A video that surfaced earlier this month showing the fatal crash of a Russian Air Force Tu-22M3 “Backfire” bomber on or about Jan. 22 at a remote airfield in the Murmansk region appears to indicate the extreme risks Moscow is willing to take in order to prepare for war with the United States.
The Washington Free Beacon noted that the aircraft was on a training missing carrying an inert training round mock-up of the Raduga Kh-22 (NATO Codename AS-4 “Kitchen”), a long-range weapon designed to attack enemy surface warships launched by planes from the same region of Russia, in the North Atlantic.
In particular, the design of the Kh-22 and similar air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by Tu-22M3 Backfires are specialized to destroy American aircraft carriers.
Analysts note that the crash this month of the Russian bomber, which carried the unit designation of “35 Red” and tail number RF-94159, occurred in horrible weather: Conditions were snowy and extremely foggy, indicating that the aircraft very likely should have been redirected to a different airfield. All but one of the four-person crew died in the crash:
As you can see around the 1:10 mark, the bomber is coming in for an approach very fast. As the runway nears, it becomes obvious that the pilot was not aware it was so close until it is too late. He lands the plane at a sink rate that is too high and it breaks apart into two pieces, bursting into flames.
But the fact that Russian Air Force officials were so willing to risk a valuable strike aircraft and crew shows the willingness of the Kremlin to push its forces in training for the next major conflict, which would likely involve launching strikes in such incliment weather.
Delivering carrier-killing Kh-22 missiles was always a primary mission of this aircraft. Because the plane could launch its payload from great distances is why the Pentagon developed and fielded the F-14 Tomcat, at the time the only American fighter capable of carrying an air-to-air missile with enough range to intercept Tu-22Ms before they could launch.
“What unnerves NATO military officials is that these kinds of training missions being conducted in such poor weather and other actions by the Russian air forces show Moscow is clearly still preparing for war against the U.S. Navy in a major military confrontation,” the Free Beacon noted.
The training mission and crash also come at a time when Russian fighters are increasingly harassing U.S. warships and aircraft flying in international waters.
But why? One Russian specialist who has reported on such incidents for years told the news site: “The Russian military does not realize that Barack Obama is no longer your president. They do not understand they are continuing to operate as before and that it is a far dangerous game to be playing with a more resolute person as the U.S. commander-in-chief.”
There have been four crashes of Tu-22M3 Backfires in the past four years, and while the Kremlin has upgraded some of them with new avionics and radar, the end of their useful service life is rapidly approaching.
What’s more, there isn’t a design in the works in Russia to replace the Backfires, which is giving the Russian Air Force a “use it or lose it” attitude about the planes and how they are operated.
“The Soviet military and political leadership of the Cold War was terrified of war—they had enough near-term memories of what WWII was like and would go to some lengths to avoid it,” said a former Pentagon official who spoke to the Free Beacon. “The people in charge in the Kremlin appear to have very little—if any—of this type of self-restraint.”