Acquisition of Tupolev-22M Backfire Aircraft? 

An IDC Analysis 

(With inputs from Sayan Majumdar)


New Delhi, 18 June 2003  

We had recently highlighted India's Nuclear Status and the need to have a credible Second Strike capability and the option to have a first strike force for Pre Emptive Defence appears to be taking shape. We now add a view on the TU 22 M aircraft that the Indian Navy is due to acquire (as reported in media) and as CNS is due to visit Russia shortly to commission the over due INS Talwar. The acquisition TU 22 may be discussed and analysis of this very crucial acquisition is a must.

The projected acquisition of Tupolev-22M3 (Backfire C) for the Indian Navy raises some questions of its intended role since the 'M3' version is designed for strategic bombing/maritime strike. In Indian Navy service its main weapon is projected to be the supersonic PJ-10 BrahMos ASCM (Anti-Ship Cruise Missile) and possibly a capability to carry Nuclear bombs, that DRDO and BARC say are available. If primary high speed reconnaissance role is also the peace time role intended, Tupolev-22MR would have been the better choice since the 'MR' version carries a giant SLAR (Side Looking Airborne Radar) in what was previously the internal bomb bay. This subject is interesting as TU can serve both recce and deterrence at low cost. The IAF is getting the Phalcon and we had recommended joint use and TU 22M can be a great force multiplier.

The Tupolev-22MR can conduct aerial reconnaissance from a great slant distance without having to over-fly its intended 'targets', thanks to the SLAR. However, prudence dictates that the Indian Navy should settle for at least two "compact" squadrons (6 each) of the Tupolev-22M3/MR in appropriate mix. Since START 2 (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) had debarred the 'Backfire' from carrying nuclear weapons, there may not be any shortage of 'surplus' in Russia. The Russian Dalna Aviatsiya (Strategic aviation) is more obsessed with upgradation of its Tupolev-160 'Blackjack' and Tupolev-95MS6/MS16 'Bear' fleets and testing and induction of Kh-101 and Kh-65 ALCMs (Air Launched Cruise Missiles).

As a standard Indian practice, European/Israeli radar, avionics and detection systems may well be integrated with the Indian Navy’s Tupolev-22M3s. The Russians are also projecting an upgraded Tupolev-22M5 version, and the Indian Navy may be interested. Of equal importance is the induction of an "extended range" BrahMos ASCM to further increase the stand-off distance and range. Finally the IAF must cooperate and not be upset that it is the Navy that has accepted the TU 22 M, which the IAF refused as old and ancient. They saw it in Iraq in the 70s when they trained the Iraqis.

The decision for the Gorshkov, nuclear submarines and TU 22 M is taking so long that our analysis is unable to keep up with the emerging events and we hope it does not take decades like the AJT. God Bless MOD!

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