Tupolev Tu-22M Weapon Upgrade

Tu-22M3M

Tu-22M3 for the Russian Air Force with engines from Tu-160M2 (NK-32-02), 80 percent of avionics are replaced or upgraded, including SVP-24-22 bombsights, a phased array NV-45 radar, GLONASS navigation system, modern digital glass cockpit and engine controls, electronic warfare countermeasures, and the ability to use precision air-to-surface weapons. The Russian Ministry of Defense intends to upgrade up to 30 aircraft out of approximately 60 Tu-22M3s currently in service to the advanced Tu-22M3M variant. Can carry 3 Kh-32 or 4 Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles. Service life will be extended to 40–45 years. On 16 August 2018, the first modernized aircraft was unveiled during a roll-out ceremony at the Kazan Aviation Plant. It performed its maiden flight on 28 December 2018. On 20 March 2020, the second modernized Tu-22M3M aircraft had its maiden flight.

The Backfire weapon upgrade is quite impressive, enhancing the bomber’s capabilities against both land targets and surface ships. In addition to the new land-attack missiles (the Kh-101 and Kh-555, according to Russian press), there reportedly will be at least two long-range ultrahigh-speed dual-capable (nuclear and conventional) missiles with land-attack and antiship capability. This is important because the Department of Defense has said the United States currently has no defense against hypersonic missiles. Backfire’s manufacturer, Tupolev, claims the improved Backfire bomber will be operational in 2021.

Not only does the TU-22M3 have improved range, but according to Russian state media it also carries the new Kh-32 long-range supersonic cruise missile. The Kh-32 travels just below hypersonic speed and is a dual-capable (nuclear and conventional) antiship and land-attack cruise missile. Sputnik News states its speed is Mach 4.1 and TASS puts it at more than Mach 5. That appears too high, except perhaps in a terminal dive, but even at Mach 4 at 130,000 feet it is a very serious threat, possibly invulnerable to existing Western air-defense systems.

According to Russian media and other Russian publications, the Kh-32’s range is 620 miles. Sputnik News and Russia Beyond the Headlines report that it is nuclear capable, which is confirmed in the 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review. Russia Beyond the Headlines reports the Kh-32’s accuracy within a few yards and warhead weight limit at 1,002 pounds. This gives a powerful conventional antiship warhead capability as well. The Kh-32 reportedly became operational in 2016. If so, more than 100 operational Backfire bombers could be carrying it now.

The Kh-32 makes it more difficult to intercept the Backfire before weapons-release range. The Soviet-era Kh-22 (still reportedly operational) has half the range of the new weapon. While post–Cold War U.S. Navy fighters have much better radars and avionics than the F-14, they lack its long-range (and even the F-14 range would not be adequate against a Kh-32-armed aircraft). The longer range of the Tu-22M3M complicates a carrier strike group’s ability to set up a barrier defense. The extreme speed of the missile reduces flight time by a factor of four compared to a subsonic antiship missile, reducing the defensive value of locational uncertainty between launch and impact time.

Tupolev Tu-22M/22M3/22M3M Strategic Bomber

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