The long-range Tu-22M3 bombers of the Russian Aerospace Force have recently conducted a number of massive strategic bomber raids on terrorist targets in Syria, including the facilities of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group located east of Palmyra and in the Homs province.
The aircraft took off from the airfield in the town of Mozdok (1,070 miles south of Moscow) and flew over the Caspian Sea, Iran and Iraq.
The aircraft was first used in mid-November 2015, when law enforcement agencies reported Islamic State militants were involved in the destruction of the Russian passenger airliner Airbus A321.
The strikes were resumed after the recent killing of Russian pilots near Palmyra.
The Tu-22M3 (NATO reporting name: Backfire) is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing, long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber developed by the Tupolev Design Bureau.
The Tu-22M incorporates a long variable sweep wing fuselage design. The aircraft features a stepped cockpit and variable-geometry outer wing panels. The tail fin is swept-back and tapered with a square tip. The flats mounted on the centre of body are pointed with blunt tips and each wing includes a centre section and two outer panels. The outer wings are attached to the centre section through hinged joints.
The Tu-22M3 can fly at a maximum altitude of 14,000m and the rate of climb of the aircraft is 15m/s. The aircraft has a cruise speed of 900 km/h and maximum speed of 2,300km/h. The operational range of the aircraft is 7,000 km.
The aircraft can be equipped with refueling probes to allow in-flight refueling for extended range.
Tu-22M3 has a length of 42.4m, maximum wing span of 34.2m, and a height of 11.05m. The empty weight and maximum takeoff weights of the aircraft are 53,500kg and 126,400kg respectively.
The semi-glass cockpit accommodates a crew of four on upward-firing ejection seats. It is equipped with dedicated panels for pilots, navigator-operator and commander, with entry provided through individual doors. The pressurized cockpit is equipped with climate control systems.
The aircraft can carry 24 tons (53,000 lbs) of weapons and is provided with hard points to carry Kh-22 stand-off missiles, Kh-15 nuclear or Kh-15P anti-radar missiles and FAB-250 or FAB-1500 free fall bombs.
The Raduga Kh-22 is a large, long-range anti-ship missile with an operational range of 600km (320nmi).
In theory, with its range and the 2,200 lbs (1 ton) shaped-charge warhead the missile can cripple an aircraft carrier at a single blow.
The aircraft is also armed with a double-barreled GSH-23 (23 mm) gun in remotely controlled tail turret.
The aircraft is fitted with PN-A/PN-AD bombing-navigation radar system, Argon-2 radar fire-control system and a TV-based backup optical bomb sight. The countermeasures are provided by a radar warning receiver, radio-frequency jammers, and updated defensive countermeasures gear.
The bomber is powered by two Kuznetsov NK-25 turbofan engines installed in the body with large air intakes and dual exhausts.
Each engine produces a maximum thrust of 25,000kg and delivers an improved fuel economy. Tricycle landing gear is used to support operations on unprepared runways. The nose gear includes backward retractable twin wheels. Each main landing gear unit consists of six wheels in a 2x3 bogie arrangement. These are retracted straight in to the fuselage.
The Tu-22M3 aircraft are expected to be fully upgraded in late 2018.
The new version of the aircraft will have an expanded weapons suite and equipment based on advanced electronic componentry, including another sighting system, as well as a cockpit with improved ergonomic characteristics. The new planes will use new Kh-32 missiles and will have an improved sighting system for free-fall and, possibly, guided bombs. The new weapon is already going through testing.
The Kh-32 missile is a conventionally armed (also nuclear) deep upgrade variant of Kh-22. It features an improved rocket motor and a new seeker head. The maximum speed of Kh-32 will be 4000 km/h with an operational range of 800-1000 km (vs. 450-600 for Kh-22). It is expected that Kh-32 will become available in 2020.
Russia’s new Aerospace Forces firing range in Crimea will be a unique venue for year-round training of Tu-22M3 bomber pilots in missile and bombing weapons against waterborne and shore targets. A new structure will become part of the Chkalov Flight Test Center in Aktyubinsk, where new methods, systems and armaments are developed.
In March this year, the bombers departed from Russia's Novosibirsk region to an airbase in Tajikistan, which is located 30 kilometers from the capital Dushanbe, to take part in the anti-terrorist exercise. The crews practiced airstrikes using 500 kg [1,100 lb] bombs against camps of illegal armed groups at military training grounds in the foothills of Eastern Pamir. The Tajik leadership is concerned about the worsening security situation in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Afghan armed forces are fighting Taliban militants as well as the Islamic State terrorist group.
The combat experience in Syria shows that Tu-22M3 bomber can become a formidable long-range anti-terrorist weapon ready to deliver devastating strikes against terrorist targets wherever they are on short notice. With planned modernization the aircraft has a long service ahead.