More than 10 Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range strategic and maritime strike bombers of the Russian Air Force carried out an airstrike on an airfield of the simulated enemy in the Zabaikalsky Territory as part of the Vostok 2018 military exercise, Russia’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) said in a September 15 press release. During the attack, the aircraft dropped unguided bombs weighing up to 500 kilograms (over 1,100 pounds).
The Tu-22M3 is a supersonic variable-sweep wing bomber first introduced into service with the Soviet Air Force and Soviet Naval Aviation in the 1970s. The Russian Air Force currently operates around 60 Tu-22M3s, although it is unclear how many of those aircraft are flightworthy. Last month, the first prototype of an upgraded variant of the Tu-22M3, designated Tu-22M3M, was rolled out at a United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) plant in Kazan. The Russian MoD plans to upgrade at least 30 Tu-22M3s to the more advanced M3M variant with the first prototype of the aircraft expected to be delivered to the Russian Air Force for testing next month.
The Tu-22M3M will feature upgraded avionics, new digital radio-navigation equipment, and a new communications suite, next to other upgrades. The aircraft will also be fitted with a new updated weapon control system to provide it with the capability to launch precision-guided air-to-surface weapons, including air-launched ballistic missiles and long-range anti-ship missiles. For example, the Tu-22M3M will be capable of firing Kh-32 long-range cruise missiles. As I explained in May:
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.
Overall, the bomber can carry a weapons load of around 24 tons.
Unlike the upgraded Tu-160M2 long-range strategic bomber, the Tu-22M3M will not receive a new engine.
Vostok 2018 is one of the largest Russian military exercises in almost four decades. The exercise, which has been taking place in Siberia and Russia’s Far East over the past days, kicked off on September 11 and will conclude on September 17. The exercise simulates a large-scale conventional war against a Western opponent.