Tu-22M3M: Modernisation of a Cold War bomber. The Tu-22M3 is getting bumped to the Tu-22M3M standards. The RuAF currently operates 60 Tu-22M3 (upgraded Tu-22M). Half of those (30) are currently queuing up for yet another upgrade. And the first one of those has left the assembly lines already.The Tu-22M3 has a maximum range of 6,800km, can reach Mach 1.8 and can embark 24 tons of bombs or missiles (Depending on distance to target). That’s a maximum of 10 missiles or 69 bombs depending on which ordnance is selected. The Tu-22M3 is flexible enough and can be used in both tactical and strategic roles such as carpet bombing, dropping naval mines or launching long-range cruise missiles or anti-shipping missiles.What does this new M3M standard bring to the Backfire? Well, a new radar (NV-45), a new navigation and communication suite and a new glass cockpit. In fact, the Backfire will receive the same avionics suite as the newly upgraded Tu-160M2.It also comes fitted with the NVP-24-22 bombsight/targetting system which (in theory) enables the plane to use dumb bombs with an accuracy roughly equivalent to JDAMs.The upgraded Backfire also gets new engines that should extend its range. Those engines are the same as the ones fitted on the new Tu-160M2, also (NK-32-02). This means that Backfire and Blackjack will from now on share a lot of parts in common, which should streamline maintenance and logistics.
The Tu-22M3 was originally a long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber. It was primarily designed for engaging American Aircraft Carrier Groups with powerful stand-off AshMs (Anti-Ship Missiles). But it was also capable of delivering a nuclear strike on land. The SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation) talks that led to the signing of the ABM and START treaties also led to the Backfire to have its aerial refueling probe removed. As such, under the New Start Treaty, the Backfire was reclassified as a Tactical Bomber, rather than as a Strategic (long range/nuclear capable) one. With the modernisation program and the subsequent new M3M standard, it seems the Backfires are being retrofitted with an aerial probe again. Add to this the avionics, sensor suite and targeting systems which are identical to the ones found in the Tu-160M2 and give them the capability of handling the same array of weapon platforms as the Blackjack and it seems that the Tu-22M3M might be reclassified as the intercontinental bomber it once was…
The Tu-22M3M also receives the ability to carry and fire the Kh32 AshM/cruise missile. This is an interesting piece of hardware that was designed specifically to target Aegis Combat System equipped vessels. The Kh-32 is an evolution of the older Soviet Kh-22. The Kh-22 was specifically designed to take on US aircraft carriers and was capable of punching a 22 square meter hole in a hull and penetrate a ship’s various bulkheads and compartments to a depth of 12 meters!
The Kh-32 has a range of 600 miles and can travel at Mach 4.5! This enormous missile (almost 7 tons, 12 meters long and with a wingspan of about 3 meters) relies on sheer speed and brute force to punch through a fleet’s defence. The Kh-32 has 2 flight mode: Sea Skimming or high altitude flight (40km / 130,000 feet) with a terminal top attack where the missile dives almost vertically onto its target. Both modes are designed to maximise the chance of a successful hit on target (reduced chances of interception). The Kh-32 has a terminal velocity of 800 meters per second, too fast, in theory, to be intercepted by the SM-6 missile.
The Tu-22M3M has also been tested with the Kinzhal hypersonic missile. The Kh-47M2 Kinzhal is a nuclear-cappable Air Launched Cruise Missile. It has a range of roughly 2,000km and a maximum speed of Mach10. The Kinzhal has been successfully tested on modified MiG-31 (MiG-31K). But while the Foxhound can carry one Kinzhal, the Backfire is capable of carrying 4 of those! The bomber also has a range advantage against the interceptor (6,800km compared to 1,250km).
Finally, this upgrade enables the Tu-22M to see its service life being extended by 35 years. Long enough for Tupolev and Moscow to delay the design and manufacture of the future PAK DA several times over. The PAK DA is a stealth strategic bomber dreamed up by Tupolev and meant to enter service in the RuAF by 2025. Considering that the first prototype hasn’t been built yet, you can bet it won’t enter service before 2035 at the earliest. In the meantime, Russia’s updated Tu-160M2 and Tu-22M3M will have to keep on flying the flag.