Upgraded Tu-22M3M Enters Flight Test

 - January 8, 2019, 9:42 AM
A still from the video released by UAC and the Russian defense ministry depicts the first Tu-22M3M taking off on its first flight at Kazan on December 28. (Photo: Zvezda TV)

On December 28, a development prototype of the Tu-22M3M swing-wing “Eurostrategic” bomber took to the air for the first time from the airfield of the Kazan Aviation Production Association (KAPO). It was the same airframe that was rolled out in a ceremony on August 16. The aircraft stayed aloft for 37 minutes and climbed to a maximum altitude of 1,500 meters (5,000 feet). According to United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), of which KAPO is a member, the flight was uneventful. Headed by Tupolev test pilot Oleg Petunin, the crew performed all planned checks for avionics and onboard systems. After completion of manufacturer’s trials, the development prototype will be subjected to state acceptance trials.

The Tu-22M3M is scheduled to become operational in 2021. KAPO will rebuild a yet-to-be-decided number of in-service Tu-22M3s into this version. They will feature some of the solutions developed for the discontinued Tu-22M4, as well as avionics and mission equipment being developed for the heavier Tu-160M2 strategic bomber. Tu-22M3Ms will also be retrofitted with Kuznetsov NK-32-02 reheated turbofans for higher gross weight and longer range. They may also regain an in-flight refueling system, which was previously removed from the entire operational fleet in accordance with U.S.-Russia nuclear disarmament treaties.

Commenting on the Tu-22M3M, UAC president Yuri Slyusar said that the volume of work done on this modification is comparable to the creation of an all-new aircraft. “In the end, we produced an aviation complex with considerable extended combat potential through longer range and higher lethality. In fact, the Tu-22M3M is almost a new aircraft, as all that it inherited from the previous modification is the airframe. The renewed aircraft features a new set of digital electronic equipment unified with that of the Tu-160M, a new electronic countermeasures system, a new datalink, a new radar, and a new self-protection suite.”

The Tu-22M3M effort involves integration of new and modified air-launched munitions into the bomber’s arsenal, including the Kh-32 anti-ship missile, a further development of the in-service Kh-22, and the all-new Kh-47 Kinzhal hypersonic missile that is undergoing trials on the MiG-31BM. The Tu-22M3M will also receive long-range land-attack cruise missiles being developed for the Tu-160M and Tu-95MS.

Thirty of the current operational Tu-22M3 fleet are going through a structural life extension program. (Photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

Work on the Tu-22M3M commenced in 2016, following the completion of flight tests on the Tu-22M3 mid-life upgrade (MLU). KAPO is halfway through the program to repair and upgrade 30 Tu-22M3s to give them a lifetime extension of 40 years. The MLU aircraft feature improved accuracy with free-fall bombs through the installation of the SVP-24 Gefest computing and aiming system tested previously on the Sukhoi Su-24M2 and also incorporated into the Su-33 carrier fighter. Reportedly, these aircraft led Tu-22M3 formations on carpet-bombing missions against Daesh oil facilities and troops in 2015-2017. Russia employed 14 Tu-22M3s on 47 missions into Syria from bases in Russia and Iran. They performed 396 combat sorties and destroyed 215 ground targets.

On the day after the Tu-22M3M’s first flight Tupolev flew its Tu-214LMK flying testbed (RA-64507) for the first time, also at Kazan. This is a modified airliner outfitted as a flying testbed with the systems of the Tu-160M2 upgraded “Blackjack,” including the radar in a representative radome grafted on to the nose. The aircraft will serve as a development tool not only for the Tu-160 but also for the PAK DA next-generation strategic bomber. On the 28th Tupolev also flew a new Tu-214PU airborne command post (RA-64531) for the first time, having handed over the first and second such machines to the Russian defense ministry in March and June last year.