The first upgraded Tu-22M3M long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber is expected to take to the sky for the first time in the third quarter of 2018, a Russian defense industry source told IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly on May 14.
“Assembly of the aircraft is being completed,” the source said. Modernization work on the bomber includes upgraded avionics and the ability to launch precision-guided air-to-surface weapons including air-launched ballistic missiles and long-range anti-ship missiles.
“Under this deep upgrade, the aircraft will be fitted with digital radio-navigation equipment, a new communications suite, and an updated weapon control system,” the source told Jane’s. A significant portion of the avionics suite will be common with that of the Tupolev Tu-160M2 long-range supersonic strategic bomber. Unlike the Tu-160M2, however, the Tu-22M3M will not receive a new engine.
According to another Russian defense industry source, the Tu-22 M3M, a supersonic variable-sweep wing bomber with earlier variants first introduced into service with the Soviet Air Force and Soviet Naval Aviation in the 1970s, is expected to join the Russian Air Force in October following the successful completion of its maiden flight.
“According to the existing plan, the first Tu-22M3M with the most advanced Kh-32 long-range cruise missile will go on combat duty in long-range aviation in October this year,” the source was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.
The KH-32, an upgraded version of the Raguda Kh-22 long-range anti-ship missile, has been specifically designed to attack U.S. Navy carrier strike groups, but can also be used for land strike missions. It is reportedly designed to climb to the stratosphere (40 kilometers) after launch and then either directly dives at the target or executes a lighter dive and approaches the target flying close to the ground at around 150-200 meters. The K-32 purportedly has an operational range of 1,000 kilometers and can reach top speeds of over Mach 4 in its terminal phase.
The Tu-22M3M can also carry the Rhaduga Kh-15 aero-ballistic missile. The bomber will be capable of carrying up to three KH-32 or 12 Kh-15 missiles. Both the Kh-15 and KH-32 can alternatively be fitted with conventional or nuclear warheads.
There are currently a little over sixty Tu-22M3M in service with the Russian Air Force, although the serviceability rate of the aircraft is around fifty percent or lower. The Russian Ministry of Defense wants to modernize a total of 30 Tu-22M3, although the exact number has not been publicly confirmed.
In March, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov announced that the Russian Air Force’s will receive its entire new fleet of Tu-160M2s by 2030.