For the third time in 7 years (first one being in 2005, second earlier in 2012) several websites in China (link in Chinese) are reporting that China and Russia have agreed for Beijing to buy the production line for the Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber at a cost of 1.5 billion USD.
Once in service with the Chinese Naval Air Forces the Tu-22M3 will be known as the “H-10″.
The deal struck with Russia comes with 36 aircraft (and engines): an initial batch of 12 followed by a second batch of 24 aircraft are thought to be on order.
The Tu-22 will be employed in the maritime attack role and will be used to attack targets from low level (to avoid radar detection).
The Tu-22M3 is an old plane. But it is still very effective. Good range and a decent missile payload can make it a formidable threat to any task force.
For decades during the Cold War, the US Navy saw it’s first function as securing the sea lines of communication to Europe. Two major threats existed, the massive Soviet sub fleet, and the large force of Soviet Long Range Naval Aviation missile armed bombers, the last of which were Tu-22M3 Backfires. The Soviet plan was for massed raids of missile armed bombers to saturate the defenses of any carrier group by having large numbers of anti-ship missiles arrive on target simultaneously.
The Navy’s defense plan was a layered defense that came to be known as The Outer Air Battle. Long range detection of bombers via signals intelligence, and later E-2 Hawkeyes would cue F-14 Tomcats to engage with Phoenix missiles the Backfires before they could launch their payloads. Other Tomcats would engage any missiles that were launched. Then the guided missile surface escorts would begin to shoot down missiles. In fact, the whole impetus for the Aegis radar system was to defeat these saturation raids.
After area air defense was finished attriting the missile raid, or as missile started their terminal attack, self defense missile systems such as the Sea Sparrow would engage any leakers, while jamming and chaff tried to deceive the attacking missile guidance systems. Finally, the last ditch Phalanx gun system would provide the final layer of defense.
The Navy no longer has the Tomcat/Phoenix combo to deal with long range threats. On the other hand, you can hang an awful lot of AMRAAMs on a Superhornet. And unlike the early 1980s, there are a heck of a lot more Aegis equipped ships out there to defend battlegroups.
A 36 plane raid (with two AS-4 Kitchens apiece) should be a manageable threat. To a carrier battle group. But the same raid sent after the underway replenishment group that a carrier needs to keep the sea might be a different matter.
And who’s to say the Chinese don’t have another weapons payload in mind for the Backfire? Doubling or tripling the numbers of weapons they can carry would vastly complicate the defensive plans of any task force commander.
Of course, we don’t really even know if the Chinese will actually buy any Backfires. As the article states up front, this isn’t the first time the subject has come up, but as yet, it has never come to pass.