by DAVID AXE
The Chinese air force’s H-6K bomber is based on a Soviet airframe from the early 1950s. But in every way that matters, it’s a new warplane — and one that could significantly improve Beijing’s ability to battle U.S. and allied forces in the western Pacific.
The basic H-6, a development of the 1952-vintage Soviet Tu-16, entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in 1968. Xian Aircraft Industrial Company delivered 15 copies of the upgraded H-6K version of the 84-ton, twin-engine warplane in June, according to U.K. trade magazine Jane’s Defense Weekly.
The subsonic H-6K, nicknamed “God of War,” participated in its first combat exercise in October. The “Mission Action 2013” war game simulated an invasion of Taiwan by Chinese forces. Bombers would play an important role in any Chinese invasion, launching missiles at Taiwanese airfields, radars and headquarters.
The K-model bomber replaces the original H-6’s glazed nose, in which a navigator sat, with a new radar and other avionics, improving the plane’s ability to evade enemy defenses, find its targets and destroy them. The H-6K also has newer, more powerful D30 engines and bigger engine inlets, lending it greater maneuverability and range over the vast Pacific.
According to Chinese state media, the H-6K has a combat radius of 3,500 kilometers, double the reported radius of the baseline H-6. The bomber’s new CJ-10 cruise missile can reach up to 2,000 kilometers, allowing an H-6K, in theory, to strike targets up to 5,500 kilometers away. State media pointed out that Okinawa, Guam and even Hawaii — the main U.S. Pacific bases — are within the H-6K’s combat radius. Of course, Taiwan is, too.
Chinese strategy calls for damaging American facilities and denying U.S. forces access to China’s near waters through a combination of missile strikes and submarine patrols. Blocking American intervention could give Beijing the freedom to move against Taiwan or disputed Pacific islands.
To protect its Pacific ships and warplanes, the Pentagon has begun basing them at more and more widely-spread facilities in Singapore, Australia and other pro-American countries. As U.S. forces spread out, China needs more flexible methods of targeting them — hence the H-6K’s importance.
While long-ranged and heavily armed, the H-6K is not fast or stealthy and would be vulnerable to U.S. and allied air defenses. For that reason, Beijing is reportedly also working on a stealth bomber — its first.