July 23, 2015
By Igor Korotchenko
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Russian VVS will deploy a squadron of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers, reports the Russian media citing MOD sources. This information has not been officially confirmed, though experts noted the possibility of this move even earlier.
The information concerning the bombers was given to Interfax by an unnamed Russian MOD source. Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote about the intent to transfer Tu-22M3s to Crimea on Thursday and it also could not name its source of information. The Russian MOD has not reacted to these unofficial press statements.
Both editions mention Russian MOD’s intent to increase the number of bombers there to a full regiment. The main reason for basing long-range aviation aircraft in Crimea is described as a response to US plans to base its ABM system in Romania. Moreover, Tu-22M3 will be tasked with operating over the Black Sea. One of the main missions of these missile-armed bombers is destroying large surface ships, including aircraft carriers.
At the same time, according to military expert Viktor Murakhovskiy, placing the bombers in Crimea would expose them to destruction in early stages of conflict and would not greatly increase the combat potential of the Crimean group of forces.
Russia, which is opposed to another ABM site in Poland, has not so far deployed Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region in spite of threatening to do so.
.The Unsinkable Aircraft CarrierTu-22M3 bombers used to be based in Crimea in the late 1980s at the Veseloye airbase (5th Guards Naval Aviation Regiment) and the currently abandoned Oktyabrskoye airbase (943rd Naval Aviation Regiment). Several Tu-22M3 bombers were transferred to Crimea in March as part of an emergency readiness drill. There have been rumors since the Spring of 2014 that these bombers might be permanently based there.
“We will have a necessary and sufficient number of naval missile carriers here. We always had a need for them along the Southern direction, but now we have the conditions needed to return them to Crimea which used to be called an unsinkable aircraft carrier,” is how Interfax cited the unnamed MOD source.
If the MOD has made such a decision, it’s a logical one. Placing the bombers in Crimea would deflect the EuroABM threat from Romania and will help keep in check the Black Sea and the entire theater of operations. The bombers will be modernized to carry the new Kh-32 cruise missile which will greatly improve its combat effectiveness. The Black Sea is already covered by the Bastion anti-ship missile batteries. We can destroy any target on the Black Sea. But the Tu-22M3 is a force projection tool useful when international tensions are on the increase.
In the killing zone
However, Viktor Murakhovskiy doubts placing the bombers in Crimea is advisable. First of all, the airbases would require thorough reconstruction. Starting with the runways and all associated equipment. Secondly, Tu-22M3 based in Crimea would be within range of weapons launched from ships located in the Black Sea. Finally, according to Murakhovskiy, the gains such a deployment offers are small. Aircraft with such long ranges can be based on the “mainland”. During the 1980s Afghanistan War these aircraft operated from bases in central Russia. In some cases they were temporarily based at Central Asian Military District airbases from which they launched sorties before returning to their permanent bases. Murakhovskiy also believes that the MOD has not made the final decision yet.
The EuroABM base in Romania will be placed on the former Romanian airbase in Deveselu which was built by USSR. It will be equipped by the land-based version of a modified Aegis ballistic missile tracking system which equips US ships since 2004. It will include the SPY-1 radar and 24 Standard 2 Block IB interceptor missiles. The ABM system is a key component of the US plan to gradually deploy an ABM umbrella in Europe. Another such base should become operational in Poland in 2018. Russia has traditionally opposed these activities.
Russia announced the possibility of deploying Iskander ballistic/cruise missile units in the Kaliningrad Region in response to the Polish base. Poland is taking that possibility seriously. Iskander-M systems have been temporarily deployed to Kaliningrad. But they are not based there permanently.
J.Hawk’s Comment: I’ll side with Murakhovskiy on that one. It’s good to have Crimea as a forward operating base for these bombers, but not as a permanent base for reasons he outlines. Smaller fighter aircraft can operate from highways and even field strips, but the Tu-22M3 cannot which makes it more easy to pinpoint and target on the ground.
However, this story and the recent announcement of the refusal to establish permanent NATO bases in Poland collectively illustrate the state of the US-Russia relationship at the moment. Each side is warily observing the other. Neither side wants to provoke the other. And each side responds to the other side’s initiatives by making moves which can be easily reversed if need be. Which in practical terms means neither side wants to move their permanent military infrastructure closer to the NATO-Russia border.
And that’s a good thing. It shows that the US policy at the moment is one of retrenchment and pursuit of some kind of a status quo, a modus vivendi with Russia in the region in general and Ukraine in particular. Why has that modus vivendi not been reached yet? Because everyone knows that Ukraine will implode in a none-too-distant future, and nobody knows how that vacuum of power will be filled. Neither side wants the other to fill it, hence the posturing.