The Soviet Backfire Bomber: Capabilities and SALT Complications

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The Soviet Backfire Bomber: Capabilities and SALT Complications

April 4, 1978 26 min read Download Report
John G.
Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs

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I 57 April 4, 1 978 I C I THE SOVIET BACKFIRE BOMBER I CAPABILITIES AND SAL T COMPLICA TIONS THE ISSUE Among the most vexing issues confronting the current round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT 11) is the disposition of the Soviet Union's controversial supersoni c bomber whose NATO code name is Backfire The protracted dispute relates to uncertainties about the aircraft's purported technical properties and capabilities production rate and deployment posture, and even the propriety of its classification as an interc o ntinental strategic delivery system subject to negotiated restrictions The Soviet Union has consistently maintained that range and design constraints consign the Backfire to "medium i.e. non strategic) bomber status, and that the aircraft sho.uld accordin g ly be excluded from the limitation guidelines established at Vladivostok in November 1974 for a follow-on SALT agreement. The United States initially reluctant to accept the Soviet interpretation of the Back fire's nature (and hence negotiability claimed t hat, in addition to executing peripheral at.tack missions in Europe and Asia, the plane could fly high-altitude, unrefueled sorties at subsonic speeds from forward staging areas, strike selected targets in the continental United States, and recover in thi rd countries. As .the negotiations have proceeded, a confluence of factors has apparently induced the United Sta-tes to modify its assessment and attempt to resolve. the quandary outside the formal treaty framework.

Despite definitional ambiguities and tac tical stalemates however, the available evidence strongly suggests that the intro duction of the Backfire into the U.S.S.R.'s operational inventory NATO code-names will hereinafter accompany the formal design bureau titles of Soviet Weapons Systems. 2 has augmented that country's heretofore relatively limited capacity for a variety of multiple-range aerial missions fire represents a major advance in deployed Soviet military capability As such, the Back- whose strategic implications exceed the determination of a mutually satisfactory SALT 11, pact Whether American policymakers fully appreciate this reality is arguable. Indeed, concern over the Carter Administration's approach to the problem posed by the Backfire has been compounded by certain developments in our own weapons programs, including cancellation of B-1 bomber procurement and the concessions reportedly made at Geneva on air-launched cruise missiles (the ostensible replacement for an American 'manned penetrating bomber Critics fear that the Backfire' s emergence as a factor in the overall military equation risks being downplayed in the hasty pursuit of an arms control accord or subordi nated to immediate political considerations whose long-term effects might prove inimical to United States and allied' security interests.

This paper will examine the Backfire issue within the context of the arms limitation process as well as from the perspective of the aircraft's potential threat in applied war-fighting roles STRATEGIC BOMBERS AND SALT Strategic, or "heav y" bombers are commonly understood as those which have an unrefueled range of approximately 6,000 kilometers 3,500 nautical miles This definition is somewhat deceptive, how ever, since range is a function of several related elements, includ ing the payloa d carried and point of launch, and thus distinctions between strategic and tactical 'nuclear delivery vehicles are not al ways clearly drawn are aptly ref erred to as "gray-area" systems Furthermore, bombers whose normal unrefueled range is less than that d esignated for stra tegic aircraft can rapidly acquire an intercontinental capabilityl through the application of modern in-flight refueling techniques Those weapons which fall within this category At the inception of the SALT negotiations in 1969, the Sov i et Union characterized as strategic any weapon that could deliver ord nance on the homeland of the other country, irrespective of the geo graphical point of launch The Soviets, therefore, argued in favor of restrictions on the "forward-based systems FBS) m aintained by the United States in central Europe, including the land and carrier based fighter-bombers (e.g. FB-111's) that could reach Soviet terri tory armed with nuclear warheads such systems were necessary to balance the Warsaw Pact's quantitative The United States countered that 1. For a concise overview of the problems associated with definitions of strategic weapons systems, particularly in an arms control context, see the chapter on "Strategic Forces in Francis P. Hoeber, David B. Kassing, and Will i am Schneider (eds Arms, Men, and Military Budgets: Issues for Fiscal Year 1979, National Strategy Information Center, Inc Crane, Russak and Coqpany Inc; New York 1978Ja 3 superiority in theater general purpose forces, and that their in clusion in the bila t eral SALT framework, without compensatory cuts in Soviet and Pact theater units, would be militarily destabilizing and would trigger serious repercussions within NATO Manned strategic bombers were exempted from the 1972 SALT I Interim Agreement on Offensi v e Strategic Systems, which placed limits on the numbers and permissible conversion options of fixed, land-based intercontinental ballistic missile launchers (ICBM's) and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM's The United State's inventory oflong-ran g e bombers was then comprised of some 400 Boeing B-52's G/H class) and dual-capable General Dynamics FB-lllA's, while the accepted Soviet complement of heavy aircraft configured for strategic purposes totaled approximately 140 Tupolev-95 Bears and Myasisch e v-4 Bisons TABLE I The SALT I Agreement on Stratesic Offensive Weapons Soviet Union United States SLBM' s 740 (950)b 656 (710 ICBM Silos 1 ,618a -1,054 Submarines 62 44c a estimates. The limits included launchers deployed or under construction as of July 1, 1972 The figures for Soviet systems were based on United States b. These figures were provided in an accomp.anying Protocol.

