A Tu-22M3 of the 924th Naval Missile Carrier Regiment, part of the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet based at Olenya in 1998. Aircraft from this unit were later taken over by the Air Force’s 840th Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment based at Soltsy.
A Tu-22M-3 armed with a Kh-22 missile underwing. This delta-wing missile is made of welded titanium and steel alloys, and powered by a twin-chamber liquid-fuel rocket motor.
The Tu-22M is not fitted with ailerons. Instead, control is provided using three sections of spoilers/lift dumpers on the outer wing panels and differential deflection of the elevators.
The appearance of the Tu-22M bomber came as a shock to NATO, and Western navies in particular soon had to find countermeasures to this powerful strike aircraft, the wartime tasks of which would have included missions against carrier battle groups and convoys supporting any conflict on the European continent.
Today, the Tu-22M is in a class of its own: a large, supersonic, continental-range bomber. Entering production in 1969, the aircraft codenamed ‘Backfire’ in the West had no design affiliation with the Tu-22 from the same design bureau. By the time production ended in 1993, a total of more than 500 Tu-22Ms of all versions had been built, and the type remains in service with the Russian Air Force. Under a design team led by Andrei Tupolev, work on the future Tu-22M began in November 1967. Among the specifications for the new bomber were a maximum speed of up to 2500km/h (1553mph) and a range of 7000km (4349 miles) while flying subsonic with a single Kh-22 missile.
There was no ‘Backfire’ prototype as such, and instead a pre-series batch of eight Tu-22M0 aircraft were completed, the first of these taking to the air for a maiden flight in August 1969. However, the bomber proved much slower than expected, and its range also left much to be desired. Improvements had been made by July 1971, when the Tu-22M1 was introduced, now with variable-geometry, in the form of movable outer wing panels. Range and speed were improved somewhat and the Tu-22M1 was built in small numbers for evaluation and training.
The first model to enter quantity production was the Tu-22M2 of 1973, offering a speed of 1700km/h (1056mph) and a range of 5100km (3169 miles). The various mission systems were also improved. A total of 211 Tu-22M2s ‘Backfire-Bs’ were completed by the time production of this variant ended in 1983. Despite its capabilities, the Tu-22M2 still failed to meet anything like the original specifications demanded by the military, and in an effort to improve performance the aircraft was re-engined with NK-25 powerplants each of which developed 245kN (55,116lb) thrust with afterburning – an increase of more than 25 per cent. The new engines demanded a fuselage redesign, including new wedge-type air intakes. The result was the definitive Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire-C’. This model was faster, being capable of a ‘dash’ speed of 2300km/h (1429mph). It also possessed improved range, including a combat radius of 2200km (1367 miles) when employing a high-profile flight, part of which was flown supersonic.
After a first flight in June 1977 the Tu-22M3 entered production, and a total of 268 examples were completed up to 1993. The final new-build production version was the Tu-22MR reconnaissance aircraft, around a dozen of which were manufactured between 1989 and 1993. This is equipped with a side-looking radar, electronic surveillance measures system, infra-red scanner and cameras.
The Cold War role of the Tu-22M would have included maritime strike against high-priority targets such as NATO aircraft carriers and cruise-missile armed warships in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Other missions would have included cutting off Europe from supporting American forces by targeting naval convoys, harbours and airfields.
The Tu-22M first went to war, however, during the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, dropping free-fall bombs from 1984. During the post-Soviet era, Tu-22M3s conducted bombing missions over Chechnya during 1994–96. The Tu-22M3 returned to battle over Georgia in August 2008 and suffered its first combat loss when one bomber was downed by a Georgian anti-aircraft missile, with the loss of three crew.
As of 2014 the Tu-22M3 version remains in service with seven squadrons at bases in Belaya, Shaykovka and Ryazan. While previously the Tu-22M fleet was divided between the Air Force’s Long-Range Aviation arm and the Naval Aviation arm, all aircraft are now consolidated within the Air Force, although they retain a maritime commitment.
