MILAVIA > Aircraft > Tu-22 > History Last updated: 16 May 2014
Tupolev Tu-22 'Blinder'

Tu-22 History

During the 1950s the Tu-16 'Badger' bomber had entered service and served as the backbone of the Soviet Long Range Aviation Regiments. But in the mid 1950s speed was considered a bomber's main defence against fighters. Although the first air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles were being developed at that time, the bomber's primary opponent was the interceptor. The Tu-16 'Badger' was a subsonic bomber and the British and Americans were already running several development programs for supersonic interceptors. So a new supersonic bomber was needed.

The Tupolev OKB-156 design bureau was already working on supersonic aircraft in 1950-1953. So on August 10 1954 official authorisation for a supersonic bomber was given by the government to Tupolev. By the end of 1955 a design was finished called Samolet 105 and selecting of the aircraft components began. In December 1957 the prototype of the Samolet 105 was completed and flight trials began with the first flight on 21 June 1958. A redesigned Samolet 105A prototype was built and would be powered by the new Kuznetsov NK-6 engines. However it was not ready in time, and the VD-7M engines were used instead. The first flight of the 105A took place on 7 September 1959 and was subsequently lost on 21 December 1959 during the seventh test flight.

Before the loss the government authorised production at State Aviation Plant No.22 in Kazan and replaced the Tu-16 production line. The first three series produced Tu-22 bombers were finished in July-August 1960 and used for more flight trials at Zhukhovsky. The first flight of a production Tu-22 was on 22 September 1960. Onwards until 1965 multiple upgrades were carried out to fix problems with flight control systems.

The aircraft was first revealed to the public on Aviation Day 1961 over Moscow. NATO originally codenamed it 'Bullshot', then 'Beauty' and finally 'Blinder'. The air force ordered concurrent production of the Tu-22B bomber variant and a reconnaissance aircraft designated Tu-22R. Initial production batch was planned to be 12 and 30 respectively, but this was trimmed back to seven and five.

The Tu-22B bombers produced proved to be very trouble prone and were used primarily for training. They were accepted into service in September 1962 with the 43rd Combat Training Center (43 TSBP i PLS). After one year they were transferred to the 203rd Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment of the 46th Air Army.

The Tu-22R was also accepted into service in 1962 with the 260th Separate Guards Long Range Reconnaissance Regiment (OGDRAP) of the 46th Air Army and the navy's 15th Long Range Reconnaissance Regiment (DRAP) as part of the Baltic Fleet. In 1965 two additional regiments were raised, the 199th OGDRAP with the 46th Air Army and another navy DRAP attached to the Black Sea Fleet. The Tu-22R replaced the navy's Ilyushin Il-28R aircraft. The navy's Tu-22R fleet was in peak strength during 1969-1970 when it deployed 62 aircraft.

After only 15 Tu-22B bombers were produced the Tu-22B was dropped. By 1960 the primary threat of the bomber would be radar guided SAMs, not interceptor aircraft. The Tu-22 was designed to operate at high altitude, within the range of the SAMs. The design limits and lack of terrain following radar meant that the Tu-22 would not be able to operate at low altitude. As an alternative the Soviet air force decided to use its current bombers as missile carrier to launch stand-off strategic missiles outside the range of enemy SAMs.

The Tu-22K 'Blinder-B' was designed as missile carrier, but the introduction of intermediate range ballistic missiles were threatning further development of the Tu-22. The missiles were designed for the same continental range targets, the Tu-22 had been designed for. However the ballistic missiles proved to be ill-suited for strikes against maritime targets. The Tu-22K would be able to survive the political climate if it could strike the NATO carriers effectively. The K-22 (Kompleks-22) weapon systems was fitted to the Tu-22K missiles carrier and the Kh-22 (AS-4 'Kitchen') could be carried semi submerged in the bomb bay. Problems with the aircraft/missile combination, such as flight control, fuselage stress and fuel leaks occurred because the aircraft was not designed to carry such a large missile. The Kh-22 missile was accepted into service in 1964 before Tu-22K trails were completed.

Although viewed as a failure, Tupolev used its political pressure to avoid the program from being cancelled. During 1965 Tu-22K bombers were issued to bomber regiments, but it was not until 1967 when the testing was completed and the type was accepted into service officially. Three regiments of Tu-22K became operational in 1965, the 121st DBAP (Long Range Aviation Regiment), the 203rd DBAP and the 341st DRAP, all attached to the 15th Heavy Bomber Division of the 46th Air Army. Although it was reported that another regiment was serving with the Tu-22K in the Pacific Area with the 30th Air Army.

The Tu-22 had a bad reputation starting in the early 1960s when the first Tu-22Bs were rolled out. Air crews called the aircraft 'unflyable' and at a certain time crews refused to fly the aircraft. Design flaws in the aircraft made it difficult to fly and operate. The Tu-22K was pushed into service prematurely resulting in a high accident rate. The downward firing K-22 ejection seats could not be used during take off and landing, which were the most difficult and dangerous moments of flight. The high landing speed compared with the Tu-16 made transition onto the aircraft more difficult. The aircraft suffered from a tendency to pitch up. When landed flaws in the shock absorber caused the gear to collapse, when the Kh-22 missile was carried this could lead to fatal explosions. The pilot had difficulty seeing the runway when flying with cross winds. Crew attached strings and hooks to cockpit levers which were out of reach. Visibility from all stations were poor. Ground crews used specially built scaffolds to service the aircraft engines, but these were not always available. The ground crew had to wear specials clothing to protect them from toxic fumes of the Kh-22 missile fuel.

