RUSSIA'S deadliest warplane is capable of carrying nukes thousands of kilometres and dropping up to 24 tons of bombs.
The Tupolev Tu-22M3, which was deployed for the first time by Russia in its war with Ukraine during the "carpet-bombing" of Mariupol, has an operational range of nearly 7,000km, putting all of Europe and the east coast of the United States within its scope.
Also known by its NATO name "Backfire", the Tu-22M is designed to carry up to 24,000kg of weapons – in particular, Russia's FAB-250 and FAB-1500 dumb bombs.
These Soviet-designed general-purpose air-dropped bombs with a high-explosive warhead are old but devastating in their indiscriminate damage.
The Tu22M can also carry Kh-15 nuclear or anti-radar missiles, as well as Kh-22 long-range naval strike missiles.
With a crew of four airmen, the Backfire can reach max speeds of more than Mach 2 (2,300kmph) under its latest version, the Tu-22M3.
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This newest incarnation of Putin's deadliest bomber is also capable of firing Kh-47M2 hypersonic missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads.
The Tu-22M3 was introduced in the 1980s, boasting a superior NK-25 engine as well as several subtle but crucial design changes, including alterations to the nose, wings, and air intakes.
Other additions included a new radar and navigation system – designed for help on low-flying missions.
Developed as a slightly altered version of the original Tu-22 bomber created in the 1960s, the Backfire is designed to take part in intercontinental nuclear strikes, naval strikes, and conventional ground strike missions.
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Writing in The National Interest, national security expert Mark Episkopos said: "One of the most recognizable symbols of Russian airpower, the Tu-22M3 has distinguished itself over its three decades of service as an effective and eminently reliable strategic bomber."
Today, Russia has more than 60 in operation.
Backfires have already been used to chilling effect in Russia's invasion of Ukraine this year.
This is particularly ironic as Ukraine inherited a large number of Tu-22s and Tu-22Ms with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but destroyed them as part of an arms agreement.
Russian Backfires have been deployed in bombing Ukraine's rail networks, and shelling the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol.
Previously, they were dispatched by the Kremlin to conflicts in Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia.
It was during the 2008 Russo-Georgian War that a Backfire was shot down in combat in the only such instance so far.
However, the use of the Tu-22M3 in this most recent conflict remains limited so far.
In the first hours of the conflict, a US Department of Defense official told CBS News that as many as 75 Russian long-range bombers may have taken part in the opening actions of the war.
The Ukrainian military first acknowledged the use Tu-22Ms in the conflict in mid-April, with video evidence of Russia's deadly bombers emerging last month.
Footage appeared to show a Russian Tu-22M3 bomber launching cruise missiles at alleged Ukraine targets.
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Last month, footage showed Russian bombers blowing up Ukraine's Palace of Culture.
Horror footage shows the building engulfed in flames after the missile struck, in what Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called an act of "absolute evil".
Vladimir Putin's forces are believed to have launched the Kh-22 missile from a supersonic Tu-22M3 bomber in the Ukrainian city of Lozova.
Lozova is located roughly 45 miles, southwest of Izium, a Russian-occupied city in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine.
The missile was seen in the video in the milliseconds as it descended to earth before it destroyed the building.
One of the most recognizable symbols of Russian airpower
In a Telegram post accompanied by the video, Zelensky slammed the attack.
"Russian missile strike on the newly renovated house of culture," he said.
"The occupiers identified culture, education and humanity as their enemies. And they do not spare them missiles or bombs.
"What is in the minds of people who choose such targets? Absolute evil, absolute stupidity."
With the use of long-range Russian cruise missiles such as the Kh-101, Putin's bombers can fire on targets across Ukraine without having to leave Russia's airspace.
The Kh-101 is estimated to have a range of 2,500 to 2,800km, meaning most of Europe is within Russia's range.
Last month, Russia threatened to nuke the UK and Finland "in seconds" as it accused the West of launching a "total hybrid war".
Vlad's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed: "We did everything to avoid a direct clash – but now that the challenge has been thrown down, we of course accept it.
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"We are no strangers to sanctions: they were almost always there in one form or another."
While senior Russian politician Aleksey Zhuravlyov threatened to nuke Britain with its Satan-2 hypersonic missile in 200 seconds and obliterate Finland in just 10.
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