TechAttempted theft of Russian strategic bomber: FSB's unclear narrative

Attempted theft of Russian strategic bomber: FSB's unclear narrative

Tupolev Tu-22M3.
Tupolev Tu-22M3.
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons | Shmatko Andrei
Przemysław Juraszek

8 July 2024 10:42

The Russian FSB has claimed to have thwarted an attempt to steal a Tu-22M3 strategic bomber by a pilot who was allegedly supposed to fly the aircraft to Ukraine. We present the case's background and details of this aircraft's performance.

Many pieces of information provided by Russian media or government representatives are elements of propaganda. Such reports are part of the information warfare conducted by Russia.

The Russian FSB reported in the Russian media that they prevented the theft of a Tu-22M3 bomber by a pilot who, according to the Russians, intended to land the captured aircraft near Zhytomyr in exchange for £1,5 million and a promise of Italian citizenship.

The Russians claim that the pilot himself informed the FSB about the recruitment attempt by opposing intelligence. Whether this was a genuine attempt or an operation planned and executed by the FSB for propaganda or deterrence purposes against other pilots considering such defections remains unclear.

It is widely known that both Ukrainian and Russian intelligence actively operate in enemy territory, using various means (bribery, emotional manipulation, promises of a better life, or blackmail) to encourage defections, particularly among individuals in high positions who have access to crucial equipment or knowledge.

In the case of the Russians, some of the most crucial individuals are aircraft pilots capable of deploying FAB glide bombs with UMPK modules or launching, for example, the supersonic Kh-22 Raduga or Kh-47M2 Kinzhal cruise missiles.

Tu-22M3 strategic bombers - a crucial weapon in the Kremlin's arsenal

Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers are modernized versions of older Tu-22M models, capable of carrying up to 24,000 kilograms of armament. The payload includes, among others, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missiles, 18 guided FAB-500 bombs, or eight FAB-1500 bombs, each weighing approximately 1,500 kilograms, enabling the attack of multiple targets in a single raid.

Thanks to their enormous payload capacity and a high cruising speed of almost Mach 1.9 (approximately 2,300 km/h) at a high altitude of roughly 13 kilometers, Tu-22M3 bombers can attack targets in Ukraine from beyond the range of most anti-aircraft systems. The exceptions are only medium-range solutions like the Patriot and SAMP/T, of which Ukraine has too few. However, it is worth noting that the Ukrainians managed to shoot down one Tu-22M3 using the old S-200 Vega system, but so far, this has been an isolated case.

Another advantage of the Tu-22M3 bombers for Russia is their operational range of about 7,000 kilometers, allowing attacks from deep within Russia. This makes destroying them on the ground more complicated than using drones with Su-34 tactical bombers, which must be kept closer to the conflict region.

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