Striking photographs of the Soviet Bomber Fleet

John Buchan
Photo by Rob Schleiffert CC-BY-SA 2.0

The Soviet Union has, like all military superpowers, made full use of their air power to ensure the safety of the nation. In a manner similar to that of the US or any European power, their air force has been used for strategic, photographic, rescue, and military action. This is a short photo essay of some of the more well-known members of the Soviet Bomber fleet.

The Soviet long-range bomber aircraft evolved from reverse-engineering the B-29 strategic bomber flown by the United States Air Force. The Soviet Union did not rely purely on these copies, however, and soon many unique designs found their way into the air fleet. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviets maintained a powerful fleet of strategic bombers carrying nuclear arms and powered by turboprop engines. Supporting this formidable fleet of bombers were swift and versatile fighters,

The Tu-4, a Soviet clone of the B-29 Superfortress. Image by AviaWiki CC BY-SA 4.0
The Tu-4, a Soviet clone of the B-29 Superfortress. Image by AviaWiki CC BY-SA 4.0

The Badger, Blinder, and Bear bomber aircraft from the Tupolev Design Bureau formed a significant spine for the USSR’s Strategic Bomber Force. This Strategic Bomber Force was supported by relatively few air-to-air refuelling aircraft and did not undertake substantial patrols. The Soviets, instead, relied upon maintaining strategic staging bases in the Arctic to allow for refuelling and to fly their bombers into action, if required.

In the years between 1950 to 1980, the bomber best known in the USSR was the Tu-16 Badger, the Tu-22M Backfire, the Tu-22 Blinder, the Tu-160 Blackjack, and the Tu-95 Bear.

Tupolev Tu-16 Badger

The jet-powered Tu-16 Badger was a high-speed bomber that was built to replace the old propeller-driven Tu-4 bombers. It was explicitly designed to undertake rapid strike missions in areas close to the Soviet Union.

The area that received the most focus during the development of this aircraft was its speed. This was required to ensure that it survived against the ever-increasing pace of the fighters it may face in combat. Without this additional speed, it would be unlikely that it would survive in a one-on-one fight.

 

A Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 Badger aircraft being escorted by a U.S. Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet aircraft from Marine fighter-bomber squadron VFMA-323 Death Rattlers in 1985.
A Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 Badger aircraft being escorted by a U.S. Marine Corps McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet aircraft from Marine fighter-bomber squadron VFMA-323 Death Rattlers in 1985.

 

Rear side view of a Tu-16 Badger reconnaissance variant (most likely Tu-16R), 1989.
Rear side view of a Tu-16 Badger reconnaissance variant (most likely Tu-16R), 1989.

 

Soviet maritime reconnaissance variant of the Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger), most likely a Tu-16R (Badger E)
Soviet maritime reconnaissance variant of the Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger), most likely a Tu-16R (Badger E)

 

Tu-16 Badger G with KSR-5 missile
Tu-16 Badger G with KSR-5 missile

 

A Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 (NATO reporting code “Badger”) in flight in 1984 above a Nikolaev class cruiser (NATO reporting code “Kara”).
A Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 (NATO reporting code “Badger”) in flight in 1984 above a Nikolaev class cruiser (NATO reporting code “Kara”).

Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder

In the 1950s, the Tu-16 could no longer compete against the West’sWest’s new interceptor aircraft and the advanced missile systems in everyday use by the West. To combat this, the Tu-22 Blinder came off the drawing board.

This aircraft was designed explicitly as a high-speed, high-altitude bomber to penetrate enemy airspace.

One derivative, the Blinder C, was designed for maritime reconnaissance and was fitted with cameras and sensors in its weapons bays.

 

A U.S. Navy F-4N intercepts Tu-22s being delivered to Libya in 1977.
A U.S. Navy F-4N intercepts Tu-22s being delivered to Libya in 1977.

 

Tu-22 Blinder landing
Tu-22 Blinder landing

 

Tupolev Tu-22R. Photo by Igor Bubin GFDL 1.2
Tupolev Tu-22R. Photo by Igor Bubin GFDL 1.2

 

A Soviet engineer checks the 23-mm R-23 cannon in the remotely controlled tail turret.
A Soviet engineer checks the 23-mm R-23 cannon in the remotely controlled tail turret.

 

A parked Tupolev Tu-22.
A parked Tupolev Tu-22.

Tupolev Tu-95 Bear H

One of the most successful bomber designs to come off the Tupolev Design Bureau’s drawing-boards was the Tu-95 Bear H that was rolled out in the 1950s. This long-range heavy bomber saw service in a multitude of combat roles, and in the 1980s, it was the only turboprop engine plane in the USSR arsenal.

