Russia's Tu-22M3M Strategic Bomber Is Getting a New Weapon: Hypersonic Missiles
How should NATO respond? Can they?
The Russian Air Force has recently conducted testing of a new hypersonic aircraft missile for a modified version of the Tu-22M3M aircraft. According to Russian state media, the work on the new missile began several years ago and its testing was completed simultaneously with the work on the upgraded bomber.
"Recently, a new hypersonic missile was tested on the Tu-22M3," a source in Russia's military-industrial complex told TASS. "The missile will be part of the armament range of the upgraded Tu-22M3M along with a number of other latest aviation weapons."
The source added that the missile is not part of the line of X-32 missiles, but did not provide the characteristics of it, except to confirm that it is "completely different."
The X-32 (Kh-32) is a supersonic air-launched cruise missile that has a range of 600 to 1000km, and it has been the primary missile on the Tu-22M3M bombers since 2016. The Tu-22M3M supersonic bomber is the latest upgrade of the Tu-22M3 with expanded combat potential. The upgrade provided new electronic equipment including navigation, communication, sights, engine controls, fuel mechanisms and electronic warfare. These upgrades increased the navigation precision, simplified maintenance and preflight preparation.
According to past reporting in The National Interest, the Tu-22M3M boasts 80 percent new avionics over the original Tu-22M. An important part of the upgrade package was the inclusion of up to three of the Kh-32 missiles, which are classified as anti-ship missiles, but were also developed to be effective against critical infrastructure targets including bridges and power plants. That missile allowed the Tu-22M3M to occupy a unique position between strategic and operational-tactical roles.
Hypersonic missiles have been seen as a potential game changer, with some in the U.S. military warning that there is really no defense against the missiles due to their speed.
Given that fact and the potential the missiles could possess weapons as offensive, it is easy to see why Russia has moved forward with multiple platforms. The Russian defense industry has developed two types of aircraft hypersonic missiles TASS reported. This includes the Kinzhal, the latest Russian airborne system that consists of a MiG-31K aircraft as a delivery vehicle and hypersonic missile. The Kinzhal is the airborne version of the Iskander tactical missile system.
The hypersonic Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile was also designed to be compatible with the Tu-22M3. It is one of several flagship weapons unveiled by Russian President Vladimar Putin during this state-of-nation address at the beginning of 2018. Putin and subsequent Russian commentary has stressed the missile's speed and capacity to maneuver in mid-flight, which render it non-interceptable by any existing missile defense system. It has an alleged range of 2,000 to 3,000km, which makes it a threat to critical land infrastructure and large surface targets such as aircraft carrier strike groups.
Another hypersonic missile that is currently in the Russian arsenal was created for the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter, but the missile name and characteristics are unknown.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.