* Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace The Bad Old Days

Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails
And movie stars you thought were alone then
Now are framed beside your bed

Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again

– Peter Allen, ‘Everything Old is New Again

There was a point, a decade or so ago (OK, maybe two decades back), when I thought some of my bete noirs, like medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missile-armed supersonic bombers were going to go skulking off into that not-so-gentle night. Alas, it appears not so:

A move by Russia to sell its production line of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to China for US$1.5 billion to China was confirmed by the US-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission two years ago and the bomber’s name will be changed to the Hong-10, reports the state-run China News Service … The Hong-10, whose components will all be produced in China with the exception of the engine, is expected to fly in the second half of next year, and the country will produce 36 aircraft in the first batch to be delivered to the air force. One of world’s fastest long-range bombers which can also carry atomic weapons, the plane can cover the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the western Pacific. Sources here and here.

So now, along with pondering MRBMs that may be the Pershing II re-incarnated, alongside bulked up Badgers, we have the prospect of the Backfire being introduced into the increasingly volatile mix that constitutes the Far East Theater. Mah-velous. Previously rebuffed in the late 80’s/early 90’s by the Russians who didn’t want to upset the balance of forces in theater, the Chinese evidently closed the deal in 2010 to domestically produce up to 36 Tu-22M3 Backfires (Domestic designation: H-10) with the engines to be supplied by Russia – an agreement all the more curious because of the very real anger the Russians have (had?) over the Chinese knock-off production of the Su-27SK that formed the basis of the J-11 family and the navalized J-15 without paying the attending license-fees.

While it is easy to wave the “game changer” flag, the appearance of the H-10 in the region, especially in terms of coverage in the SCS and as a possible LACM platform for strikes against Guam, will be cause for more concern and an additional complication in the “Pacific pivot.” Already, H-6’s and H-6K’s running around the region with a variety of sub- and supersonic cruise missiles are cause for concern, and now, just as in the ‘Good/Bad Old Days’ the appearance of the Backfire on the stage once again places a premium on our ability to reach out and touch at long ranges, the archer before he has the option to shoot his arrows – rebuilding the Outer Air Battle as it were, but in an updated form to handle an updated threat and under conditions we didn’t necessarily have to face in the Cold War. It also means stepping up our training and putting renewed emphasis on countering the reconnaissance-strike complex that would support the H-6/H-10 (and ASBMs for that matter) – time to get serious about OPDEC, EMCON and a host of other TTPs we became very practiced with during the 80’s but have let atrophy over the years. Oh, and did I mention the need for some really, really good AEW? 😉

And do-on’t throw the past away
You might need it some other rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
When everything old i-is new-ew a-again

Crossposted at steeljawscribe.com

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation, Hard Power, History, Navy
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  • UltimaRatioReg

    So let’s see… the H-10 is problematic for our AAW and can possibly overwhelm our fleet ASCM defenses, and stretches our AEW to the limit.

    I am sure there will be some who will explain that the 36 Backfires are not being fielded to threaten the US Navy.

    Wasn’t the F-14 Tomcat the Navy’s supersonic interceptor?

  • Diogenes of NJ

    No doubt a response to the provocation created by the plan to station four LCS in Singapore.

    – Kyon

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Heh. Not exactly tantamount to moving the fleet from San Pedro to Pearl.

  • Surfcaster

    Maye we can order some Navalized Flankers from China for our Navy

  • Paul

    Lessee– Kuznetsov carrier– check
    Flankers— check
    Backfires– check

    What next? Oscar II’s? Perhaps a Kirov class?

    Pretty soon it’s going to be the GIUK gap facing a different direction.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Pretty soon it’s going to be the GIUK gap facing a different direction.”

    Why not? The PLAN knows damned well we would have no way to close that gap with today’s 285-ship Navy.

  • James

    Sure bet a supersonic long range fighter/interceptor would be handy…..but atleast we get JSF…..one day…it might work…and may cost as much as a frigate….

  • UltimaRatioReg

    That would be E-volutionary and not RE-volutionary!

    -2.5 Internets for the non-transformational former SWO!

  • Paul

    The Chinese are certainly investing a lot of our money into buying weaponry great at sea denial– what risk adverse leader would send carriers into a region without a forward base, a credible cruise missile threat from Backfires, and the potential threat of ballistic missile strikes?

