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Russia conducts Tu-22 strategic bomber drills in the south

RIA Novosti

24/08/2007 15:09 MOSCOW, August 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Tu-22M3 strategic bombers successfully conducted a series of tactical exercises in the south of the country and in Kazakhstan this week, an Air Force spokesman said Friday.

The Tu-22M3 Backfire-C is a supersonic, swing-wing, long-range strategic bomber that Russia uses mainly to patrol the skies over its southern borders, Central Asia and the Black Sea region.

"We held a series of strategic bomber exercises [involving Tu-22M3 bombers] Tuesday and Friday to practice penetrating the air defenses of a potential adversary," Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky said.

"The crews also conducted simulated bomber raids at the Guryanovo testing range in the Saratov Region [southern Russia], and practiced launches of cruise missiles at the Emba testing range in Kazakhstan," he said.

President Vladimir Putin announced August 17 that Russia had permanently resumed long-range patrol flights of strategic bombers, which were suspended in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Speaking on the final day of large-scale military exercises involving Russia, China, and four Central Asian countries in the south Urals, Putin said: "Air patrol areas will include zones of commercial shipping and economic activity. As of today, combat patrolling will be on a permanent basis. It has a strategic character."

The announcement gained substantial coverage in British and other Western media, which called the Kremlin's move a return to the Cold War era.

It also apparently triggered serious concerns in NATO, which recently increased its monitoring of Russian bomber flights in neutral airspace.

Last Friday, the British Defense Ministry reported an alleged incident, the second this summer, in which the Royal Air Force had to scramble its Typhoon fighters to intercept a Russian Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bomber that approached British air space during a flight over the North Atlantic.

Russia has denied any wrongdoing, saying its planes never violate foreign airspace, and their actions have no aggressive intent against other countries.

However, the Kremlin's assurances did not stop attempts by foreign media to further fuel fears that a new military buildup is underway in Russia.

Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper said Friday on its Web site that NATO vessels are closely monitoring sea trials of the latest Russian diesel missile submarine with enhanced stealth capability in the Baltic Sea.

The Project 677 Amur submarine features a new anti-sonar coating for the hull, an extended cruising range, and advanced anti-ship and anti-submarine weaponry.

The newspaper speculated that Russia could be testing NATO's "ability to defend territorial waters in much the same way that bomber flights can test its ability to defend airspace."

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