Backfire is the NATO reporting name for the Tupolev Tu-22M (or Tu-26) bomber. Capable of nuclear and conventional ground attack, it uses a swing-wing configuration to achieve both a long cruise range (on the order of 3000-6000km, depending on the specific model) and supersonic dash capability. It can carry up to three cruise missiles of the AS-4 Kitchen (Kh-22) type, or as many as ten shorter-range AS-16 Kickback (Kh-15P) missiles.

The original designation, Tu-22M, alludes to the Backfire's origin as a progressive development of the Tu-22 Blinder bomber. Blinder's lack of variable-sweep wings compromised its efficiency in low-speed cruising, making its range too short to be useful as a strategic platform. However, Backfire is largely a new design; the Tu-22M designation was useful both in domestic budgetary negotiations ("Comrades, it's just an upgrade to the Tu-22 design, it won't cost much!") and in arms limitation talks ("Imperialist dogs, it's just an upgrade to the Tu-22 design, it's not a strategic bomber"). The later upgrades of the Backfire (Tu-22M2 and Tu-22M3) are sometimes referred to as Tu-26, but the origin of that designation is unclear.

Without midair refueling, Backfire was unable to reach much of the continental United States from its bases. As a result of the SALT II talks in the late 1970s, the USSR announced the removal of refuelling probes from the Backfires in order to keep them from being considered strategic weapons platforms. However, it seems that they built and stockpiled modular refueling probes which could be added to the planes in a matter of hours in the event of war.

The F-14 Tomcat node and the Tom Clancy novel Red Storm Rising both allude to the much-prepared-for contest between a US aircraft carrier battle group and a flock of Backfires. It was expected that a Russian reconnaissance plane such as a Bear or Badger would locate the carrier group and call in the Backfires, which would run in at mach 1.5 or so, hoping to reach missile launch range before being intercepted by the Tomcats and their Phoenix missiles. If they launched before the intercept, the Tomcats would have many small targets to deal with (the missiles) instead of a few big targets (the bombers). Any missiles getting past the fighters would be engaged by the surface-to-air missiles and Phalanx gun systems on the ships of the carrier group.

Specifications:
Russian designation: Tu-22M3
NATO designation: Backfire C
Design Bureau: OKB-156 Tupolev
Manufacturer: Plant nr. 22 Kazan
Development began: 1967 (A model)
First flight: 1977
Series production: 1977 on
Deployed: 1981 on
Crew: 4
Power Plant: 2 NK-25 turbojet engines, thrust 25000kg each
Dimensions: 42.46m long by 11.05m high by 34.28m (min sweep) to 23.3m (max sweep)
Cruising speed: 900kph
Maximum speed: 2300kph
Flight ceiling: 14000m
Max takeoff weight: 126400kg
Maximum weapon load: 24000kg
Operational range: 7000km
Armament: Twin GsH-23 23mm gun mount in tail turret, 1-3 AS-4 (Kh-22) missiles, or 6-10 AS-15 (Kh-15) missiles, or up to 24000kg of 250kg-9000kg free fall bombs


Information obtained from multiple sources including the Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network (www.fas.org). As always, publically available information on military hardware tends to be fragmentary and inconsistent; please do not use this information to plan a war.

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