The numbers in parentheses refer to conversion opti,ons, i.e the higher ceilings permitted if equivalent numbers of older pre-19 64 generation missiles were dismantled c. The Soviets issued a unilateral interpretation according to which British and French ballistic-missile submarines must be included in the aggregate specified for similar United States submarines The contentious bo mber issue was deferred for subsequent nego tiations. The Soviets were not expected to deploy any new long range bombers during the five-year life-span of the accord, despite 4 intelligence confirmation of existing prototypes as early as Jul 19

70. Moreove r, American policymakers were averse to introduciig objections which they felt might jeopardize the then-pervasive at mosphere of detente; it was likewise stressed that, among other things, the United States' sizable numerical lead in bombers offset impen ding Soviet advantages in other relevant military categories including those disparities sanctioned by the Interim Agreement).

The skepticism generated by SALT I'increased in proportion to the accumulating revelations of new Soviet weapons deployment and/o r alleged violations of various stipulations of the accords. The Ford-Brezhnev summit at Vladivostok sought to ameliorate misgivings and avoid procedural deadlocks by announcing guidelines for a ten year SALT pact to extend from 1975 to 19

85. The most si gnificant aspects of the Vladivostok guidelines were that they expanded poten tial treaty coverage to include bombers and set an equal aggregate ceiling for each side of 2,400 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles with allowance for a mix of weapons systems within the designated total A sub-limit of 1,320 was placed on the number of weapons that could be armed with multiple, independently-targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV's A caveat is necessary here in order to place into perspective the Vladivostok formul a as it relates to the accountability of gray-area" systems such as the Backfire. The measures of strategic capability which should ideally comprise an aggregate ceiling on offensive force levels are those which most accurately reflect the military balance over time.3 criteria selected must satisfy the requirement of guaranteeing a situation of "essential strategic equivalence to cite the rubric currently in vogue in describing the balance or at least the politi cal appearance of "equivalence" as a function .of various indicators of offensive strategic power. The inherent difficulty in delineating precisely those weapons systems to be aggregated is compounded by the existent asymmetries in the compositions of the respective United States and Soviet strategic nuclear arsenals. Historical, technologi cal, bureaucratic and other factors have impelled the superpowers to proceed at varying levels of force modernization and to place dif fering degrees of emphasis on various components of their force structures. Sev eral indicators can be elaborated, including those which characterize the non-quantifiable attributes of diverse force postures, such as conceptual disparities regarding the utility of nuclear weapons targeting doctrines, geopolitical influences, etc.

Yet a comprehenslvedef inition of I'equi'l%ZEZ" as expressed in It is frequently argued that the 4 2. Janes's All the World's Aircraft, 1977-78, p. 462 3. See Richard Burt Salt and Offensive Force Levels Orbis Summer 1974 pp. 465-4

81. The author offers a det ailed examination of the complexities of constructing equitable arms limitation proposals involving an aggregate ceiling, especially when dealing with asymmetrical force structures 4. Ibid p. 469 5 aggregate ceilings or negotiable quotas for the deploymen t of cer tain systems may prove so complex or vague that prospects for meaning ful agreements are reduced. Indeed, the sole effect of such an ex ercise might be to create the politically palatable (though dubious appearance of progress toward limiting arma m ents as a means of de flecting criticism from opponents of a particular arms control pack age or in the hope o.fmitigating the potential of either party to exploit perceptions of strategic power for patently political objec tives As such, questionable com p romises are often produced by the lack of specificity in defining what is accountable. Moreover, since the Soviets are not forthcoming in providing hard data regarding their weapons development programs, the United States is forced to rely on intelligence estimates in constructing what is'perceived to be an equitable, and therefore negotiable, proposal.

