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Ukraine shoots down Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bomber for first time

On 18 April 2024, Ukrainian forces confirmed hitting a Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber during a nighttime attack on Kyiv. A video shared on Russian social media appears to confirm that the aircraft crashed in the Stavropol region of Russia as it was attempting to return to its base at Shpakovskoye after being struck by a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile. It is speculated that the Russian Tu-22M3 bomber was hit by a Ukrainian S-200 air defense system.
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Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bomber shot down by Ukrainian air defense  (Picture source: Russian Social Media)

The Tupolev Tu-22M, originally developed by the Soviet Union and manufactured by Tupolev, is a key strategic and maritime strike bomber, designed during the Cold War. This bomber, which first flew on August 30, 1969, and was commissioned in 1972, remains in operation primarily within the Russian Aerospace Forces. The Tu-22M3 model, in particular, which first took to the skies in 1976 and entered service in 1983, is equipped with more powerful NK-25 engines, variable geometry wings, and advanced equipment that enables low-altitude operations.

The Tupolev Tu-22M, known by the NATO codename "Backfire," is a long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber developed by the Soviet firm Tupolev. This aerial platform is equipped with several remarkable technical features that make it a major strategic threat vector. The Tu-22M is fitted with variable geometry wings, allowing for optimized performance at different altitudes and speeds. The Tu-22M3 model, an evolution of the original design, is powered by NK-25 turbojet engines, offering a top speed greater than Mach 1.8 and supersonic low-level flight capabilities thanks to its advanced navigation system and enhanced radar. With a maximum range of nearly 7,000 kilometers without refueling, the Tu-22M3 can carry up to 24,000 kilograms of munitions, including Kh-22 cruise missiles or conventional bombs, making it suitable for deep penetration or maritime strike missions. These capabilities position it as a key tool in Russian force projection and nuclear deterrence strategies.

The threats posed by the Tu-22M3 are compounded by its armament, including the supersonic Kh-22 cruise missiles, originally designed to target carrier groups with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Capable of reaching speeds of Mach 4.6, these missiles represent a serious threat to targeted areas due to their ability to cause massive destruction and civilian casualties, as observed in strikes on Ukrainian cities.

The previous inability of Ukrainian armed forces to counter these missiles led to a risky commando mission in August 2023, where a Ukrainian intelligence unit traveled over 600 kilometers on foot across Russian territory to neutralize the threat posed by Tu-22M3 bombers stationed at the Soltsy airfield in the Novgorod region.

The crew of the Tu-22M3, consisting of four members, benefits from an ejection seat system that ensures their safety if needed. It appears that three pilots ejected and survived, they are hospitalized. The aircraft's configuration and offensive capabilities make it not only vital for Russian nuclear strategy but also a priority target for Ukrainian operations aimed at reducing Russian aerial dominance in the region.

The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation stated that there was no ammunition on board the TU-22M3. The preliminary cause of the accident was a technical malfunction", Ministry of Defense Russia.

According to some reports, the Tupolev Tu-22M was shot down by a missile from the S-200 air defense system, equipment designed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s. The use of these old missiles to engage Russian targets could reflect a shortage of munitions, potentially highlighting a lack of sufficient NATO support in terms of anti-aircraft missiles. The S-200, also known as SA-5 Gammon, is intended for the defense of large areas against high-altitude bombers and other aerial threats. Introduced into service in 1966.


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