Military Aviation

Dumb Bombs for Dumb Things: VKS reactivates 70-Year-Old FAB-3000M-46 bombs not suitable for Fast Jets to arm its Tupolev Tu-22M3 Supersonic Bombers to strike Ukraine

Deploying FAB-3000M-46s from Tu-22 would be like if the RFA would have pulled some of ISU-152 assault guns from museums, and deployed them for providing direct-fire-support of its troops in Ukraine.

Published on Twitter on Apr. 6, 2022 by ZOKA @200-zoka, the photos in this post show an ancient FAB-3000M-46 bomb about to be loaded into one of Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers of the Russia Air-Space Force (VKS, the aircraft are probably based at the Dyagilevo AB).

This requires some attention and explanation.

The Tu-22M3 (ASCC/NATO-codename ‘Backfire’) is a well-known medium bomber from the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, the US Navy was considering it a main threat for its carrier battle groups in northern Atlantic and northern Pacific (with hindsight, it can be said this was a much exaggerated concern). More recently, in 2015–2016, Tu-22M3s were deployed (via Iran and Iraq) to strike…. well, whatever the Russians considered ‘targets’ in north-eastern Syria. Always with ‘dumb’ bombs, of course. There are rumors about Tu-22M3s of the VKS flying strikes on Mariupol already since early March, but it’s only since yesterday that there is visual evidence for this.

What is so ‘special’ now is the weapon used: the FAB-3000M-46 is little else but ‘ancient’. As indicated by the suffix of its designation, it was developed immediately after the end of the Second World War, and then for deployment from contemporary, piston-engined, subsonic aircraft. While a massive shape (weighting 3,000kg or about 6,000lbs), it contains ‘only’ about 1,400kg of obsolete explosives. Foremost: it has a relatively thin casing: one not suitable for deployment from fast jets — even less so from Tu-22M3s, which can fly at supersonic speeds, too (above Mach 1).

In other words, the Tu-22M-3 must slow-down to about 400-500km/h before releasing any. Otherwise, the FAB-3000M-46 is likely to disintegrate due to overpressure – and, probably, cause a catastrophic detonation already before it was released…

(That’s similar to the restrictions imposed whenever the Russians want to use napalm-bombs, like ZAB-300 and ZAB-500. Both have thin casings, restricting aircraft deploying them from flying at speeds higher than 500-600km/h. )

Indeed, I’m very surprised to see the VKS considering it:

  • Safe to ‘reactivate’ and deploy FAB-3000M-46s after these have spent some 70+ years in storage, and,
  • To deploy thin-cased bombs from supersonic bombers…

And yet, unofficial Russians sources do claim the weapon was deployed to strike the (ruins of) Azovstal factory in Mariupol… for ‘tankers’ reading this: deploying FAB-3000M-46s from Tu-22 would be like if the RFA (Russian Federation Army) would have pulled some of ISU-152 assault guns from museums, and deployed them for providing direct-fire-support of its troops in Ukraine…

Russian Tu 22M3 airstrike in Syria

(By the way, claims along which the last time the Russians deployed such massive free-fall bombs was in Afghanistan of the 1980s are a nonsense: the last time they deployed them was over north-eastern Syria of early 2016. The only difference is that at the time they were using more recent FAB-3000M-54s, which have a reinforced casing, making them suitable for deployment from aircraft like Tu-22M3. Similar is valid for explanations that the use of FAB-3000M-46s against such targets like the Azovstal factory in Mariupol are ‘no good idea’: such weapons were made for precisely such targets.)

Another ‘new’ weapon reportedly deployed by the VKS in Ukraine is slightly more modern: the UPAB-1500V guided bomb, weighting 1,525kg (including 1,010kg of explosives). Developed by the Tactical Missile Corporation (aka KTRV) in the early 2000s, the UPAB-1500 is an electro-optically-guided glide-bomb, roughly a pendant to the (40+ years-old) US-made GBU-15. Back at the time the KTRV put its prototype on display (in around 2005), it claimed it as intended for deployment from Su-34s and Tu-22M3s, but I’m not sure if the latter were ever suitably modified.

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

Photo credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation via Wikipedia and ZOKA @200-zoka via Twitter

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017.

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