By the 1970s all flaws were worked out and experience with the type lowered the accidents. Nevertheless the Tu-22 was never popular and had the highest accident rates in the Soviet Air Force. 311 Tu-22 variants were produced, of which 70 were lost through 1975. Combat readiness was low resulting in a high loss-per-sortie number.

In the 1970s several air forces in the Middle East were interested in obtaining a more modern bomber than their Tu-16. The latest Tu-22M 'Backfire' design was not available for sale, so the countries wanted the Tu-22 'Blinder'. The first country to request the Tu-22 was Egypt, but the request was turned down. Export orders for Libya and Iraq were approved. Tu-22 production line at Kazan already ceased operation, so Tu-22R were converted to B configuration for conventional bombing similar to the original Tu-22A.

Iraq ordered 12 Tu-22 in 1973, one report says 10 of these would have been Tu-22B 'Blinder-A' aircraft. But in 1981 Iraq took delivery of 4 Tu-22KD/KDP and more than 200 Kh-22 and Kh-22M/MA missiles. The pilots were trained in the Soviet Union during 73-74 and the Tu-22K crews are reported to have been Soviet. The Iraqi Tu-22s were based at Al-Walid and saw action during the 1980-1988 war with Iran. The inventory after the war is reported to have been 5 to 8 aircraft, at least 3 Tu-22Ks have been lost. In January 1991, it was reported that 5 aircraft were still operational. In 2003 is was reported that these have all been destroyed by F-117s during Desert Storm, including one Tu-22U trainer.

Libyan Tu-22 Blinders were delivered from 1977 to 1983. The exact number remains a mystery, some say 12 to 18 while other reports only indicate 7 or 8 aircraft. The Libyan Tu-22s were based at Obka Ben Nafi Air Base near Tripoli. At least four were lost during combat in Chad and elsewhere in the 1980s. One of the Tu-22s was downed by a French NIM-23 Hawk battery, the cockpit section was found with inside all three dead East German crew members. It is thought that 6 to 8 Tu-22s remain in the inventory. These are probably not operational, given the low level of pilot training, shortage of spares and the Tu-22 maintenance problems.

The Tu-22 was used in a limited support role during the Soviet operations in Afghanistan. In October 1988 four Tu-22PDs were deployed to provide electronic warfare support for Tu-22M3 'Backfire-C' bombers operating near the border with Pakistan. The need for EW support arose because of concerns that Pakistani F-16 or SAM would be deployed. The Tu-22PD were replaced by other four Tu-22PD in January 1989. These saw little action and were withdrawn in February.

The Tu-22 never entirely replaced the Tu-16 as its intended. The Tu-16 had better range and could carry two Kh-22 missiles. Main role of the Tu-22 was that of long range reconnaissance platform, which it performed well after all the flaws had been ironed out in the 1970s. During 1991 the number of Tu-22s on strength were half the number produced. Reduced by attrition, exports and replacement. The Soviet Navy began retiring the Tu-22R fleet of the Baltic Fleet during the mid 1980s and disbanded the regiment in 1989. In 1994 also the other navy's reconnaissance regiment had been disbanded. Only six aircraft remained in service in 1991 as part of the Black Sea Regiment.

In 1991 the Soviet Air Force still operated 100 Tu-22K and Tu-22P and 55 Tu-22R outside Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed the bombers mostly remained at their airbases in the Ukraine and Belarus. The Russian Tu-22s have all been scrapped in favour of the Tu-22M 'Backfire' replacement for the bomber and the Su-24MR recon aircraft which entered service in the 1980s. The number of Ukrainian Tu-22 continued to drop during the 1990s. It is reported that they remained in service until lack of spare parts. Most probably that have now all been scrapped.

Production per year:

1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969
1 1 5 20 0 33 36 49 35 40 50 27 16

Production by variant:

Prototype: Samolet 105 and 105A 2
Bomber: Tu-22A 'Blinder-A' 15
Recon: Tu-22R 'Blinder-C' 127
ASM Carrier: Tu-22K 'Blinder-B' 76
Trainer: Tu-22U 'Blinder-D' 46
Electronic: Tu-22P 'Blinder-E' 47
Total produced 313

Confirmed Iraqi Tu-22s air-to-air losses by Iranian fighters:

Date Type Shot down by Weapon used
25 March 1984 Tu-22B F-14A 73TFS/TFB.1 AIM-154A
06 April 1984 Tu-22B F-14A 82TFS/TFB.6 AIM-154A
06 April 1984 Tu-22B F-14A 82TFS/TFB.6 AIM-154A
16 February 1986 Tu-22B ? unconfirmed ? unconfirmed
19 March 1988 Tu-22B F-14A 82TFS/TFB.6 AIM-154A
19 March 1988 Tu-22B F-4E TFB.6 AIM-7E2

Tupolev Bombers (ISBN 1880588625)
Air Combat Information Group

Related Pages
Tu-22M 'Backfire'