MELBOURNE, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- China is to purchase Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers through a contract with the Russian Federation for 36 aircraft.
The agreement calls for 12 bombers to be delivered first and the other 24 coming in a second tranche.
The Tupolev Tu-22M3 is a supersonic, swing-wing, long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber developed by the Soviet Union. A number the bombers remain in service with the Russian military -- as of 2010, the Russian air force fielded 93 Tupolev Tu-22s and the Russian navy 58 -- and represent a significant upgrading of the operational abilities of the Chinese air forces.
Since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the Tupolev company has sought export customers for Tu-22M bombers.
The Tupolev Tu-22M3 can fly at 1,240 mph and has a 1,500-mile combat radius.
The Chinese naval air forces designation for the Tu-22M3 will be the "H-10."
The Tu-22, a Soviet-era aircraft, was designed as a long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber and the Chinese variants will be updated with indigenous systems and an extended range. That will allow Beijing to extend its military presence by having a counter to many advanced Western latest generations weapon systems.
The Tupolev Tu-22M3 aircraft will replace China's H-6 bombers, which are Chinese-built versions of an older Tupolev design, the Tu-16.
Analysts are speculating on what weaponry might be included with the bomber sale, which might include the Russian-built Raduga Kh-22 long-range, anti-ship missile, the Viet Times reported Tuesday.
China's acquisition of the Tu-22M3 will introduce another element into the evolving situation in the western Pacific, where the United States is increasingly shifting military forces.
The Tu-22M3 bombers will give China another element in its efforts to assert claims in the South China Sea and the Pacific theater.
The aircraft will significantly increase China's aerial capabilities, as the Tu-22M3, which can carry nuclear weapons, will allow China to cover the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the western Pacific.
Not all Chinese analysts are enamored of the acquisition however.
People's Liberation Army Academy of Military Science researcher Col. Du Wenlong noted during a recent interview with Hubei TV that the Tu-22M3 is an old design, which, as a strategic bomber, isn't comparable to its U.S. equivalents, such as the B-1 and B-2.
"I personally think that chances for the Tu-22M3 to join the Chinese air force as a strategic strike bomber are not high," Du said. "The carrier-borne E-2 early warning aircraft of the U.S. has a detection range of more than (250 miles) against modern fighter planes whose radar cross section is much smaller than that of the Tu-22M3."
Although the Soviet Union designed the Tu-22 to be a "carrier killer," U.S. analysts say the Tu-22M3 would be vulnerable to most air-defense assets employed with modern U.S. carrier air groups.
China's interest in purchasing Tu-22 bombers from the Russian Federation dates to 1998 but Moscow initially refused to sell the aircraft to Beijing out of concerns of changing the military balance in eastern Asia.
The Hong-10 components will all be built in China under technology transfer agreements with the exception of the engine, with the first aircraft scheduled to roll off the assembly line in 2013.