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​Indeed, Georgia in 2008 Took Down a Tu-22M3 as Well but Ukraine's Case is Different

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​Indeed, Georgia in 2008 Took Down a Tu-22M3 as Well but Ukraine's Case is Different

Or why today's destruction of the russian strategic bomber is a unique event and which details are crucial to understanding

Besides the official confirmation from the Ukrainian Air Force about the successful downing of a russian Tu-22M3 bomber on the morning of April 19th, 2024, the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine elaborated that "the same weapons that were used to hit the A-50 AEW&CS."

This hint suggests that Ukrainian forces used some kind of previously unknown weapon, not a Patriot which only can hit as far as 185 km, nor the S-200 with a theoretical maximum interception range of 285 km. Defense Intelligence specified that the russian bomber was hit 300 km from Ukraine but gave no further details, only published the following video:

Read more: Confirmed: ​the Ukrainian Air Force​ Destroyed Tu-22M3 Strategic Bomber and Kh-22 Cruise Missiles for the First Time

Defense Express would like to add, however, that this episode marks not just the "first downing of a strategic bomber since the beginning of russia's war against Ukraine" but also the "first time in military history when a heavy bomber-missile carrier is taken down."

Importantly, the Kh-22 cruise missile carried by Tu-22M3 when launched from a distance of 300 km theoretically allowed the russian aircraft to fly far from the reach of any air defense systems, and it was deemed impossible to destroy such a target unless it was hit while on the ground, which Ukraine has been doing quite successfully.

Though an attentive reader might object, as earlier Defense Express covered an episode when Georgian air defense in 2008 took down a Tu-22M3 even without a Patriot. However, these two instances are completely different, and here's why.

The russian Tu-22M3 on fire and falling, April 19th, 2024 / Defense Express / Indeed, Georgia in 2008 Took Down a Tu-22M3 as Well but Ukraine's Case is Different
The russian Tu-22M3 on fire and falling near Stavropol, russia, after receiving a hit from Ukrainian air defense. April 19th, 2024 / Still frame of an open-source video

That time in 2008, russians were using their Tu-22M3s in the most classic role of free-falling bomb carriers and operated (as they imagined it) in the conditions of absolute air superiority with all Georgian air defenses suppressed.

That's why the aircraft took off with non-operational electronic warfare systems and while trying to bomb its target, got hit by an Osa or Buk anti-aircraft missile. While still a feat on the part of Georgian forces, it was also a careless mistake from the russians.

It seemed russians had learned the lesson and adjusted their tactics but today's result proves wrong, and even switching over to standoff weapons is no longer a guarantee that the aircraft returns home safely.

Tu-22M3 and its arsenal of free-falling bombs / Defense Express / Indeed, Georgia in 2008 Took Down a Tu-22M3 as Well but Ukraine's Case is Different
Tu-22M3 and its arsenal of free-falling bombs / Open-source illustrative photo

Worth noting, russia has been using Tu-22M3s as missile carriers against Ukraine since May 2022. Prior to that, during the wars in Chechnya (the 1990s), in Georgia (2008), the campaign in Syria (2017–2019), and the siege of Mariupol (spring 2022), the Tu-22M3 aircraft were only deployed as vehicles for dumb bombs and in conditions where the defending side had no air defenses to counterpunch.

Read more: ​Georgia Took Down a Tu-22M3 in 2008 Without a Patriot, Could Ukraine Do the Same