Russia is deploying heavy bombers in the Mediterranean region for the first time. They are the Tu-23M3 long-range jets that can carry nuclear weapons.
The Tu-23M3 carriers have already performed several training maneuvers earning NATO’s displeasure and strengthening Russia's status as a great power.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the three bombers were tasked with carrying out practice flights over the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The training missions are set in new geographic conditions and areas to enable the crews to acquire necessary skills. After the exercises, the bombers will return to Russia.
The airbase was redesigned to accommodate the heavy bombardment aircraft. The runway was widened and resurfaced to be able to receive all types of aircraft in service with the Russian Air Force.
Tu-22M3 is a long-range supersonic missile-carrier bomber that Russia inherited from the USSR. It is designed to hit targets in enemy territory. The bomber can reach speeds of up to 2,300 km/h. The operational range is 7,000 km, and the maximum flight altitude is 13,300 m. The aircraft can carry up to three supersonic X-22 anti-ship cruise missiles, up to ten aeroballistic missiles to engage ground targets, and up to 24 tonnes of conventional or nuclear bombs in the bomb bay or on external racks.
Apart from using Tu-22M3 in the Syrian conflict, these bombers at the Khmeimim airbase allow Russia to react more quickly to unfolding events across the Mediterranean area. Besides, the US aircraft carrier groups will now have to reckon with the presence in the Mediterranean of a formidable representative of the Russian Air Force, which was created as a counterbalance to the above-mentioned U.S. Navy task force.
The Tu-22M3 fleet will be upgraded to the advanced Tu-22M3M version. This will improve the bomber's combat and flight characteristics and expand the list of authorized ammunition. Reports on the development of new hypersonic missiles that can be carried by Tu-22M3, such as Ostrota, once again show how serious Russia is about maintaining its status as a major aviation power and its readiness to provide control in areas of particular interest.
Russia’s readiness to deploy long-range missile carriers in the Mediterranean is also a strong signal to U.S. allies in this area. They should be aware that Russia is much closer now than it was before. If the deployment of Tu-22M3 bombers turns out to be successful, Russia might send other types of aircraft there as well. The same airbase could also easily accommodate strategic missile bombers Tu-95MS and Tu-160, providing even greater firepower.
The experience in placing heavy bombers in Syria will allow Russia as a great power to organize a base airfield in any other foreign country, such as Sudan, much faster. If Moscow and Khartoum manage to agree tight military-political cooperation and take the first serious step by completing the establishment of a logistics point in Port Sudan.