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

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russian Tu-22M3s as bomb delivery aerial vehicles / Archive photo from russian sources
russian Tu-22M3s as bomb delivery aerial vehicles / Archive photo from russian sources

This historical example will also illustrate why it is almost impossible to shoot down such an aircraft in the realities of the russo-Ukrainian war

How possible it is for Ukraine to intercept and destroy a Tu-22M3 strategic bomber, Defense Express discussed in one of our last year's articles. The Patriot air defense system at Ukraine's disposal, with its 160 km target engagement range, was central to the discourse. The conclusion was: yes, technically possible but too risky to even try.

In response, one might disagree because Georgia actually managed to take down a Tu-22M3 once in 2008, and the country achieved that without having a Patriot. Moreover, the russian sources claimed they lost their valuable aircraft to a short-range air defense missile system. However, a thorough look into this incident reveals that it's not that simple to repeat the Georgian success.

Read more: Is it Possible to Take Down a Tu-22M3 Strategic Bomber Even With a Patriot, Explained
Tu-22M3 and its arsenal of bombs
Tu-22M3 and its arsenal of dumb bombs / Open source archive photo

First of all, russia deployed its Tu-22M3s to the war zone in the role of classic bomb delivery vehicles, i.e. for carpet bombings against military and civilian infrastructure. For these strikes, russian aircraft had to fly over that target, thus entering the operational range of short-range Osa and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems of the Georgian Aviation and Air Defence Command.

Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft missile system on duty
Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft missile system on duty / Illustrative photo credit: General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

Yes, it was very untypical of russian armed forces to expose their strategic bombers to short-range anti-aircraft missile systems. This is attributed to the russian military being completely confident they had completely destroyed Georgia's air defenses. Therefore, they thought there was nothing to fear and they could use Tu-22M3s for delivery of free-fall bombs just like they did in Afghanistan or Chechnya.

russian Tu-22M3s as bomb delivery aerial vehicles
russian Tu-22M3s as bomb delivery aerial vehicles / Archive photo from russian sources

Not for long though. According to russian sources, a Tu-22M3 was shot down on August 9, 2008, about 50 kilometers from the Georgian city of Gori, by either a Buk or Osa air defense system. The circumstances of this incident are even more interesting, as they demonstrate the extent of disorder in the russian army back then.

To begin with, the russian aviators did not at all conduct reconnaissance of the area which they were planning to enter during the mission. The functionality of all the bomber's systems was not checked before takeoff, so the onboard self-protection systems against anti-aircraft missiles on that Tu-22M3 simply failed to work properly.

By the way, the search and rescue services of the russian Air Force also reacted in disarray, for the bodies of the dead crew members and the wreckage of the plane itself were found only several weeks after the downing.

Osa anti-aircraft missile system
Osa-AKM anti-aircraft missile system of the Ukrainian Air Force / Archive photo

If we compare this episode from the time of war between russia and Georgia to the current realities we can see a totally different picture. When fighting against Ukraine, russians no longer put their Tu-22M3s at risk by flying them too close to Ukrainian positions. An aircraft arrives at a designated spot in the rear, over the russian territory, and launches its Kh-22/Kh-32 long-range missiles from afar, where even the most long-range air defense missiles cannot reach it.

Consequently, the factors that made the downing of the russian Tu-22M3 in 2008 possible are just not present in the current state of affairs. As for the anticipated arrival of F-16 multirole fighters, potentially capable of turning the tables, let's leave this discussion for another time.

F-16 fighter jet
F-16 fighter jet / Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense
Read more: ​russian Officer Eliminated in Belgorod Attack, Highlighting Critical Shortage