There is renewed speculation on unofficial Chinese websites that the country has closed a deal with Russia for licensed production of the Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range supersonic bomber. But there has been no confirmation from Moscow or Beijing, and a senior military researcher in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has discounted the speculation.
The latest reports suggest that 36 of the Cold War-vintage design could be produced for the Chinese naval air arm, where they would be designated “H-10” and used in the maritime strike role. They could be equipped with long-range air-to-surface missiles, either bought from Russia or made domestically. They would replace the fleet of H-6 bombers, which are Chinese-built versions of an even older Tupolev design, the Tu-16.
Chinese media and online discussion forums are jubilant about the supposed development. With a range of 6,800 km, the Tu-22M3 is capable of reaching the second island chain in the Pacific from the Chinese mainland. Beijing has overtly claimed sovereignty over the western Pacific, in a direct challenge to U.S. strategic policy. It has deployed ballistic missiles in coastal provinces that are said to be capable of striking U.S. carrier battle groups, although questions of target location and accuracy remain. The H-10 could alleviate the locating problem, although it is a large target itself, unless operated at very low level. Chinese media expressed high hopes for the supersonic Tu-22M3, known as the “carrier killer” during the Cold War, to become China’s effective maritime area denial weapon.
The Chinese military does not seem to be so elated, however. Senior Colonel Du Wenlong, a researcher at the PLA’s Academy of Military Science, said in a recent interview with Hubei TV that the Tu-22 is an old design, which, as a strategic bomber, does not enjoy any advantage over its U.S. equivalents such as the B-1 and B-2.“I personally think that chances for the Tu-22M3 to join the Chinese air force as a strategic strike bomber are not high,” Du said. “The carrier-borne E-2 early-warning aircraft of the U.S. has a detection range of more than 400 kilometers against modern fighter planes whose radar cross section is much smaller than that of the Tu-22M3,” he added.