the defensive range of our carriers.
So naturally, the moderators in charge of the CPX had to constantly change the ROE and redefine the stated capabilities of the Backfires, their anti-ship missiles, and the defensive capabilities of the carriers.
But according to this USAF officer, the CPX began with the known capabilities of all sides, and “his” Backfires kept sinking “our” CVNs.
I understand that the Russian anti-ship missiles are a lot better today.
Big mutha, ain’t it....
They’ve been back for awhile, but always a pleasure to read about. Thanks for the post.
It’s a wonder the Russians didn’t reinstall the refueling probes by now...
“So naturally, the moderators in charge of the CPX had to constantly change the ROE and redefine the stated capabilities of the Backfires, their anti-ship missiles, and the defensive capabilities of the carriers.”
I’ve known several submarine navy officers and enlisted who claimed they regularly sank carriers in exercises and those sinking’s were later rescored as damaged or no hits. What is the point of exercises if we don’t learn from them? Or, is it that carriers are so vulnerable that they can’t be defended? Frankly, I’d like these exercises scored by people who don’t have skin in the carrier game. The thought of potentially losing five thousand men at a clip should keep somebody awake nights!
Is this one of Russia's tribute planes, or their own design?
It’s Okay... Obama has magic unicorns and pixie dust.....
Russia may have the backfire, but we now have the backdoor.
It sneaks up on a plane and attacks it’s behind...
Last night, I was looking at a Russian-English web site and it worried me. Russia is upgrading all its’ weapons systems and training with them. Russians are proud of their military now and aren’t making jokes about them, like I saw a few years ago on the site.
Compare the latest photos and posts with older ones.
So, do you think the Russians (Putin) would “quickly” add back in those refueling probes?
I doubt they ever pulled the internal piping out ...
And, if they did add in the probes, would Obama notice? Care?
I have been in many exercises where A-10s destroyed entire US Army Battalions. And as a result, the US Army adjusted assessment protocols.
Thing is, simulations are just that—simulations. They are not real-world. They are only as accurate as the modeling and programming allows, and for the longest time we had no real-world experience upon which to program (80’s for example), therefore results were heavily skewed.
After initial simulation runs, programming is adjusted using human factors analyses (a dose of ‘get real, common-sense’ thought) to to get a realistic assessment that reflected the best balance between real-world knowledge and experience with simulation programming. But what if you have no relevant and/or recent real-world data? We assume worst case.
Programming is based on a superhuman capable enemy. See modeling and simulation results before Gulf War I. In that simulation the Iraqi Air Force with “top” russian aircraft and SAMs kicked butt—simulation said 80 US aircraft would be downed (we lost 14), and simulation said we would have up to 30,000 US KIAs (we have 113).
These simulation numbers and stats showing spectacular Iraqi results were just that, simulations.
That was then, when the world was gripped by the threat of an all-out-war with winner take all in Europe or the Middle East.
Today, the electronic counter measures can move a ship 30-miles on radar from where it actually is sitting. If war with Russia were to break out, it would not be pretty - but trading a few American Cities and keeping the Corn Fields will sure change the political alignment of the Nation!
“These simulation numbers and stats showing spectacular Iraqi results were just that, simulations.”
I appreciate your response. I remember reading the (public) simulation reports on Iraq 1. I suspect that Saddam had frightened his generals into hunkering down and just trying to personally survive. I understand that Saddam, a man with no military experience, took personal control. I suspect that if the Iraqi’s had a single Rommel in command of significant forces the results might have been the same but the body and machine count would most likely have been higher. If I recall, the team who played the Iraqi’s used far better tactics than Saddam.
I’ve run military equipment tests in private industry and had a manager put his thumb so heavily on the scales for a particular result that I suspect all simulations and tests. One boss said, “Failure is just not an option. Make it pass.” I listen to the navy guys complain about their admiral and I suspect the same sort of thing.
If memory serves there is an overhead instrument cluster in the Backfire cockpit known to its crews as the Carlucci Panel because when he toured the airplane Reagan Secretary of Defence Frank Carlucci kept banging his head on it.
That’s how an average Russian SAC AFB and Backfires look nowadays:
Circa 1993 Russian Democrat government has seized military spending to virtually zero and relocated most of the budget on welfare and social programs to counter Communist agitation.
AF personnel wasn’t paid or even fed in months.
In about a year most of these bases were left to rot unattended with all the planes and ground equipment intact.
You could just drive a truck in and remove an engine from a jet or strip control room of electronic equipment.
I guess it is Obama’s plan for USAF.
BTW, these abandoned places were a playground for Chicoms to learn technology.
Five thousand men and WOMEN. The Romney and Sununu boys don’t want to participate so the gals are now aboard combatant vessels. Bull Halsey would be rolling in his grave.