▲The H6K of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force, in flight over the Pacific


COMMENTARY / Ignacio Cristóbal Urbicain* [English version]

Only three countries in the world have strategic or long-range bombers (the US, Russia and China). The mission statement of this subject Weapons is to project the force at very long distances, usually within enemy airspace in order to destroy, with its significant armament load, strategic objectives, i.e. industry, infrastructure, logistics, etc. It is also an important deterrent.

In the case of China, its strategic aviation mainly has the latter mission statement with respect to the defence of their interests by projecting a threat to very distant distances, i.e. avoiding rapprochement and entrance of the U.S. Navy's battle groups (aircraft carriers and attack cruisers) to the South China Sea.

For this task, China has the Xian H-6. This aircraft is a derivation of the Russian Tupolev Tu-16 developed 60 years ago. In 2007, the Chinese modernized their H-6s by changing the old engines to reach a longer range (3,500 km). Again Russian engines were chosen, although there are sources who have said that a new Chinese engine (WS-18) is being developed. A general electronic modernization and the air-to-ground radar were also carried out. Their ability to pursue targets is unknown. The bomb bay was reduced to put another inner fuel tank and modified to house the Wayside Cross CJ-10 with a range of 2,200 km. In this way, the H-6K was created, much more modern than the previous version, which maintains the possibility of carrying nuclear weapons, as well as the YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missiles.

A squadron of 15 of these aircraft (i.e., the issue that Jane's Defence thinks are in service) can fire around 100 missiles, creating a major problem for a number of naval with bad intentions. Note also that in recent weeks the H-6Ks have been seen for the first time with bombs on the outer wing mounts.

The future

In December 2016, sources in the Chinese Ministry of Defense confirmed the rumors about the development of a new long-range bomber. This new project it's probably sneaky (very leave It can be used to ensure that it has been able to load a large amount of conventional weaponry in an internal hold, which will improve stealth against enemy radars.    

The designation is currently H-X, although Jane's Defense already calls it H-20. It appears that the bomber will not have the capability to carry nuclear weapons, as China has a "no strike first" nuclear policy, meaning it will not be the one to start a conflict with nuclear weapons. For all these reasons, it has a nuclear arsenal linked to the idea that the country would survive a first attack and would be able torefund the coup.

The function of this new bomber will be to ensure that a force of American aircraft carriers with their group closer than it should to their areas of interest. These aircraft, carrying long-range air-to-surface missiles against such well-defended naval groupings, will be one of the three legs of Chinese deterrence. The other two are attack submarines and ballistic missiles.

Probably your design, commissioned to Xian Aircraft Corporation, is similar to the American B-2 bomber, following the Chinese tradition of practically copying Western models (the J-20 fighter is similar to the American F-22) and its first flight may be in 2025. Another question is when it will be operational, but seeing what the first flight of the J-20 has cost and its operability, it seems very distant in time. Hence the modernization of the H-6 discussed at the beginning of the article.

Fighter jets are very complex weapons systems and it is not enough for them to fly. They must do so with the characteristics for which they have been designed. In this case, China has historically been heavily dependent on Russian engines. Theirs have not worked as expected. Not to mention electronics, which in this field the U.S. still beats it by far.

*Teacher School of Economics and Business, University of Navarra

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