The simultaneous introduction of the Backfire into the Soviet Long-Range and Naval Aviation forces in late 1974 seems representa- tive of the dilemma confr onting American negotiators under such cir cumstances. The Ford Administration's tentative decision in 1975 later adopted and sharpened by the Carter Administration) to exempt the Backfire from the aggregate ceiling pending clarification of its capabiliti e s is widely interpreted to have been occasioned by the need "to persuade the Soviet Union to abandon its demand that the FB-111 and other American nuclear-armed tactical combat systems be counted among the strategic weapons I5 contradicts the recommendati o n of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to in clude the Backfire in the aggregate since it has characteristics and capabilities similar or superior to those aircraft which both sides agree are heavy bombers."6 An assessment of the feasibility of this proposal dema n ds a closer look at the Backfire system The trade-off apparently THE BACKFIRE BOMBER: A PROFILE By way of introduction, the following two graphics are provided to facilitate a general understanding of the nature of the Backfire bomber and its technical ch a racteristics See Page 6 5. Georg Panyalev Backfire Soviet Counter to the American B-1 International Defense Review, May 1975, p. 639 6. General George S. Brown, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff United States Military Posture for FY 1972, p. 31. 6 Figure I Technical data on Eneldin 8 designated with the letter A and production models with I Under the NATO coding system. prototype aircraft are ILS SP50 I TABLE I1 the kiter 8.

Cmw 3 Dirnemionm Overall length 42.5 m Height above ground 8.8 m Wing span (maximwn/mini mum 34.51 27.5 m Wino sweeD fminimum maxi mum 20/55 Wing area at 20'155O 134.5/16801 Aspect ratio at 20'155 4.518.8 weight. Empty weight 52,000 kg Fuel 68,ooOkg Maaim u m payload 1O.OOO kg Maximum take-off weight 130.OoO Powerplant Number and desigaation of engines 2 X NK144 modified Engine type Two-spool turbofan Length1 Diameter 5.21 1.5 m Weight 2.850 kg Bypass ratio 1 1 Mass air flow 250 kglsec Pressure ratio 15:l Tu r bine inlet temperature 11 50" C Static thrust withoutlwith re- heat 15.O00/21.000 kp SFC without1with reheat 0.6412.1 kg/kph Avionics Radar Terrain foilowing radnr unknown type Bornbinglnavigation radar Down Beat Fire control radar for 37-mm tail-mounted c annon Fan Tail Radar warning device Sirena 3 IFF SRZO-2 Jviption Radio compass 2 X ARK-1 1 Radio altimcter RU-UM/RV-l7M 1 Doppler radar-navigation computer 3.50 Short-range navigation system RSBN-2S Long-range navigation system Inertial. possibly with sat ellite assistance Commtpicaths HF RSB-70/RPS VHF 2 X RSIU-5 Datalink ARLS UHF R-831 lmemom SPU-10 I Annunam Tail-mounted cannon 1 X 37 mm External stores 2 X AS4 or Inbombby 15X5OOhgbombabr sp.cific valll..

Wing loading (at 130 tonnea TOW 775LgIma Thrustlw eight ratio (at 130 .I tonnes TOW 0.323 I I 1 Pertomu- Take-off run et 130 tonnes TOW Take-off distance to 15 m at 130 tonnes TOW RateofclimbalresIevel. 130 tonnes TOWwing sweep 20 without reheet Rate of climb at sea level. 70 tonnes TOW wing sweep 55O wi t h reheat Time to climb to 11,ooO m Service ceiling Maximum speed at sea level Maximum speedy high alti tude Cruising speed at sea level 36,000 ft 1.400 m 2.400 m 21 m/uc 140m/sac 22 min 18.000m M 0.8 M 2.0 M 0.65 Cruising specd at optimum altitude M0.82 C o mbat radius hi-hi-hi (with inflight refuelling 6.000 (8.7W) km Beacon receiver MRP-56P Combat radius hi-lohi 4.250 km ATCISIF SOD-57M Combat radius o-!O; 2 t.m B-1 ,I International; Defense .Review, May 1975, p. 640 il l_ 1 Source: George Panyal e Backfir e Soviet Counter to the American L 7 The Backfire, or more properly the Tupolev-26 V/G, is a variable geometry swing-wing multi-purpose aircraft "capable of performing nuclear strike, conventional attack, anti-ship, reconnaissance and electronic warfare mi s sions I7 plane is about two and one-half large as the American FB-111 and can carry a payload similar to ghe Soviet Mya-4 Bison a bomber of recognized strategic dimensions. In many respects, the Backfire resembles the cancelled American B-1, thou g h only two-thir s its size and possessing roughly one fourth of its payload capacity The fol lowing chart is useful as a referent in analyzing the Backfire's pre sumed strategic capabilities on a comparative basis The "B"(production) model of the TABLE I1 1 I. b Comparison of Backfin With Other Centemporary American and Soviet Aircralt Aircraft Backfire Tu95 TWl6 E1 652 GlH F6lllA Range rtatutm miles 7,140 7cOo 6pW 4m 6,100 12300 3aw Payload wydgt~i loundd lpoundr 20,000 272m 40.000 Morn 352,750 2om 20,aoo I 175W 115,000 389 75,000 4eem 37,500 91,5(10 The Yilifaq'Lblmnce 1171-1W he 1nternatlon.l Inntitub for Stntesic Sludk. London Enc p7C. D 72; and Jmda AU ti Wed Aircraft. J#7S-J#7 Edit+ by Jobn W. R Tarbr: Fnnkhn.Wat& Inc NY. 1976 Appeared in Gerard K. Bur ke Backfire: Strategic Implications,"