Considering the continued importance of the Tu-22M3 to the Russian Air Force bomber arm, the defence ministry elected to pursue a programme to extend the service life of the bomber, pending the availability of an all-new replacement aircraft, under Tupolev’s PAK DA programme.
An upgrade effort is proceeding only very slowly under the Tu-22M3M programme. New items of equipment include the Kh-32 cruise missile, a replacement for the Cold War-era Kh-22 (AS-4 ‘Kitchen’) missile. The new weapon offers a considerable increase in stand-off range. In future, upgraded ‘Backfires’ are also due to receive a new Novella-45 radar.
Since the ‘full’ upgrade has suffered delays, the Russian Air Force has been forced to adopt a stopgap improvement programme in which the aircraft receives a more modest array of new equipment in the course of its routine overhaul. This upgrade includes a modified avionics suite with new computer, navigation system and cockpit displays. The first Tu-22M3 upgraded to this standard returned to service in 2009.
The primary weapon for the Tu-22M is the Kh-22 (AS-4 ‘Kitchen’) missile, up to three of which can be carried recessed under the fuselage under the fixed wing glove. Kh-22s are provided in versions for high- or low-altitude launch, nuclear or conventional warheads, and with an active radar seeker for anti-ship work or autonomous guidance for use against fixed targets. Free-fall bombs can be carried on pylons inside the bomb bay as well as on four external multiple racks (two under the engine air intake trunks, as seen here, and two under the wings). As well as free-fall bombs, the Tu-22M can carry mines. In practice, the maximum armament load does not exceed 12,000kg (26,455lb), since loads heavier than this would compromise the fuel carried. In 1989 the Tu-22M3 added new armament in the form of the Kh-15 (AS-16 ‘Kickback’) short-range attack missile, but this was later withdrawn.
- Earliest pre-production variant, 9 were produced.
- Pilot-production aircraft, 9 were produced in 1971 and 1972. Its NATO reporting name was Backfire-A.
- The first major production version, entering production in 1972, was the Tu-22M2 (NATO: Backfire-B), with longer wings and an extensively redesigned, area ruled fuselage (raising the crew complement to four), twin NK-22 engines (215 kN thrust each) with F-4 Phantom II-style intake ramps, and new undercarriage with the main landing gear in the wing glove rather than in large pods. 211 Tu-22M2 were built from 1972 into 1983. The Tu-22M2 had a top speed of Mach 1.65 and was armed most commonly with long-range cruise missiles/anti-ship missiles, typically one or two Raduga Kh-22 anti-shipping missiles. Some Tu-22M2s were later reequipped with more powerful NK-23 engines and redesignated Tu-22M2Ye.
- The later Tu-22M3 (NATO: Backfire-C), which first flew in 1977, introduced into operations in 1983 and officially entered service in 1989, had new NK-25 engines with substantially more power, wedge-shaped intake ramps similar to the MiG-25, wings with greater maximum sweep and a recontoured nose housing a new Leninets PN-AD radar and NK-45 nav/attack system, which provides much-improved low-altitude flight. The aerodynamic changes increased its top speed to Mach 2.05 and its range by one third compared to the Tu-22M2. It has a revised tail turret with a single cannon, and provision for an internal rotary launcher for the Raduga Kh-15 missile, similar to the American AGM-69 SRAM. It was nicknamed Troika (‘Trio’ or third) in Russian service. 268 were built until 1993.
- As built, the Tu-22M included the provision for a retractable probe in the upper part of the nose for aerial refueling. The probe was reportedly removed as a result of the SALT negotiations, because with refueling it was considered an intercontinental range strategic bomber. The probe can be reinstated if needed.
- Several Tu-22M3s, perhaps 12, were converted to Tu-22M3(R) or Tu-22MR standard with Shompol side looking airborne radar and other ELINT equipment.
- Tu-22M3 for the Russian Air Force with upgraded avionics and the ability to use precision air-to-surface weapons. Prior to 2020 it is planned to upgrade 30 Tu-22M3 with new hardware components and adapted for the extended range weapons. 5 modernized aircraft entered service in 2015, 2 more in 2017. Can carry 12 Kh-15 or 3 Kh-22 missiles.