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Syrian experience calls to arm Tu-22M3M with precision bombing systems

According to TASS, the deeply upgraded long-range supersonic Tu-22M3M bomber made the maiden flight on December 28, 2018 at the airfield of the Gorbunov aircraft plant in Kazan (KAZ), a Tupolev affiliate.

Syrian experience calls to arm Tu 22M3M with precision bombing systems 925 001 Tu-22M3M aircraft (Picture source : Metro)

The upgrade gave the aircraft a new modern digital set of electronic equipment on the Russian element base. In particular, the bomber received new navigational, communication, aiming equipment, fuel and engine controls, electronic warfare. Eighty percent of the equipment was replaced to increase navigation precision and automatic controls and simplify maintenance and pre-flight preparation. Tu-22M3M onboard equipment is unified with that of Tu-160M. The United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) said the upgrade considerably expanded the combat potential of the bomber.

The first Tu-22M3M prototype was created in the framework of a large-scale modernization program for strategic and long-range aircraft. The next stage will upgrade the first batch of operational Tu-22M3 by the results of joint acceptance trials. The upgrade is likely to begin in 2019 and two years later the first Tu-22M3M will be delivered to the armed forces.

At present the operational Tu-22M3 are equipped with the SVP-24 computer system in SVP-24-22 option for unguided weapons. The upgrade to Tu-22M3M level will likely demand the use of precision weapons, including medium-range cruise missiles. The flight trials of the upgraded bomber rose the issue of the role of the aircraft in the short and midterm. Does the Syrian experience call it to combine precisely aimed unguided bombs and precision airborne guided missiles?

Tu-22M3 made 42 group flights from November 2015 to December 2017 to strike at terrorists in Syrian provinces of Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Homs and Aleppo. The main strikes targeted ISIL (outlawed in Russia) in eastern Syria.

Tu-22M3 made the first Syrian sortie on November 17, 2015. Twelve bombers were engaged in sorties in November-December 2015 and the number was then reduced to six aircraft. The bombers mostly dropped free-falling high-explosive fragmentation OFAB-250-270 bombs in 2015-2016 and high-explosive FAB-500M-62 in 2017.

In Syria, Tu-22M3 with SVP system were engaged for precision bombing. SVP-24 of Gefest&T Company analyzes GLONASS data on reciprocal position of the aircraft and the target, considers atmospheric pressure, air humidity, wind and flight speed, and uses several other factors to calculate the course, speed and altitude of bomb release which is done automatically.

Tu-22M3 have three wing sweepback regimes: 20, 30 and 60 degrees depending on the flight speed. All footage of the Defense Ministry showed Tu-22M3 strike at the minimal sweepback (20 degrees) and a major angle of attack which means the bombs were released at a relatively low speed. Experts estimate the bombs were dropped at the true airspeed (TAS) of 550-700 km/h. The approach speed to the target did not depend on the released bombs. Tu-22M3 dropped OFAB-250-270 and FAB-500M-62 bombs with reduced aerodynamic resistance in Syria. It means the relatively low speed was caused not by the weapons, but the necessity of precision aiming by SVP-24-22. Various weapons were engaged in Syria to comprehensively assess SVP performance.

It is necessary to admit that SVP-24 is effective in fighting terrorists armed with outdated manpads or an adversary whose air defense has been destroyed by antiradar missiles or other weapons. Even a short-range missile can intercept Su-24M, Su-25SM and Tu-22M3 flying directly at the same altitude and at a relatively low speed. Medium and long-range air defense is even more effective against them. The results of free-falling bomb engagement by Tu-22M3 against a much weaker adversary were displayed in the war in Georgia in August 2008 when one Tu-22M3 was downed by medium-range Buk air defense (or Osa-AK/AKM).

It is unclear whether Russia engaged electronic warfare in August 2008, but even if Tu-22M3 were equipped with the latest jamming tools they were an easy target for a multilayered air defense in such an engagement way.

The Georgian experience likely intensified the work with medium-range airborne cruise missiles (Kh-SD R&D) for arming Tu-22M3M. The missiles carried on multi-positional ejector rack in the internal compartment of Tu-22M3 can deliver precision strikes from outside the adversary air defense zone.

Open sources said Kh-SD missile design began in the first half of the 2000s to replace Kh-555 airborne cruise missile which is a Kh-55 modification with a conventional warhead. The arming of Tu-22M3M with such a missile will make them join non-nuclear deterrence together with Tu-160/Tu-160M and Tu-95/MSM bombers.

IHS Jane’s said the latest Kh-50 missile designed by Kh-SD R&D will be used by the long-range aviation. Foreign experts said Kh-50 procurement was included into the arms program for 2018-2027. Jane’s said Kh-50 is a subsonic missile with an aiming system similar to Kh-101 cruise missile. But it differs by a smaller glider. The construction uses stealth technologies similar to the US Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile (AGM-158 JASSM) of Lockheed Martin.

Kh-50 is designed for Tu-22M3M, Tu-95MSM and Tu-160 bombers. It is close to six meters long (1.5 meters less than Kh-101) and weighs close to 1600 kg. The missile likely has a turbojet engine dubbed item 37-04 (TRDD-50B). Kh-50 range is 1500 km, the cruising speed is 700 km/h and maximum speed - 950 km/h.

