Russia’s Tu-22 M3 Bomber Comes ‘Crashing Down’ After Bombing Run; Ukraine Quickly Claims Shootdown

After a spate of deadly air strikes carried out by Russia in the past few days, the Ukrainian forces might have exacted their revenge by taking down a vaunted Tu-22M3 bomber used to launch long-range missiles on Ukraine.

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The Ukrainian government claimed on April 19 that it had shot down a Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire bomber belonging to the Russian air force.

If confirmed, it would be the first loss of the Soviet-era bomber in the air. The crash took place in the morning, right after an attack on Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.

Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk said, “For the first time, the anti-aircraft missile units of the (Ukrainian) Air Force, in cooperation with Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, destroyed a Tu-22M3 long-range strategic bomber – the carrier of Kh-22 cruise missiles, which the Russian terrorists use to attack peaceful Ukrainian cities.”

The Russian plane crashed in the Krasnogvardeysky District of Stavropol Krai, according to Governor Vladimir Vladimirov. One pilot died in the crash, while two managed to eject. At the time of writing this report, two crew members were missing. 

The video of the crash was subsequently published on social media. The Russian bomber could be seen on fire and in a flat spin as it came down.

Later, another video was released by the Ukrainians where the troops could be seen coordinating a mission to shoot the bomber in the air. The bomber was reportedly returning to base after carrying out a strike.

Denying that the aircraft was shot down by Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the aircraft crashed as a result of a “technical malfunction” while returning to its main airport following a combat mission.

However, it did not provide any evidence supporting its claims, much like the Ukrainian Intelligence Agency (GUR), which is allegedly behind the shootout. Several Ukrainian cities have been targeted by Russian air force Tu-22M missiles, resulting in numerous injuries and fatalities. 

As per some preliminary reports, the Ukrainian intelligence agency shot down a rare Russian Air Force Beriev A-50 radar plane on February 23 using the same missile that it used to attack the bomber. This means the missiles used were either a Patriot or an S-200, which has recently shot to fame with some high-value interceptions.

The Tu-22M3 is a supersonic long-range strategic bomber developed during the Cold War by the Soviet Union to threaten giant US aircraft carriers and warships. Now, these bombers, armed with heavy anti-ship missiles, are regularly used by Russian forces to carry out devastating strikes in Ukraine, including a heavy bombardment of Mariupol in 2022 using unguided bombs.

The Tu-22M3 entered service in 1989 in its final configuration. The Tu-22M3 can carry a variety of weaponry, such as cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and bombs, and has a range of nearly 6,800 kilometers (4,200 miles). It can have speeds of up to Mach 1.88 (2,200 km/h or 1,370 mph) at high altitudes and has a ceiling of 13,000 meters (42,650 feet).

The shootdown of this bomber is significant as it is the first bomber that Ukrainian air defenses have struck down after at least two dozen Su-34 fighter bombers were reportedly obliterated in over two weeks between February and March this year.

Tu-22M3 Have Been A Target For A While 

The military and security services of Ukraine have set their sights on the bombers because of the danger that the Tu-22M bombers present to its power infrastructure as well as its civilians.

In April 2022, Russian Tu-22M bombers crossed into Ukrainian airspace and released unguided bombs on Ukrainian forces in the besieged port city, marking the first time Moscow used long-range bombers in the conflict. Before the Mariupol raid, the Tu-22Ms assaulted Ukraine while staying inside the Russian airspace, using long-range cruise missiles.

The Mariupol carpet bombing marked the first instance when the Russian bombers crossed over to the Ukrainian airspace. It is almost ironic that in the latest instance, the Tu-22M3 was shot down inside Russia while it was at least 300-400 kilometers away from the Ukraine frontline.

File Image: Tu-223M

The Ukrainian forces have been on the lookout to annihilate these bombers for a long time. In October 2022, a Ukrainian drone reportedly traveled across the border and targeted the Shaykovka airbase, home to Russian Tu-22 strategic bombers from the 52nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment.

The facility was located 170 miles southwest of Moscow and 140 miles north of the border with Ukraine. As per reports from the time, two Tu-22 bombers were allegedly damaged in the attack.

Later, in August 2023, a drone attack targeted the Russian Tu-22M3 Backfire swing-wing bomber based at Soltsy-2.  The Russian MoD announced that a drone struck one unidentified aircraft without directly naming the Tu-22M3 bomber. “At around 10:00 Moscow time today, the Kyiv regime carried out a terrorist attack using a copter type UAV against a military airfield in Novgorod region,” it noted on Telegram.

Alarmed by the damage to a bomber that has been raining down missiles on Ukrainian cities and has proved instrumental to the RuAF, the service reportedly moved them to Olenya Air Base south of Murmansk. Some six Tu-22M3 aircraft also departed from Soltsy-2 for Olenya to the north of the Arctic Circle, where Ukrainian UAVs and missiles could not reach. 

Not just that, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency (HUR) revealed in January this year that a Ukrainian reconnaissance unit, under the command of the late Colonel Oleh Babii, played a critical role in the destruction/incapacitation of three Russian Tu-22M3 bombers in August 2023. EurAsian Times published a detailed report that can be read here. 

In recent times, Russia has once again launched a coordinated attack on Ukraine’s power infrastructure. Even though Ukraine’s air defenses are dealing with a desperately low supply of sophisticated missiles, the shoot-down highlights the country’s capability to target the largest and most powerful Russian aircraft.