The Tupolev Tu-22M (Russian: Туполев Ту-22М; NATO codename: “Backfire”) is a four seat, supersonic bomber developed by Tupolev. After its identification by the NATO it was called Tu-26 first. Its real name was unveiled during the “Strategic Arms Limitation Talks” (SALT).
The Tu-22M resulted of the Tupolev Tu-22, because it was noticed that the Tu-22 would not be able to do everything the Russian Air Force would like it to do. Only sometimes it was able to reach supersonic speeds (that’s what it was designed for), and the range and the payload were lower than on its predecessor the Tupolev Tu-16 and the Tu-22 was also more expensive than it. The Tupolev OKB and the Soviet Air Force decided to built the Model 145, which was later developed into the Tu-22M, and the “M” is an abbreviation for “modernized”. At the end, a completely new aircraft left the factory halls, which had no similarities to the Tu-22. The Tu-22M was equipped with variable sweep-wings to improve range and payload and to get advantages during take-off or landing.
The real differences to the Tu-22 were the now available variable sweep-wings and the engines, which are placed side by side on the fuselage.
The first rollout of the prototype called Tu-22KM was in April 1969; and the first flight was in September 1971. Eight additional prototypes were built. With twelve Tu-22M1 Backfire-A aircraft, a successful flight testing was completed.
The definitive aircraft, the Tu-22M1 Backfire-B was powered by two NK-22 engines and was designed to carry up to three Ch-22 or Ch-26 long-range anti-ship missiles. This version was the most built variant of the Backfire-fleet. Some of the aircraft were later equipped with NK-25 engines. Those aircraft were called Tu-22ME. Some additional aircraft were modified into the reconnaissance variant Tu-22MR. A variant designed for Electronic Warfare, called Tu-22MP, was also built.
The second main variant, called Tu-22M3 Backfire-C had its first flight in 1976 and entered service in 1983. Those bombers had modified intakes and were powered by NK-25 or NK-32 engines. It had upgraded avionics for precision air to surface bombing and the ability to fly at an altitude of 100 m over the ground at subsonic speeds. It can be equipped with up to six Ch-15 AGM missiles, which are placed in the modified weapon bay. The reconnaissance variant of the Tu-22M3 is called Tu-22 M3 R. The Tu-22M2 fleet is composed of new built aircraft and upgraded Tu-22M2.