Military Review, September 1976, Current News, September, 29, 1976, p. 5-F For several reasons, some disagreement persists over the classi- fication of these aircraft as heavy bombers negotiable in SALT 7 Ibid p. .32 8 . Aviation Week and Space Technology, April 18, 1977, p. 19 9. Voeber, et. e., x. G p. 29 8 ARMAMENTS Besides an assumed capacity to carry the full complement of Soviet free-fall (gravity) weapons, the 'Backfire can be fitted with either of a pair of adva n ced air-to-surface missile systems, the AS-4 Kitchen and the AS-6 Kingfish. Both systems are believed capable of attaining Mach 2.5-3.5 speeds (Mach equals the speed of sound at sea level with an operational range of 150 nautical miles, although absolute m aximum ranges are purportedly substantially greater .lo Launched from external pylons mounted under the aircraft's wings, these Soviet varia tions of air-borne cruise missiles provide the Backfire with a signif i cant stand-off capability which would appe a r to be especially formidable for anti-shipping strikes or against weakly-def ended peripheral land targets. The Backfire is also said to have a single gun 37 mm cannon in a radar-directed tail mounting l1 The AS-6 in particular seems effectively deployed for a variety of combat missions. Though some confusion exists as to whether the propulsion system is solid or liquid-fueled, intelligence analysts contend that the weapon, a sophisticated successor to the AS-4, pos sesses inertial mid-course guidance and an active radar terminal homing system; that is, it can fly in level to the target area and then attack in a dive. l2 This combination of qualitative properties permits ex ceptional accuracy .with conventional or nuclear warheads against priority targets T he threat implied by deployment of the missiles in a MIRV'ed mode is more ominous still Furthermore, United States intelligence has drawn attention to the presumed Soviet developanent of decoy missiles and associated defense suppression techniques, includ i ng active and passive electronic countermeasure devices, which would enhance penetra tion of advanced air defense systems.13 10. Cited in William D. O'Neil Backfire: Wng Shadow on the Sea-Lanes U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1977, p. 30 11. Jane? s , p. 463 12. Ibid p. 463 13. Ibid p. 463 9 Figure I1 Operating from a base located at Lvov in the Western part of the Soviet Union, the Backfire armed with two AS-6 stand-off missiles can undertake low-level missions against virtually a1 1 of Western Euro pe Desp Source: Panyalev, x. G p. 641 te orig,nal underestimates of its production ra 1 L I DOUL 100 Backfires are believed to have been phased into service at pres ent. The current estimated production rate is 2-5 aircraft per month.

