The current issue of the USNI Proceedings (1) reports that
has reached a deal to license-produce Tu-22M Backfire bombers. The arrangement will initially result in 36 bombers which is regimental strength from the old Soviet days and was believed to be the amount needed to defeat a US Navy carrier group. China
As you recall, the Navy’s response to the Soviet bombers was the long range, high speed Tomcat with its load of AIM-54 Phoenix missiles guided by the plane’s AWG-9 radar. Tomcats made up the outer layer of the carrier group’s layered defenses. I bet the Navy wishes they had Tomcats now!
|Tu-22 Backfire - Bigger Threat than Ballistic Missiles|
There are a couple of interesting points in all this. First, the acquisition of bombers strongly suggests that the Chinese have realized (or known all along) that the magic, carrier-killing ballistic missile that has the Western media so frightened is only half the equation. The other half is targeting. Trying to produce launch quality targeting data on moving ships 500-1000 nm away is a challenge, to say the least. We can’t do it and I highly doubt the Chinese can, either. That renders the carrier-killing missiles ineffective. Bombers, on the other hand, carry their own radar and generate their own firing solution. The only question is can they survive long enough to get within radar range and launch?
This is the Cold War scenario all over again and that brings us to the second point. The Navy was misguided, to put it kindly, to abandon the long ranged, hard hitting Tomcat for the short ranged, light hitting Hornet. This decision is further compounded by the decision to reduce the size of the carrier air wings based on the rationale that newer planes are superior to older ones. If you’re going to fight an outer air battle to protect the carrier, you probably want as many airframes as possible to carry your missiles. Instead of developing the marginally effective Hornet, we should have developed a new airframe with the characteristics of the Tom/Bombcat. Oh well, at least we have the long range, weapons-dripping JSF coming soon and that will … ah … well, it's not really long ranged, actually, and it can't carry much of a weapons load but still it can, ah … Oh crap, we’re screwed!
Naval Institute Proceedings, “Back(Fire) to the Future?”, Norman Friedman, Aug 2012, p. 90 United States