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In 2012, Russia proposed selling several long-range Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers to India, as part of a comprehensive military package that included the leasing of two Akula-class nuclear submarines and the acquisition of the aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Gorshkov’. Although the deal ultimately fell through due to financial considerations, the implications of such an acquisition by the Indian Navy would have been profound, particularly in the strategic context of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

The Tupolev Tu-22M3, also known as the Backfire-C, is a supersonic, long-range bomber capable of delivering significant payloads over vast distances. With a range of up to 7,000 kilometers and the capacity to carry three Kh-22 cruise missiles, the Tu-22M3 serves as a formidable platform within the Russian Air Force and Navy. Despite Russian assertions that the Tu-22M3 is “not a strategic” weapon, its operational capabilities suggest otherwise. The bomber’s ability to strike targets far from home bases, coupled with its high speed and payload, would have dramatically enhanced India’s strategic reach.

The acquisition of the Tu-22M3 would have considerably bolstered India’s maritime dominance in the Indian Ocean Region. Currently, India’s naval capabilities are primarily centered around surface ships, submarines, and a relatively limited fleet of maritime patrol aircraft. Integrating long-range bombers like the Tu-22M3 would have provided a new dimension to India’s maritime strategy, enabling the Indian Navy to project power across the vast expanses of the Indian Ocean and beyond.

These bombers could have been deployed to cover critical maritime choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca, and the Bab el-Mandeb. Their presence would have acted as a potent deterrent against hostile naval activities, ensuring the security of vital sea lanes and enhancing India’s ability to respond rapidly to regional crises.

The presence of Tu-22M3 bombers in the Indian arsenal would have altered the strategic balance in the Indian Ocean Region. For one, it would have significantly enhanced India’s deterrence capabilities vis-à-vis regional adversaries like Pakistan and China. The ability to conduct long-range precision strikes would have provided India with a credible second-strike capability, thus contributing to regional stability through a strengthened deterrent posture.

Moreover, such an acquisition would have likely prompted reactions from other regional powers. China, in particular, would have perceived the enhancement of Indian long-range strike capabilities as a strategic challenge, potentially leading to a regional arms race. The presence of these bombers could have also influenced India’s relationships with other maritime powers such as the United States and Japan, possibly leading to deeper strategic collaborations and partnerships.

While the strategic advantages of acquiring the Tu-22M3 are evident, the operational and financial challenges associated with such a move cannot be overlooked. The modernization and maintenance of these bombers would have required substantial investment, straining India’s defense budget. Additionally, integrating these aircraft into the existing naval aviation infrastructure would have posed significant logistical and operational challenges.

The high costs associated with leasing and maintaining the Tu-22M3 were a key factor in the eventual abandonment of the deal. The Indian Navy had to weigh these costs against the benefits of enhanced strategic capabilities, ultimately deciding that the financial burden was too great given its budgetary constraints.