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Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced intentions to send strategic nuclear-capable bombers to patrol sea lanes above the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands, Guam, and Japan.  The aircraft will include several TU-95MS (NATO Bear) and TU-22M3 (NATO Backfire) bombers.  Each of these bombers is capable of launching several types of cruise missiles, and it is unclear which variant would routinely participate in these sorties.

This is a clear power projection move by Putin’s Russian military complex. Hawaii is a State and home to the major naval base in the Pacific. Guam is a crucial strategic military base in the region for the US Navy and for America’s own power projection out of Anderson Air Force Base. While these patrols may be tactically benign, they will be very expensive for the Navy and Air Force, who will probably launch interception, identification and escort sorties for each Russian flyby.  Japan’s JSDF will have the same costly commitment, launching combat aircraft to assess and monitor these Russian flights.  In the end these initial patrols may be little more than bluster, soon muted by the fact Russia can hardly pay for continuous regular patrols of this region.  One wonders aloud… should American or Japanese military planners really care? Maybe a better tactic is to monitor these Russian jets electronically but not send up jets unless and until they stray into a threatening posture. Let them pay for it, not us.

Bear is a large, slow turboprop design from 1956, but has been continuously modified with new avionics and electronic systems. Its current variations can carry a variety of cruise missiles on wing pylons and rotary launchers within its internal bomb bay.  Depending upon which variant is fielded, they can carry Kh-55, Kh-55SM or Kh-101/102 stealth cruise missiles. The Kh-55 has a range of 2500 km, the Kh55SM has a range of 3000 km. Both are subsonic but can be armed with nuclear warheads.  The Kh-101 and Kh-102 have a range of 5500 km and have stealth characteristics. Both are also subsonic missiles, but the Kh-102 is the nuclear armed version.

The TU-22M3 is NATO Backfire-C was introduced in 1983 as a moving swept-wing bomber and flies at Mach 2.05 with a range of 6800 km.  It carries a rotary bomb bay launcher for the Reduga Kh-15 cruise missile. The Reduga has a published range of 300 km and a nuclear yield of 300 kilotons. More recently the missile has been produced with conventional warheads.

These aircraft are assigned to a newly created  Long-Range Heavy Bomber Division flying out of the Irkustk and Amur Regions.


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