Three Tupolev Tu-22M3 (NATO reporting name: Backfire-C) long-range strategic bombers from the Russian Aerospace Forces have been deployed to Latakia-Khmeimim Air Base in Syria for the first time.
The three bombers landed at the Syrian base on May 24 and comprised Bort numbers RF-94139 ‘Red 15’, RF-94157 ‘Red 28’ and RF-34091 ‘Red 50’. Although the units of these aircraft were not officially confirmed, ‘Red 15’ and ‘Red 28’ were last reported to be operational with the 52nd Guards Heavy-Bomber Aviation Regiment (GvTBAP) at Shaykovka Air Base, Kaluga Oblast, while ‘Red 50’ was with the 200th GvTBAP at Belaya Air Base, Irkutsk Oblast.
A Russian Ministry of Defence (MOD) statement regarding the deployment said: “Crews of the long-range bombers will acquire practical skills in practicing training tasks in new geographic areas during flights in airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.” They began these training missions the day after their arrival in the region.
No details were given regarding the length of the Tu-22M3’s deployment in Syria, with the official announcement merely stating: “After completing training tasks for the development of airspace in the maritime zone of the Mediterranean Sea, the long-range bombers will return to permanent airfields on the territory of the Russian Federation.”
The arrival of the three Backfire-Cs follows the completion of a recent upgrade to the Syrian air base, which included a roughly 1,000ft extension and resurfacing of the airfield’s second runway, along with the installation of new lighting and communications equipment. This upgrade enables any aircraft type in operation with the Russian armed forces to land at the base.
Although the Russian Tu-22M3s have never before operated from an airfield in Syria, they have been frequently used on bombing missions over the country, initially flying from the most southerly Russian airfield that was capable of accommodating them – Mozdok Air Base in North Ossetia. Official figures released by the Russian MOD show that Tu-22s carried out 369 combat missions over Syria between November 2015 and August 2018. From August 2016, Iran also briefly allowed Backfires to operate from Hamedan Air Base, but this was short-lived, and Iran denied Russia access to the base for this missions soon after.