This plane design was so successful that in long endurance flights, its speed could be favourably compared to many turbojet-powered heavy bombers.

 

A U.S. Marine Corps Hawker Siddley AV-8A Harrier of Marine attack squadron VMA-231 Ace of Spades intercepting a Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 in 1976/77.
A U.S. Marine Corps Hawker Siddley AV-8A Harrier of Marine attack squadron VMA-231 Ace of Spades intercepting a Soviet Tupolev Tu-95 in 1976/77.

 

Underside of a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear F” with an open weapons bay over the Pacific in 1987.
Underside of a Soviet Tu-95 “Bear F” with an open weapons bay over the Pacific in 1987.

 

A U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat fighter VF-102 Diamondbacks escorts a Soviet Tu-95RTs Bear-D surveillance aircraft over the North Atlantic, on 1 September 1985.
A U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat fighter VF-102 Diamondbacks escorts a Soviet Tu-95RTs Bear-D surveillance aircraft over the North Atlantic, on 1 September 1985.

 

A Tu-95 escorted by an RAF Typhoon.
A Tu-95 escorted by an RAF Typhoon.

 

A Tu-95RTs Bear D (Door Number 17) of Soviet Naval Aviation in flight in May 1983.
A Tu-95RTs Bear D (Door Number 17) of Soviet Naval Aviation in flight in May 1983.

Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire

The Tu-22 Backfire Bomber was designed in the 1960s as a long-range bomber. Its design allowed it to be used in nuclear strike missions, marine attack missions, conventional bombing missions, and reconnaissance missions. This aircraft’s design gave it low-level penetration capability, which ensured that it survived better than the previous Russian bombers.

The Tu-22 was intended to attack in Western and Eastern Europe, and it was a multi-purpose bomber capable of carrying both air-to-surface missiles and conventional bombs.

Though designed for European conflict, this bomber could undertake intercontinental missions, should the need arise, and to this end, it was equipped with refueling probes. This meant that it could be refuelled in the air, increasing its range and overall capability.

 

A left underside view of a Soviet Tu-22M Backfire-B bomber aircraft in flight.
A left underside view of a Soviet Tu-22M Backfire-B bomber aircraft in flight.

 

A Royal Norwegian Air Force General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft escorting a Soviet Tupolev Tu-22M bomber.
A Royal Norwegian Air Force General Dynamics F-16A Fighting Falcon aircraft escorting a Soviet Tupolev Tu-22M bomber.

 

Tupolev Tu-22M-3M. Photo by Alex Beltyukov CC-BY-SA 3.0
Tupolev Tu-22M-3M. Photo by Alex Beltyukov CC-BY-SA 3.0

 

Tu-22M3M. Photo by Dmitry Terekhov CC-BY-SA 2.0
Tu-22M3M. Photo by Dmitry Terekhov CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

A left side view of a Soviet Tu-22M Backfire aircraft climbing after takeoff.
A left side view of a Soviet Tu-22M Backfire aircraft climbing after takeoff.

Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack

This multi-mission strategic bomber was designed and built in the 1980s. The design permitted operations where speeds would vary from low-altitude sub-sonic missions to high-altitude supersonic speed missions.

The aircraft has two weapons bays that could hold an array of weapons. These depended on the plane’s mission but could include short-range guided missiles, nuclear bombs, cruise missiles, and conventional bombs.

The plane’s primary armaments consisted of strategic cruise missiles and short-range guided missiles that gave it the capability of delivering nuclear warheads to pre-loaded co-ordinates.

This bomber is still flown today, and the Russian Air Force has plans to equip these planes with computerized high-precision weapons and plasma stealth technology. These will give the aircraft the capability of flying missions against mobile and tactical targets anywhere in the world.

 

A Tu-160 taxies in after a flight demonstration, 1993. Photo by Rob Schleiffert CC-BY-SA 2.0
A Tu-160 taxies in after a flight demonstration, 1993. Photo by Rob Schleiffert CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

A Tupolev Tu-160 with Soviet officers in front, September 1989.
A Tupolev Tu-160 with Soviet officers in front, September 1989.

 

Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” at the MAKS Airshow 1993.
Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” at the MAKS Airshow 1993.

 

Tupolev Tu-160 at the 2013 Moscow Victory Day Parade. Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin CC-BY-SA 4.0
Tupolev Tu-160 at the 2013 Moscow Victory Day Parade. Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin CC-BY-SA 4.0

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A Tu-160 is intercepted by an RAF Tornado F3 in March 2010. Photo by MoD OGL
A Tu-160 is intercepted by an RAF Tornado F3 in March 2010. Photo by MoD OGL