In mid-1993, China approached Russia concerning the sale of a number of Tu-22M Backfire strike aircraft to replace its aging H-6 Badger bomber fleet. No other weapon system has caused as much concern as did China's efforts to obtain the long-range Tu-22M Backfire bomber. With a a dual use unrefueled range of 4000km, this purchase alone would have substantially upgraded Chinese air coverage of the area around Taiwan or the South China Sea. Though spare parts would become a problem, the mere possession of this system, let alone any production capability, would have constituted a substantial upgrade to the Chinese Air Force.
However, reports that China actually purchased four of the 4 Tu-22M [Tu-26] long-range BACKFIRE bombers proved unfounded. The deal apparently foundered due to Russian concerns that the sale of such an advanced aircraft would alter the military balance in the area. Following Russia's rejection to sell any Tu-22M BACKFIRE bombers to China, it remains to be seen whether and how the PLAAF will replace its obsolescent strategic bomber force.
Before the 2000 summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, a Russian arms export official noted that Russia, after signing of a new friendship treaty, might permit the sale of systems such as the BACKFIRE to China. Following Russia's lease of four BACKFIRES to India, a transfer to China becomes increasingly plausible.
For the PLANAF, even a modest number of BACKFIRES, would add a new capability against American carrier battle groups beyond that of the FLANKER. Its usefulness would depend on Russia's willingness to sell long-range supersonic anti-shipping missiles, such as the 300-mile-range Kh-22.
On 28 June 2004 a Hong Kong television website reported that China had formalized plans to acquire Russian Backfire supersonic long-range bombers. The report was on Hong Kong's Feng Huang Wang WWW-Text in Chinese, the web site of pro-Beijing Hong Kong broadcaster Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings Ltd. The Hong Kong newspaper Cheng Pao reported that a resolution passed at the 10th CPC party congress of the PLA Air Force in May 2004, included conclusions on the strategic positioning of China's air force. The air force should be a strategic air force, capable of operations in all aerial territories [quan kong jiang zuo zhan] and long-range response. The news sources said long-range bombers constitute the biggest technical obstacle China will face in building a strategic air force. Indigenous development and the import of Russian Backfire supersonic long-range bombers are "already put on the agenda."
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