Senator Jake Garn (R- Utah a member of the Armed Services Committee observes that by the mid-l980's a total of 350 Backfires are ex pected in the long-range aircraft division of the Soviet Air Force and an additional 100 are slated for use by the Soviet Navy 1114 THE RANGE FAC T OR AND THE INTERCONTINENTAL THREAT The discrepancies surrounding range estimates of the Backfire are reflective of the larger question concerning its capabilities and potential uses are due to varying assumptions about flight conditions, with operations I t is possible that the apparent inconsistencies 14. Defense/Space Business Daily, February 8, 1978, p. 207. 10 in low or radar-elusive altitudes havin an adverse effect on combat radius (defined as one-half of range 13 However, the configuration of the Bac k fire "B" to accommodate aerial tankers (e.g published photographs have shown a refueling probe located above the nose cone in addition to an extension of the wings for adequate roll movement and a scaling-down of the landing pods to reduce drag, suggest a priority interest in expanded range. 16 A number of recent studies by intelligence agencies, as well as by private aerospace firms supplied with all sources of intelligence available to the United States, have generally concurred in their esti mates of th e Backfire's range at between 3,500-6,000 miles, with the latter figure increasingly corroborated by new evidence. These studies apparently contradict earlier, more sanguine interpretations of the Backfire's capabilities, interpretations which either lacke d sufficient intelligence sources or whose conclusions may have been influenced by political motivations sored by the Defense Intelligence Agency and conducted by the Air Force' s Foreign Technology Division at Wright-Patterson Air Base columnists Rowland E vans and Robert Novak concluded that thanks to important aerodynamic modifications the Backfire 'Bl' model now in serial produc tion has substantially lengthened its range. If refueled in mid-air, the Backfire's range is 8% greater than the most advanced B -52's and 17% greater than the shelved Byl. The DIA study is unmistakable: the Backfire is an intercontinental weapon. 17 In a commentary on a classified report spon I Speculation regarding the Backfire's potential for strategic missions has been reinforc e d by revelations of new concepts in Soviet aerial refueling 45-50 Bison aircraft already converted for in-flight refueling opera tions, the Soviet Union is reportedly developing a new tanker based on the IL-76 Candid jet transport.18 American KC-135 tanke r s which refuel B-52 bombers and believed capable of carrying one-third more payload than the Bison, is a 345,000 pound gross weight cargo aircraft with a speed of 528 miles per hourrand an extended range of 3,500 miles.19 In addition to possible expansion of the fleet of The IL-76, larger than the Approximately 80 of the transport version of the plane have been manufactured at- the Tashkent plant 15. See O'Neil cs p. 29 16. William D. Beecher Backfire Boggles SALT 11," Astronautics and Aeronautics July 197 6 , p. 22 17. Fbwland Evans and Ftobert Novak The Backfire of SALT Inside Report October 10, 1977, p. 3 18. See Charles W. Corddry Soviets Believed Developing Tanker to Refuel Backfire The Baltimore Sun, February 7, 1978, p. 1 19. Defense/SPace Business Dai l y, January 30, 1978, p. 148. 11 and an initial stepped-up production of a, least 200 (not necessaril! all tankers) is anticipated. 20 Deployment of substantial numbers of the IL-76 Candid in an aerial tanker mode would insure that the Backfire retained an inter continental capability, and would make academic any disputes about the bomber's range., the Soviets would be provided with the option of augmenting their strategic bomber inventory through recon figuration of those Bison aircraft presently serving as tankers.

In theory it would be strategically counterproductive to concen trate a substantial number of aircraft in, for example, extreme eastern Siberia to undertake optimal strike missionsinproximity to the conti nental homeland. Th ough much would obviously depend on the values assigned to the targets and the nature of the objectives envi sioned, increasing the flexibility of the mission profile would demand that a sizable portion of the attacking aircraft commence operations from i n terior staging areas. 21 Yet, given the. necessity of possible in-depth staging to avoid excessive congestion in the forward bases or for various tactical reasons, the Backfire's threat to American military installations, industrial facilities and urban p opulation centers is nonetheless pronounced.

Defense Donald Rumsf eld According to .former Secretary of Even without aerial refueling or staging from bases in the Arctic, Backfire bombers. could cover virtually al.1 of the United States on one-way missions , with recovery in third countries. Using Arctic staging and refueling, they could achieve a similar target cov erage, and still return. to their staging bases in the Soviet Union 22 The prospects for successful Backfire missions against high-pri ority Un i ted States targets along or beyond clearly delineated stra tegic bombing arcs would naturally have to be calibrated ,again'st cer tain fundamental criteria, including a. the size of the attacking fleet and assumptions about optimum systems reliability and performance accuracy b. the initial basing location of the aircraft 20. Corddry, a p. 1 21. For a detailed analysis of this point, see Gerard K. Burke Backfire Strategic Implications Military Review, September 1976, cited in Current News, January 29, 1976 , p. 4-F 22. Cited in Jane's, p. 463 12 C d e f the possible need for, and execution of, in-flight refueling operations for continued supersonic maneu vers an alternative necessity for mid-course staging and/or terminal recovery for example, in Cuba the in c lusion in the force package of a variable-range stand-off missile capability (e.g. the AS-6 the suppression and penetration of the United States marginal air defenses, the prospects for upgrading of which cannot be considered promising the possible interi o r location of targets which might precipitate a fuel-conserving, high-altitude approach more vulnerable to interception While it is beyond the scope of the present study to outline various bombing. scenarios against United States continental targets or th e basing areas.from which they might be most effectively launched the following chart is revealing in terms of anticipated levels of civilian exposure to Backfire strategic attacks TABLE IV Urban Population Exposed to Backfire Strikes Leading 138 Urban Cta tcrr Wumbu Populatitr Total 113,337,000 Number and population at hazaid 102 Number and population within radius 71 7?,103.000 Number and population requiring refuel 31 bltipoo Base Total.