    It seems that the time is done to spend $$$ on the LCS and focus on retraining for anti-sub, anti-ship and anti-air warfare in a classic sense.

  • Minus internets be [email protected] – I’m w/Sal and all for bringing in a gen 4.5 Super Tom 🙂
    w/r, SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Oh, all right, dammit. But make sure you have “game-changer” and “green” somewhere in your PPT. “New paradigm” might be a nice touch, too.

    Super Toms would come in pretty handy against these dudes, wouldn’t they?

  • Diogenes of NJ

    Here’s something fairly recent on this from Want China Times:

    Here’s what the Aussies have on the Tu-22M3 (nice pics):

    Too bad the Aussies are still flying those F-111’s. I don’t think they’ll be able to keep that up too much longer.

    – Kyon

  • “Tomcat 21 was a more far reaching modification to the F-14D. Using ideas from the Quickstrike proposal Grumman developed the design as a lower cost, multi-role alternative to the NATF. Quickstrike was mainly an avionic and systems upgrade, however to this Tomcat 21 added reshaped wing gloves, which roughly matched the profile of a standard Tomcat glove with the vanes extended. These added around 1,134kg (2,500lb) of fuel. Wing flaps were also to be modified, using a single slotted Fowler type flap. Slats and spoilers were also to be modified. This would have provided 33% extra lift on approach to the carrier, enough to make up for the extra fuel and avionics. The all moving tailplanes would also be enlarged, by extending the trailing edge.
    With the increased fuel, structural changes and avionics the empty weight of the Tomcat 21 was expected to be only 454kg (1,100lb) than that of the F-14D. Due to the increased fuel capacity gross weight was expected to increase from 33,070kg (72,900lb) to 34,470kg (76,000lb).
    Like the Quickstrike Tomcat 21 would carry nav-attack FLIRS, either the LANTIRN system or Night Owl pods from Ford Aerospace. Again these would be mounted in the front of the aerodynamic Phoenix fairings (which house the cooling oil system for early model AIM-54’s on the F-14A and B. The D does not have this system). The laser designator for the Night Owl system would be carried in the undernose twin pod.
    In addition to the FLIRS the AN/APG-71 would have been further modified, giving it an ISAR (Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar) capability, improved look down/shoot down capabilities over land and a 20% increase in target acquisition range.
    At a time when high cost designs were being killed at a prodigious rate Grumman was quietly confident that the relatively low cost Tomcat 21 would see production. Its anticipated development costs were $989 million, with the first flight in 1993 (if the go ahead was given in 1990). Production models were expected to begin delivery in 1996. 490 Tomcat 21’s were projected, a mix of 233 new build (cost $39 million apiece) and 257 remanufactured aircraft from F-14B/D’s (cost $21 million apiece).”
    w/r, SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Could it be that NAVAIR and NAVSEA have a motto of “do less with more”?

  • Derrick

    I have a stupid question, as I don’t really understand all of the above:

    It seems that China’s military is basing itself on a strategy of access denial…keeping the US navy at arms length. Is that a correct understanding?

    If so, is it possible to increase the frequency of US naval patrols in the international waters around China? Would it be possible to shadow Chinese naval movements in international waters, especially when a crisis appears imminent? Is it possible that in this hypothetical scenario, the US navy would be too close to the Chinese navy to allow the Chinese to use all their ASBMs, anti-ship cruise missiles, etc?

    Note shadowing, which will probably be portrayed as provocative, may end up being a powerful deterrent against violence. What do you think?

  • James

    Tomcat 21? Yes please.

  • Paul P

    Hi Derrick

    The Russians shadowed US CVBG’s during the cold war with a mixture of intelligence trawlers and warships. It led to some pretty famous incidents at sea where one ship crashed into another while maneuvering. It is very provocative and also can lead to an escalation in tensions.

    You’re right– the Chinese seem to be orienting their force towards making an expedition by a CVBG into say, the South China Sea very expensive. Sending a group into a closed area like that with a triple threat of sub, surface and air adversaries would be a hard call for a future Prez. He or she would have to weigh the power of that group and what it can do versus the very real chance of losing some ships, something the current populace would regard as a national tragedy. Of course, the problem is how do you prepare for such a threat without acknowledging the fact that the “threat” is also one of our biggest trading partners…

  • Derrick

    Would it be possible to have US ships sail within 1-2 kms of Chinese ships? Wouldn’t that make it harder for the Chinese to use their ASBMs, ALCMs, etc.? If the Chinese plan is to keep the US at a distance, then can the US navy close the distance? Make it so close that they cannot use their missiles to hit US targets without risk of hitting their own ships?

