The Blinder was conceived as a supersonic replacement for the Tupolev Tu-16 “Badger”, the mainstay of the Soviet bomber force in the late 50s. The prototype’s first flight was in June 1958, and the Tu-22 first became operational in 1961.
The original NATO designation of the Tu-22 was “Beauty,” but this was changed to “Blinder” when the original name was deemed too flattering.
A number of variants were eventually produced. The first Tu-22 was a free-fall bomber, while the Tu-22B could carry an AS-4 air-to-surface missile. The most common version, the Tu-22R, was a photo-reconnaissance plane with a secondary bomb-carrying capability. The Tu-22P (“Blinder-C”) was built for electronic warfare, and in the last years of the Afghanistan War, examples of this type accompanied bombing missions against the Mujahideen. The last version, the Tu-22UB, was the trainer variant, with an enlarged cockpit.
Design and Performance
The Blinder had an unusual design, with twin turbojet engines on top of the rear fuselage. The configuration made maintenance difficult, and the plane was never popular with ground crews. Handling was difficult, making it unpopular with pilots as well. The Blinder’s top speed was over 900 mph (Mach 1.4), but range was not much improved over the Tu-16. Defensive armament consisted of a radar-directed 23 mm cannon in the tail, and the Tu-22 could carry 20,000 lb of bombs or an AS-4 “Kitchen” missile. In spite of Soviet intentions to replace the entire Badger fleet, only about 300 Blinders were produced.
The Blinder’s combat debut was in Libyan service, and less than memorable. During the Uganda-Tanzania War in 1979, Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi sent two Tu-22s to aid Ugandan dictator Idi Amin against the advancing Tanzanian forces. On April 1, 1979, in an apparent attempt to intimidate the Tanzanian government, one Blinder attempted to bomb the Tanzanian city of Mwanda with 10,000 lb of explosives, but all of the bombs missed. In response, Tanzania stepped up its own aerial attacks on Ugandan positions. Tanzanian forces entered the Ugandan capital ten days later.
Libyan Blinders next saw action in the war with Chad. In retaliation for a French attack on a Libyan air base, a single Tu-22 attacked the airport in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, on February 17, 1986. The bomber made its approach using the commercial routes, then accelerated to Mach one and climbed to 20,000 feet. The attack was impressively precise, considering the speed and height; three heavy bombs were dropped, two of which hit the runaway, the third destroying the taxiway. The raid put the airport out of service for three days.
Blinders were kept busy over the next year and a half trying to beat back the Chadian offensive. One was shot down by a SAM in August 1987 during a strike on Aouzou in northern Chad, which the Libyans had recently evacuated. A month later, two Tu-22s were on their way to attack N’Djamena airport again, when a HAWK SAM from a French air defense battery blotted one from the sky, causing the other plane to abort the mission. A French search team later found the wreckage, along with the bodies of the three-man crew, and discovered that the bomber had been manned by East German mercenaries.
Libya’s remaining Blinders are thought to be unserviceable.
Iraq was the other foreign customer for the Tu-22, and the Blinder played an important role in the Iran-Iraq War. In the “war of the cities”, Tu-22s and Tu-16s attacked Iranian cities, including Tehran, in an effort to break civilian morale. Some reports suggest that Soviet personnel took part in a number of these missions.
On March 19, 1988, Blinders were part of a major, two-stage attack on the oil facilities at Khark Island. The first wave, composed of Tu-22s supported by F1 Mirages, destroyed two supertankers and got away clean. By the time the second wave came around, however, the Iranian air force was alerted. Two Blinders were shot down, one by an F-14 Tomcat, one by an F-4 Phantom, and the bombers failed to cause significant damage to the facility. At least six Iraqi Tu-22s were lost in combat during the war, mostly to F-14s and Phoenix missiles.
Iraq’s remaining Blinders were still operational during the Gulf War, but none flew against the Coalition forces. All were most likely destroyed during or soon after the war, although a few may have escaped to Iran.
The Blinder in Popular Media
Tu-22s also make an appearance in the movie The Sum of All Fears, where their pilots are tricked into attacking an American aircraft carrier.
- The World’s Great Bombers: From 1914 to the Present Day, by Chris Chant, Amber Books, 2000
- The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, ed. by Paul Eden, Aerospace Publishing, 2004
- The Vital Guide to Military Aircraft, ed. by Sophearth Moeng, Aerospace Publishing, 1994
- Tu-22 Blinder (Tupolev)
- Uganda and Tanzania, 1972-1979
- Libyan Wars, 1980-1989
- Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) at GlobalSecurity.org
- The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, ed. by Chris Bishop, Aerospace Publishing, 2001
- Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat, by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop, Osprey Publishing, 2004