For decades, it has been one of NATO’s nightmares. He had his baptism of fire in the war in Afghanistan between 1987 and 1989, already in the midst of Gorbachev. And now, more than 30 years after that conflict, he has returned, although last year he was also at the Russian air force base in Hmeimim, in Syrian territory. In fact, the runway had to be lengthened and the facilities improved so that this type of aircraft could land and take off.
We are talking about Russian Tu-22M3 “carrier killer” bomber, a long-range aircraft model capable of conducting nuclear, conventional, anti-ship strike and reconnaissance missions.
It is a versatile attack aircraft, initially designed for operations in Europe and Asia, but capable of carrying out intercontinental missions against the US if necessary. It was designed in the 1960s to replace the Tu-22, whose performance was lower than desired.
Thanks to its new engines and variable geometry wings, it proved far superior to its predecessor. Though its first flight occurred in 1972was officially presented at a Warsaw Pact exercise in 1980.
Its manufacture began in Kazan in 1969 and ended in 1993, with a total of 497 copies. It is estimated that in 1991 the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had 370 copies of this device. 210 in the Russian Military Air Force and 160 in the Naval Aviation. Belarus transferred its Tu-22s to Russia while Ukraine opted to scrap them.
Russia has variously baptized the different models of their Tu-22 bombers. The Blinder was known as Shilo (punch) because of its elongated shape. The nickname Dvoika (duo) was applied to the Tu-22M2 and the nickname Troika (trio) to the Tu-22M3 since it was flown by a three-person crew made up of the pilot, the weapons officer and the navigator.
The Tu-22M3 had its baptism of war in Afghanistan between 1987 and 1989. From a base in Turkmenistan he carried out a series of bombing missions against the Mujahideen in Khost and Kandahar, as well as support missions for ground troops during the withdrawal of the Soviet Army in 1989. In 1995 he participated, during the Chechnya War , at the Battle of Grozny.
On August 9, 2008, in the midst of the Russian-Georgian conflict, a Tu-22 aircraft was shot down by the missiles of a Buk anti-aircraft defense system acquired in Ukraine. The device’s mission was to bomb a Georgian military convoy traveling along the Korbouli-Kareli-Gori highway. There was a single survivor who, after falling into enemy hands, was returned to Russia in a prisoner exchange.
In July 2015, the Russian Defense Ministry announced the deployment of a squadron of Tu-22M3 bombers in Crimea, as “one of the response measures to the deployment of the anti-missile base in Romania”. This measure significantly reduces the capacity of the anti-missile shield of southern Europe. In its operation against Daesh in Syria, the Russian air force has used this device on several occasions since 2015.
The reason for the Tu-22’s “carrier killer” nickname lies mainly in some of the deadly weapons it is equipped with. One of them is the KH-15 missile.capable of reaching a great height and then diving on the target, accelerating up to a speed of Mach 5, which makes it one of the fastest anti-ship missiles in the world.
Another powerful deterrent is the Raduga Kh-22 cruise missile, which can hit a target 600 kilometers away at a speed of Mach 4’6. The final approach is made at only 500 meters high.
Precisely, according to the reports that the British Department of Intelligence has been carrying out on the War in Ukraine, the Russian troops would be running out of precision weapons, which is why they are being forced to use dozens of heavy missiles Kh-22 dropped from the air against ground targets.
What is surprising is that these weapons are anti-ship missiles, designed primarily to destroy aircraft carriers and other large land-based targets, even using nuclear warheads. In fact, these are 5.5-ton missiles that are used for other purposes in conventional warfare, as they are now being used by the Russian Army, have very low accuracy, and can cause significant collateral damage and numerous civilian casualties.
They were used by the Soviet and later Russian air forces in the Тu-22K (‘Blinder-B’) and Tu-95 К22 (‘Bear-G’) strategic bombers. Now the main current launch platform is the Tupolev Tu-22M 3 (“Backfire”).
On May 11, 2022, a video surfaced on the Internet showing a Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 strategic bomber launching a pair of two X-22 missiles at targets somewhere in Ukraine.