Number Populatitn Population Leadiq 50 Urban Centeq 79;aos,oOo Numbe r and population at hazard 39 34.a47.205 52,563,000 Number and population within radius 33 22,315,916 Number and population requiring refuel 6 12,531,289 25,yS I NY. IW6. pp 649-68 and 698.To6.. Tbe rererenee "Bua Popuhtlon" Man In the eenld po~ula th of the arn under conndemtbn Tolal Popuhllon" ifeludes suburb, and buk wnrlronr Idmnalim PI Almaiw. Ir

78. E+ed by .Dan Golc?pauL Dam Coknpaul Auahra i i Source: Burke, op. cit in Current News, September 9, 1976 p. 6-F J 13 THE BACKFIRE DEPLOYMENT POSTURE AND MULTIPLE MISSION CAPABILITIES Differences within and between the arms control and intelligence communities concerning the Backfire's capabilities and mission desig nations have been sharpened in part by confirmation of the aircraft's deployment to bases u t ilized by its medium-range predecessor, the Tupolev-22 Blinder As such, some advocates of withholding the Back fire from formal treaty limitations seem prone to disregard the bomber's incremental versatility for strategic purposes on the assumption that 3 3 staging area is a sufficient tactical indication of the probable sco$ of its missions namely, peripheral strikes on the Eurasian rimland and naval interdiction.

Notwithstanding those factors which collectively ascribe inter continental status to the Back fire, such a simplistic evaluation belies its credibility when one considers the incontrovertible strategic values associated with United States and allied retention of open sea-lines of communication Maritime supply routes vital to the security and econo m ic welfare of the industrialized,West and Japan'have become pro gressively more susceptible to interdiction by the enhanced Soviet flotilla of general purpose surface combatants and hunter/killer sub marines. The Backfire, with acknowledged anti-ship capa bilities represents a third dimension of the potent Soviet capability for sea denial (itself a collateral- mission of Long-Range Aviation).

If deployed for interdiction strikes, the Backfire could seriously impede Allied convoys moving to EUrope or Asia du ring a protracted con flict or it might require the commitment of ships and planes vital to operations elsewhere in order to safeguard the convoys As a surveillance aircraft, the Backfire's extended operational radius would permit the collection and. assi m ilation of intelligence data concerning the disposition of Allied naval forces. Such informa tion would be crucial to Soviet planning for effective force deploy ments in maritime contingencies, particularly in providing targeting and mid-course guidance f o r missiles launched from other platforms As Admiral James L. Holloway 111, Chief of Naval Operations, has noted our deployed fleets must have the defensive strength to defend themselves against attacks of land-based air, because we are seeing more and mor e the development of long-range.aircraft with anti ship missiles as a threat which can develop rapidly 23 and can extend to almost any spot on the globe 23. Quoted in O'Neil op. e p. 27. 14 A Pentagon summary of a National Security Council analysis con duc t ed two years.ago of the Soviet naval aviation threat reinforces the Admiral's view with an equally grim assessment The Soviet naval aviation force already possesses a large number of long-range anti-ship missile-launching bombers. However, the introductio n of the Backfire bomber and its anti-ship missiles gives the Soviets the capability to thr2tten a much greater area of the oceans than ever before.

Similarly, Air Chief Marshall Sir Andrew Humphrey, former Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force, commented in December 1975 Russian fast, wide-ranging and high-performance air craft like Backfire, armed with stand-off missiles may soon become an even greater threat to allied shipping than the relatively slow-moving Russian sumar ines 2 5 For purposes of compre hending the magnitude of this expanded potential target coverage, the following two charts are instructive.

Assuming an unrefueled range of 2,650 nautical miles for the Backfire the charts track the feasible geographical sc.ope for maritime recon naissance .and sea control operations in the critical North Atlantic and North Pacific theaters.

With in-flight refueling or the application of other measures cited previously, the Backfire's intercontinental capability, in addi tion to the selected peripheral str ikes which could be undertaken is self -evident 24. Cited in L. mgar Prina Backfire Problems and the Aegis Mix Sea Power Magazine, September 1976, in Current ~ews, January 29, 1976, p. 3-F 25. Quoted in Jane's, op. cit. 8 p. 463. 15 Figure I11 The staging area is Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, the main Soviet naval base for access to the North Atlantic 8 Source: William D. O'Neil Backfire Long Shadow on the Sea-Lanes U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March 1977, p. 30 16 Figure IV The staging area is Petr opavlovsk, whlch commands access to vital naval routes in the greater North Pacific region).

Source: O'Neil, op. cit p. 31 Regarding American naval defense capabilities against the aug mented Soviet aerial threat to allied sea-control options, the afore mentioned Pentagon report concludes The time from detection until target engagement is excessi ve and coordination among missile batteries on different ships in the U.S. task force is poor.

These difficulties are compounded by system vulner ability to electronic countermeasures 17 This is especially the case in a high-density would deploy their Back fire bombers I attack the type of attack in which the Sov,iets Such findings cannot realistically induce complacency Yet in decision regarding the nature and deployment of aircraft carriers for example, against such concentrated Soviet tactical air power i n a future conflict may compromise the incorporation into our active forces of those systems designed to most effectively counter the Backfire threat. Indeed, the FY 1979 defense budget deletes appro priations for procurement of carrier escorts armed with the highly sophisticated Aegis anti-aircraft system as well as for the nuclear powered Aegis missile cruiser SALT I1 AND THE BACKFIRE IIB The emerging SALT I1 outline conforms structurally to the three This arrange tier framework established at Geneva in M ay 1977 by Secretary of State Cyrus Vanceand'%oviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko ment, which underwent subsequent elaboration in September, encompasses an eight-year treaty placing an equal numerical ceiling on the counter poised inventories an d sea-based ballistic missiles and long range bombers as well as a separate ceiling on weapons with multiple warheads. In an accompanying protocolof.three year's duration, the United States and the Soviet Union would attempt to negotiate limits on the depl o yment and/or modernization of advanced systems, such as the variable-mode American cruise missile and Soviet heavy ballistic missiles (e.g. SS-18's Additionally, both parties plan to authorize a statement of principles regulating, future negotiations, inc luding a reciprocal commitment to seek substantial force reductions by the early 1980's.

Among the most disputatious aspects of the projected accords is the Carter Administration's reported decision to exempt the Backfire I'B, I' despite its acknowledged p otential for strategic uses, from the formal treaty framework. The United States had. agreed during the September negotiations not to include the bomber under the tentative aggregate ceiling, but it was hoped that its deployment would be re stricted in a s eparate accord This position was similar to the proposal presented by the Carter Administration in March 1977 as an alternative to the comprehensive formula rejected by Moscow. The Soviets had upbraided the United States in subsequent parleys for attempti n g to renegotiate the SALT I1 "parameters" defined at Vladivostok Instead, the United States is now apparently prepared to request a unilateral executive pledge from Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, as contained in a non-binding letter, not to increase produ c tion of the bomber beyond a certain limit or deploy it in a maminer potSiiEZIlythreateninq to this countrv 26. Quoted in Prim, z. e p. 3-F. 18 While the precise nature of the restrictions on the Backfire has not been spelled out, the bomber's deployment a t Arctic bases, from which its strategic.threat to the United States would be maximized would presumably be proscribed security community are likewise believed pressing for 1,bnitations to include a prohibition on refueling, with a ceiling on tanker aircra f t an undertaking to retire older Russian bombers as Backfires enter service and a promise by the U.S.S.R. not to exercise the aircraft on extended-range. flight patterns simulating strikes against the United States.27 Since the U.S.S.R. has adamantly main t ained that the Backfire's unrefueled range limitations nullify its consideration as a strategic bomber accountable in SALT, it is worth noting that Soviet negotiators have been aware for some time that American B-52 strategic missions are planned to recov e r at overseas bases, such as in Turkey or Iran, instead of returning to the United States Some elements within the national This tentative arrangement has predictably engendered a prickly debate between advocates and opponents of the projected SALT I1 pac k age a debate whose growing.intensity has been stoked by reported con cessions on the testing and deployment ranges of air-launched cruise missiles as well as continued disagreement over the types of aircraft that may carry them. Some officials, notably i n the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, maintain that the Brezhnev letter would be tanta mount to a formal agreement and that Moscow would deem it prudent to abide by whatever assurances were offered, lest the arms pact itself be jeopardized. Others, pr i marily in the Defense Department, aver that such critical assurances covering a major weapons system should be incorporated into a mutually binding framework, since informal written not retain the legal standing of international treaties and h e nce are meaningless as substitutes. 28 more feel that a tacit agreement of this nature actually provides an incentive for incremental Soviet abrogation, since the United States would retain little effective recourse for alleging that infractions have been committed which jeopardize and/or vitiate a formal pact An assessment of the Backfire's disposition in SALT I1 as it relates to our national security interests must transcend a limited focus on arcane legalisms, however. Resolution of the Backfire issue c a nnot be conditioned primarily by what 3s politically expedient or conducive to momentary posturing for the sake of achieving an arms control accord. Moreover, since a definitive arrangement is hardly assured, the question virtually begs itself as to what, if anything would be palatable to the Soviets, who cdntinue to oppose restrictions on the Backfire They further I Yet it is within the larger strategic context surrounding specific initiatives that the issue.must be addressed. As such, the following point s merit serious consider at ion 27. See Beecher, op. G p. 23 28. See Richard Burt U.S. May Ask Brezhnev Pledge to Limit Use of Disputed Bomber The New York Times, January 19:,$978, p. 5. 19 1 2 3 Assuming that some mutually ,satisfactory settlement of the Backfire problem is achieved, what credible guarantees would be provided to insure that the bomber be restricted to "tacti cal" deployment or application in a war-fighting contingency?

