The Tu-22M3 is one of my favourite planes and I think it has enormous potential and flexibility.
the room for growth is huge as is the space inside her, if only they
would be refitted with inflight refueling probes and removed from the
strategic nuclear role which i feel is very limited. they would serve
multirole missions, deep strike, sead, anti surface.
The huge irony is that its primary role within the Russian long range aviation is not strategic and never has been, it was a theatre strike aircraft with targets most likely being major radar centres and HQ and Comms and its primary weapon in the 1980s was the kh-15 Kickback with a nuclear warhead. It is described as being able to carry 10 missiles and as it can carry 6 Kh-15s internally I assume that means it can also carry 4 more externally.
The most common weapon load it is seen with is one or two large Kh-22M missiles which are available in a range of versions including anti radiation (Mach 3 and about 300km range), anti ship/anti significantly large land target with a radar in its nose, and a nuclear armed weapon with intertial navigation to get it "near" the target an an 800KT nuclear warhead.
It could also carry a range of dumb bombs.
This was very limiting.
The growth potential is enormous but then again the question is should effort be used to upgrade this aircraft, or develop newer aircraft?
Personally I think it has a lot of potential and while the Su-34 can certainly fill many of the shorter ranged missions and for the longer ranged missions the Blackjack and Bear are also being upgraded too I do believe the large size, the crew size, and the payload range performance of the Tu-22M3 makes it worth looking at.
-a huge AESA radar in the nose and possibly rear and sides with a large payload of long range AAMs like R-37Ms where its flight range and large fuel reserve should result in long operational radius and low interception times and two pilots plus potentially a radar/IRST operator (ideally with a damocles pod too) and someone to manage counter jamming and ESM.
-a ground scanning radar for ground targets, and the equivelent of 2 or three Damocles like pods on the front central belly area with two pilots able to work in shifts for long missions plus the two other crew looking for ground targets in real time close to friendly forces, and of course using GLONASS guided bombs of very small size like FAB-50s with satellite guidance to minimise the risk of collateral damage in a guerilla conflict... note for this new external racks for small bombs and attachment points for targeting pods and a couple of MFDs in the rear two positions would be all that is needed for an aircraft that can operate 6-8 hours over the combat zone looking for targets and supporting ground forces above the range of groundfire.
-Or a multipurpose upgrade... change the engines so they are the same as fitted to the Tu-160 to reduce costs and make Blackjack operations cheaper too. Upgrade the electronics so that it can use modern guided weapons and update its radar to match the Bear and Blackjack upgrades. Add capabilities like the ability to carry the father of all bombs that the Blackjack can carry. Add a bombing computer like the one fitted one Su-24 to allow bombing in free flight.
Brahmos is a large missile and Brahmos II wont be any smaller. I would expect that the 4 external hardpoints on the Backfire should be able to carry one Brahmos or Brahmos II each which with the potential for 6 Kh-15 equivelent weapons carried internally would make it a very potent anti shipping or anti land target system.
I would even keep the tail gun with its ability to fire Chaff dipoles and flares in bursts high enough to form IR or radar reflecting clouds rapidly away from the actual aircraft...
A more fundamental upgrade might consider dropping the max speed requirement and reducing to one engine and larger fixed wings able to carry external weapons and internal fuel and of course towed decoys.
Another option I missed out is the large size and raw power of the aircraft could be used to make a super growler covered in ARMs and jamming pods and towed decoys able to keep up with strike packages. Give it a large AESA that can be used for jamming and some long range anti radiation missiles for SAM threats and some long range AAMs for anti AWACs use and perhaps a large belly pod with 10 disposable towed jammers and fuel in the front... again the 4 man crew is an asset too.
I remember reading a while back that they tested a jammer version of the Backfire but it lost to a jammer version of the Il-76 because the latter had a much more powerful jammer. I wonder if it would have had more power with the Blackjacks engines instead of its own? I also wonder if a dedicated jammer Backfire could have an extra third engine whose only purpose is to generate power for the jammer so it would have no conventional payload capacity but a belly mounted extra jet engine and the weapon bay could be sealed and filled with fuel and an extra 18 tons of fuel carried in lieu of payload. (The max payload of 24 tons is at the expense of some internal fuel so adding say a 2 ton engine and not offloading any fuel to allow for more payload should allow for an 18 ton payload... which in this case we will use for extra fuel and an inflight refuelling probe because it is not a strategic bomber... it is a jammer... that should be able to keep up with pretty much any strike package.
The extra engine mounted in the belly like the semi conformal position of the Kh-22M will generate electricity for the jammer but it will also generate thrust which will improve performance and if chosen carefully could be used in cruise flight with the main engines shut down even.
BTW this backfire stuff is a bit off topic
so perhaps we should move it to perhaps here: