Russian Air Force to Hunt for Aircraft Carriers
Long-range airplanes Tu-22M3 of Russian Air Force will be involved in destruction of sea targets. Such airplanes effectively engaged training targets at the recent Northern Fleet's exercise, a source in Russian Navy Main HQ told Izvestiya. Now they will resume performing of their main tasks, i.e. destruction of enemy warships, primarily aircraft carriers.
"Earlier on, those airplanes served within Russian Navy. But in 2011 they were reassigned to Air Force. Now pilots will execute sea-related tasks again", explained the staff officer.
As was told Izvestiya at Air Force Main HQ, all available (about 40) airplanes Tu-22M3 will be meant for antiship missions.
"As a matter of fact, this airplane was designed just as 'flattop killer'. But after the breakup of the Soviet Union, those tasks fell into the shade. Even more, naval aircraft became a kind of a stepchild", said the source.
Recall that Tu-22M was introduced in 1969, in the height of the Cold War, as a platform for supersonic missile Kh-22 designed to counter American aircraft carriers. To find a large-size ship on sea surface, the missile was equipped with radio-contrast homing system. Several years later, the missile was upgraded to engage land targets.
However, antiship function of airplanes was rarely used right up to 2012; latest missile launches at sea targets were held in 1989. Therefore, all Tu-22M3 pilots including those who were reassigned to Air Force are learning to engage warships from scratch.
"Until 2012 pilots of our air group had no even theoretical skills of oversea flights. We used to practice only attacks upon land targets. Now we can orientate and search enemy ships. In April we practiced launches of Kh-22N missiles at sea targets", one of pilots told Izvestiya.
As for him, since early 2012, Tu-22M3 aircraft perform monthly patrols over the Sea of Japan and the Barents Sea.
"In prospect, it is planned that long-range aviation will engage opponent's naval targets with all available assets. Tu-22M3 will hunt for ships, and strategic missile-carrying aircraft Tu-95 and Tu-160 will destroy ports and naval bases", the Russian Navy's spokesman told Izvestiya.
As for him, Tu-22M3 airplanes are capable to detect and attack enemy warships 2,000 km away from home base; Tu-95MS and Tu-160 with new cruise missiles Kh-101 will be able to destroy even the most protected naval bases 10,000 km away from launching site. So far, Russian Navy surface and submarine forces have no such capability except nuclear arms which are not used in conventional conflicts.
According to chief editor of the Takeoff magazine Vladimir Scherbakov, Air Force's long-range aircraft will multiply combat capability of Russian Navy by several times.
"In Soviet Navy, it was submarines and missile-carrying aircraft to destroy enemy ship groups at long distances. Today, submarine fleet has been considerably reduced and cannot perform this kind of tasks. After reassignment of naval missile-carrying aircraft to the Air Force, long-range bombers were the only component capable to accomplish that mission", Scherbakov told Izvestiya.
According to British catalog Military Balance, Russian Air Force currently operates 16 aircraft Tu-160, 32 aircraft Tu-95MS (including mothballed ones), and 115 bombers Tu-22M3 with only 40 operable.