The faceted sides and oblate cross section decrease the radar signature. The missile design simplified its accommodation in the internal compartment. The aiming system has an inertial module adjusted by GPS/GLONASS at the midcourse phase and optical-electronic Otblesk system of the Digital Scene-Matching Area Correlation (DSMAC). Besides low-signature glider, Kh-50 is equipped with other tools to break through adversary air defense. They include low-altitude flight profile, a small jamming system, and towed decoys.

Upgraded Tu-22M3M can carry air ballistic hypersonic Kinzhal missiles. In Soviet times, Tu-22M3 were armed with Kh-15 missiles (item 115) capable of hitting stationary ground targets and adversary air defense at a range of 300 km. The basic missile was armed with a nuclear warhead and inertial aiming system without adjustment. Kh-15P antiradar missile was created with passive adjustment by the radar beam of the target and with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead. There was also an antiship missile Kh-15S with a high-explosive cumulative warhead. It was equipped with an active aiming adjustment system and had a maximum range of 150 km. Kh-15 family could be fired from altitudes of 300 to 22000 meters. The maximum speed corresponded to Mach 5, and the circular error probability was 5-8 meters.

Kh-15 trials on Tu-22M3 began in late 1970s. In 1980s it was launched into batch production. Tu-22M3 could carry ten Kh-15, six inside the fuselage and four on outside suspensions. At present Kh-15 have been decommissioned.

Russian and foreign experts believe Kinzhal air ballistic missile was likely created on the basis of guided operational-tactical 9M723 missile or its upgraded 9M723-1 option of Iskander-M complex. The range of Iskander missiles is limited by 500 km by the INF Treaty.

The engagement of an air ballistic missile by a supersonic aircraft considerably increases its range. Experts estimate the total Kinzhal range at 2000 km, including 500-700 km of the MiG-31K carrier aircraft and 1300-1500 km of the missile itself. The missile is launched from an altitude of 15-20 km at a speed of Mach 1.5-2.

Open sources said Kinzhal surpasses Kh-15 in weight and size. Various Kh-15 modifications were 4.5 to 4.78 meters long. The diameter was 0.45 meters, the wingspan - 0.92 meters, and the weight - 1100 - 1200 kg. Kinzhal is estimated to be eight meters long with a diameter of less than one meter and a weight of close to four tons. Thus, it is impossible to fire it from MKU-6-1 rack inside the fuselage of Tu-22M3. It is also unlikely to be launched from outside AKU-01 racks. But the missile can be launched from ejector racks BD-45K and BD-45F.

Kinzhal is close to Kh-15 by the designation, but its weight and size is close to another Tu-22M3 weapon which are Kh-22 and the latest Kh-32 antiship missiles. Kh-22 is 11.65 meters long. The diameter is 0.9 meters, the wingspan is 3.0 meters and the weight - 5.6 to 5.7 tons. Kh-22 and Kh-32 are carried on two suspensions under the wing in ejector racks BD-45K and one suspension under the fuselage in an extendable ejector rack BD-45F (semi-submerged carriage).

The Tupolev Company said maximum Tu-22M3 speed is 2000 km/h. The tactical range is 2200 km at subsonic speed and the practical ceiling is 14000 meters. Open sources give no reliable information on the speed and range of Tu-22M3 with three suspended Kh-22. One can suggest the speed does not exceed 1600-1800 km/h which is less than MiG-31K. The practical ceiling is also lower. A bigger fuel reserve (53550 kg of Tu-22M3 against 16350 kg of MiG-31K) can make Tu-22M3M fly longer at a supersonic speed and increase the range of Kinzhal. Thus, the new carrier can increase Kinzhal range to 2000 km. But Tu-22M3M will face major risks as it will have to approach adversary air defense closer than MiG-31K.

The above-mentioned facts show that in case of successful trials each Tu-22M3M will be capable of carrying three-four Kinzhal missiles on outside suspensions. The use of Tu-22M3M as Kinzhal carrier will allow salvo launches of air ballistic missiles at air and missile defense, aircraft carriers and groups of warships, infrastructure objects and site targets. Kinzhal will be more effective against warships with Aegis combat controls than antiship Kh-22 and Kh-32 missiles.

There are still issues to upgrade Tu-22M3 equipment for Kinzhal. Tu-22M3 trials may introduce changes to the bomber upgrade to Tu-22M3M level.

Another weapon for Tu-22M3M is the Kh-32 antiship cruise missile to destroy surface targets. Open sources said it has a range of 1000 km and a speed that surpasses the speed of sound five times. Kh-32 was tested from an upgraded Tu-22M3.

There are clear advantages of arming Tu-22M3M with medium-range cruise missiles. 20-30 Tu-22M3M capable of firing various cruise missiles to a distance of 1500 km can strengthen strategic deterrence which is important in conditions of growing international tensions and no signs of START-3 prolongation.

Some experts believe Tu-22M3M should not abandon SVP-24-22. The rout of ISIL in Syria and Iraq did not end the fight against terrorism. Optimistic forecasts say it will continue for at least another decade. Therefore, the Russian Aerospace Forces will be fighting in local wars against terrorists with a weak air defense. SVP-24-22 is necessary for Tu-22M3M together with long-range precision weapons. The engagement of precision weapons against terrorists would be much more costly than OFAB-250-270 and FAB-500M-62 bombs.

The experience of the latest local conflicts and the Russian airpower engagement in Syria in 2015-2018 was likely considered in Tu-22M3M upgrade, its set of equipment and weapons. It has to remain a multirole aircraft capable both of strategic deterrence and precision bombing. The arming of Tu-22M3M with high-tech systems will help cut the crew from four to two men in future which will be another advantage of the upgraded bomber.-

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