In lieu of on-site inspec'tion, which the Soviets adamantly reject, a s ubstantive Backfire proposal must. be measured against its independent verifiability by United States na tional technical means As a reusable, easily dispersable launch platform the Backfire could potentially complicate non-intrusive monitoring of Soviet compliance with provisions regulating the weapon's disposition.

Such collateral restrictions as may be negotiated on produc tion rate limits or range ceilings are dependent on United States estimates, not Soviet hard information. The impediment to adequate verification procedures, particularly if the Soviets were to exercise conversion options or otherwise enhance their inventory of bombers with actual or-potential strategic capabilities is obvious.

The notions of stable deterrence and strategic stability imply a relative equilibrium in the aggregate functional capabilities of the United States and Soviet nuclear arsenals. Furthermore, unless strategic deterrence is firm, conventional force deterrence retains little credibility. Despite the innate difficul t y in devising arms limitation proposals which satisfy the relevant criteria, maintenance of a "balance" in an operational sense requires that negotiations be based on the principle of reciprocal advantage (or restraint) in recognized categories of applica b le military power The theory, of course, rests. on the assumption that both parties subscribe equally to the more altruistic conceptions of the utility of arms control. The Soviet Union's position on the dual-capable Backfire bomber,among.other notable ex a mples would seem to discredit such assumptions. Nor can the Soviets be said to adhere to the bar gaining-chip approach to strategic arms control, according to which the development and threatened deployment of certain weapons systems may be exploited for l everage in extracting concessions from an op ponent, instead of a primary commitment to introduction of the system for patently military uses. As such, the credibility of arms control as a vehicle for reducing superpower tensions as well as levels of soph isticated military hardware risks being undermined.

Though the Soviet Union concentrates far less of its total de liverable payload in manned strategic bombers than does the United States, American concessions on the Backfire which granted the Soviets a ne t advantage in bombers with intercontinental capabilities could prove counterproductive to the pursuit of allied security objectives.

Moreover the Soviet Union appears to be placing more emphasis on development occasioned by the greatez latitude for a var iety of mis sions which the introduction of advanced systems confers, and by the I the aerial component of its strategic forces than previously, a I 20 perception of a corresponding de-emphasis on strategic air power on the part of. the United States The U nited States has conseauentlv been unable to induce a com parable quid pro quo which redeerk, or-at least temporarily justifies America's decisions to scrap the B-1 or accept limits on air-launched cruise missiles CONCLUSION As this study has demonstrated , the Backfire's technological sophistication and enhanced mission performance capabilities preclude a classification which restricts it to medium bomber status. A thorough analysis of the aircraft's capacity to undertake multiple range operations many wit h indisputable strategic ramifications has apparently been subordinated to fruitless diplomatic posturing.

There has likewise been evident an unfortunate fixation with semantics and secondary aspects of the issue as they.relate to the composition of arms control proposals seemingly designed to progressively minimize offense to Soviet sensibilities.

Given the Backfire's manifold capabilities, the manner in which the Carter Administration attempts to resolve the impasse will likewise affect prospects for Sen ate ratification of an eventual SALT I1 pack age. There is a lingering skepticism on Capitbl Hill as to whether an equitable arms agreement is indeed attainable, in light of both Soviet intransigence in certain key facets of SALT and what critics cite as the Administration's proclivity to offer "pre-emptive" con cessions. on systems of obvious strategic value.

The Backfire's accountability in SALT, as well as the magnitude of its potential threat under diverse circumstances, must be measured realistically, taking into consideration 1. the bomber's acknowledged performance attributes, for stra 2. its capabilities relative to those of similar Soviet and American bombers designated as strategic aircraft and subject to formal limitations tegic and tactical mis s ions 1 3. the-ongoing momentum of the Soviet Union's weapons develop ment and deployment programs, especially with respect to the incremental strengthening of its overall war-fighting capa bility, and I 4 comparative United States defense-related and/or d i plomatic initiatives designed to brake the Soviet momentum or other wise improve our military posture across the spectrum of capabilities. 21 The available evidence suggests that, notwithstanding mutual professions of good faith on the contentious bomber i ssue, the United States should re-think its negotiating strategy and press for in clusion of the Backfire within the formal SALT I1 guidelines. At the very least, an arrangement should be deferred pending a more forth coming Soviet attitude in providing v erifiable information on the aircraft' s operational capabilities as well as adequate safeguards for compliance with any potential settlement.

John G. Behuncik Congressional Fellow National Security Affairs


John G.

Senior Fellow and Director of Government Finance Programs