    Is it possible to put thicker armour on US warships and CVNs? Those areas of the Pacific should be deep enough to support heavier ships, right? With thicker armour, maybe the ships can take more punishment and last longer in “close quarters” battle with Chinese warships? (Though I guess this just means the Chinese will put tactical nuclear warheads on their missiles/torpedoes).

    Who knows? Are there WW2 history lessons of similar situations to base tactics upon?

    I guess it depends on whether the Chinese plan on firing their missiles first, then sending their ships.

    If that’s the plan, then I guess the US strategy becomes that of pre-emptive strike…

    How many Patriot/ABM missiles are required to defeat those ASBMs?

  • Paul


    The answers to your questions would take pages and pages! Suffice to say that putting US ships close to Chinese ships would be seen as provocative, expensive and also take away from what they’re supposed to be doing. It would also put them at risk as well.

    Ship design is a complicated balance between weapons, size, armor and power and finding that balance is hard. Putting enough armor on a ship to handle a missile strike would make it unusable– the entire ship can’t be resistant to a hit as it wouldn’t be able to float or move.

    A warship today is best served by being further away from the enemy– not closer. Whomever has the best sensors, longest range missiles and better trained crew will usually do better in a fight. For examples– check out WWII destroyer actions. We didn’t do well in the beginning against the Japanese as they had those advantages. But, as time went on and we improved, the scales tipped and US destroyers won the battles that followed.

  • Is it really necessary to go into the South China Sea to defeat the Chinese? For instance, if China were to attempt an invasion of Taiwan, couldn’t Carriers operating East of Taiwan put aircraft on target to attack the invaders? While the Chinese were landing on the West side, couldn’t we land in their rear on the East side?

    In an extended conflict wouldn’t a distant blockade work just about as well as a close blockade? And be both easier and safer.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Without long-legged strike aircraft and fighters to protect them, and without prolific aerial refueling capability, we will have to get a lot closer than we would otherwise, as you well know. Land? Project combat power ashore? A brigade? Less?

    Having forward bases for staging and supply as well as a/c and ship maintenance and repair, might be handy too.

    A blockade is out of the question. In “quarantining” Cuba in 1962, CINCLANT employed almost 200 warships (that we admit to), including five CVA/CVN/CVS and 350 land-based strike and fighter aircraft. Even if today’s Navy would require HALF those numbers for Cuba, extrapolating them over a massive area for a distant blockade against an enemy with a Naval presence equaling our own puts such a course of action out of reach.

    A distant blockade needs capable hulls in the water in large numbers. With support close enough to keep them and their air components on station. We have neither.

  • Derrick

    I guess the other approach would be to use the Chinese strategy against them.

    Flood the sky with balloons that have little devices to attract missiles/confuse their Over The Horizon radar.

    Use subs to mine the waters to slow down the Chinese navy.

    Note although the biggest concern is the ASBM striking US carriers, can the missile not be used to attack supply convoys as well? That may be a move in an extended conflict; to cut off US supplies to its allies to starve off their navies/armies/whatnot.

    Would this mean that in addition to protecting forward deployed US forces, the US navy would probably have to have those Aegis ships to protect supply ships as well?

    If so, the cost is starting to go up and up and up…

  • Derrick

    I guess another big problem is that the gap between US and China’s military technology is rapidly closing.

    If the US navy had small supercavitating subs then they may provide some form of “upper hand” as they could avoid the missile threat by being underwater, and travel at supersonic speeds to evade China’s anti-submarine capabilities.

    Also would be nice to have a working electromagnetic rail gun to use with Aegis. Make it a lot cheaper and easier to shoot down salvos of ASBMs as well as enemy jets. That or a ship based directed energy weapon…

    But again…the big problem is cost and R&D is still probably in the early stages.

    Otherwise, it’s almost certain that if China chooses to engage the US militarily, it will almost immediately become a nuclear conflict…China’s overwhelming numbers will force the US to use its nuclear deterrent…and probably the only way to reliably sink a CVN with an ASBM is to arm the anti-ship ballistic missile with a tactical nuclear warhead?