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Tu-22M

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A product of the Russian Tupelov design bureau, the Tu-22M (NATO designation: BACKFIRE) should, first, be distinguished from the Tu-22 (NATO designation: BLINDER). There are various explanations for the similarity of names. One theory is that it was to conceal the performance of the newer aircraft during arms control negotiation, but it seems unlikely that a mere name change would hide the differences from U.S. intelligence collection systems.

The difference may be a simple matter of internal then-Soviet politics and budget. While the same design bureau did, indeed, produce both aircraft, there are truly major design differences. Some reports indicate it was to have been designated the Tu-26, but, much like the U.S. called the F-18 Super Hornet an upgrade of the F-18 Hornet, the F-18E/F Super Hornet is really a different aircraft than the F-18A/B/C/D. They have some common characteristics.

In any event, there are some useful parallels between the BACKFIRE and the U.S. B-1 Lancer. Both are supersonic, reduced observability but not stealth aircraft. The U.S. and Russia have agreed neither will be armed with nuclear weapons, and the Russians have further limited the Tu-22M by not giving it air refueling capability. While many U.S. intelligence analysts were initially of the opinion this aircraft was never intended to be able to attack the U.S., continued observation suggests this was indeed the case. Many of the BACKFIREs were assigned to Soviet Naval Aviation, where their high performance would be useful in attacking U.S. carrier battle groups close to Russia.

They were used in the Afghanistan War, and several have been leased to India.