Despite their age, the Russian Aerospace Forces’ three strategic bombers provide a useful capability and one that’s more flexible than the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that make up the other two arms of the traditional nuclear “triad.” The fact that the bombers can be forward deployed and, increasingly, can employ different conventional weapons, enhances their utility.
The Tu-22M3, in particular, may appear a relic of the Cold War, representing a class of bomber that has disappeared from Western inventories, although it’s notable that, unlike the Tu-160 and Tu-95MS, the Backfire is not covered by the New START treaty, which places restrictions on the maximum size of the overall bomber fleet. On the other hand, the potential demise of the treaty could see the Tu-22M3’s inflight refueling capability reinstated, to provide it with a true strategic range.
Currently, modernization programs are underway for each of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ three strategically tasked types and a program has been launched to resume production of the Tu-160 and its unique NK-25 engines. These upgrades, plus new-build Blackjacks, should ensure that the Long-Range Aviation arm remains useful at least until the arrival of the promised new-generation PAK DA, although the current timeline for this seems doubtful.
Coupled with high-profile foreign visits and an increasing tempo of long-range “patrol” flights by the Russian Aerospace Forces, it’s perhaps little surprise that the Russian Ministry of Defense is taking this opportunity to display at least some of the payloads of its bombers.
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