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H-6K Air Striking Platform

Apparently abandoning efforts to develop an entirely new bomber aircraft, China has resumed production of the venerable H-6 bomber to satisfy PLA Air Force requirements for long range strategic strike. Production of the H-6 had halted in the early 1990s, but resumed around the year 2006. One could equate the Xi'an H-6 to the American B47 in terms of capability with air-to-surface missiles, electronic countermeasures, and a combat radius of more than 1,000 miles. Although based on a half century old design, the H-6K is still a remarkable platform for its multi-performance in modern warfare when PLA has added new technologies onto it.

This variant is called the H-6K, the letter "K" representing the "Air Striking Platform" (Chinese Pinyin: Kongzhong-daji-pingtai). Compared with earlier variants of the H-6 bomber, the new H-6K features enlarged air inlets for a new and more powerful engine, a new ground search radar in its redesigned nose radome, a thermal/TV imager turret, data link and electronic warfare gears. Other distinguishing improvements include six underwing hardpoints [versus four in earlier versions], and a completely enclosed tail secion.

In September 2008, a screenshot of XAC (Xi'an Aircraft Corporation) internal CATV news showed that China was producing a new variant of H-6 bomber family. The photos of a new type of bomber were first uploaded onto cjdby.net, showing the planes painted with the serial numbers of China's Air Force. The photos triggered a new round of discussions of the growing strike capability of China's air force. "It signifies the plane as the keystone of a strategic ground attack force of the Chinese air fleet and enhances China's air strike ability," Daniel Tong, founder of the website Chinese Military Aviation, told the Global Times. Frequent sightings of new prototypes of aircraft and test flights show China is reinforcing its air force by developing more airborne weapons, Tong said.

The official Chinese news release following the successful flight tests of the H-6K indicate the Chinese military has high expectations for this bomber. The news release described its test flight as an event that "20,000 Xian Aircraft Company staff have been longing for, for 13 long years." Guests invited to observe the maiden flight of the bomber included top leaders from the Central Military Commission and the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

Carrying capacity is a measure of a bomber's combat potential. The early model H-6 had a typical payload weight of 9 tons, while the H-6K carrying capacity has increased to 12 tons. The new H-6K may carry China's new long-range CJ-10 / DH-10 land-attack cruise missile, comparable to the United States "Tomahawk" cruise missile design. The total weight of the 6 CJ-10 / DH-10 missiles would be 10,200 kg, suggesting why China upgraded the H-6H to the H-6K. With imported Russian D-30 engines, H-6K can patrol in the air defense circle in China's inner mainland for a longer time and use long-range cruise missile to attack US bases located in Guam. When used for conventional precision offensive operations, the Chinese KH-55 fired from Chinese air space will put the entire Korean peninsula within strike range, and also much of Japan, including the whole of Okinawa, parts of Honshu island and all of Kyushu and Shikoku.

The H-6K might also have the ability to fire YJ-12 anti-ship missile at stand-off ranges to attack US aircraft carrier groups in the West Pacific. Or the H-6K might carry 6 ultra-long-range Air-to-Air missiles to hunt US, Japanese or South Korean Airborne Early Warning systems, like E-2 and E-3. Possibly the H-6K could use its bomb capacity to carry PLA's air launched torpedo for destroying underwater submarines in Chinese East Sea and South Sea areas. The H-6K might share target data with PLA Navy's Ka-28 and Z-9 helicopters in fleet anti-submarine warfare.

The H-6K has a re-designed nose in which the standard glassed-in nose is replaced by a lightning-proof radar radome so. Inside the radome, H-6K is equipped with a powerful PD radar, which integrates navigation, terrain following and missile aiming. The H-6K also has an upgraded glass cockpit and incorporates a more advanced avionics integrated with power, flight and fire control.

Behind the H-6K's cockpit, XAC installed 2-3 blade antennas, which are probably parts for datalink system for guiding long-range missiles. Via Datalink, H-6K could receive object information from KJ-2000 AWACS and silently fire AA missiles to attack Airborne Early-Warning Systems. Some speculate this may be the Air-to-Air missile sometimes called a "ShaShoujian" (Assassin's Mace) weapon. The Chinese term Sha Shou Jian (literally "killing hand club"), a pair of short wood or metal rods used as a martial arts weapon. In general, Sha Shou Jian a popular expression used by sports commentators, businessmen and others in all walks of life to refers to a means or way to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacles, a decisive, winning quality.

The H-6K also has an Electro-optical tracking pod that replaces the standard cylindrical radome under the nose. The new device is some type of forward looking infrared [FLIR] system for navigation, target recognition and weapons guidance. It may perform a function similar to the Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infrared for Night, or LANTIRN, the system used on the US Air Force's premier fighter aircraft -- the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-16C/D Fighting Falcon. LANTIRN significantly increases the combat effectiveness of these aircraft, allowing them to fly at low altitudes, at night and under-the-weather to attack ground targets with a variety of precision-guided and unguided weapons.

In addition, the two-person flight crew are equipped with ejection seats. An overall redesign of the wings includes an increase in the wingspan and modified wing tip shape, and the hardpoints fitted on it are also newly designed. The rear extension of the engine compartment is widened. It is estimated that there was an increase in the proportion of lighter, stronger titanium alloys or composite. The internal equipment is Chinese-made avionics systems. The tail of the aircraft's original 23 mm cannon was replaced by an electronic warfare system.

Fitted with D-30-P2 turbofan engines of greater thrust and lower fuel consumption than the original WP-8 turbojet engine, the new H-6K has a greatly increased range and combat payload. The two engines, each with a thrust power of 12,000 kilograms, may enhance the H-6K's payload capacity to around 12 tons, enabling it to carry six large long-range cruise missiles. This latest model of H-6 family switched to the more powerful of Russian-made D-30KP2 Aero Engine. According to sources, XAC produced 2 H-6K for PLA's evaluation and testing. Since the design modification is dependent on an imported power plant, the production was initially at a very low rate of 2-3 H-6K in one year.

On 23 July 2010 Russian media reported that China would be provided with 32 D30-KP-2 aero-engines for the H-6K bombers. Because the D30-KP-2 engine delivery had been delayed, the full production of the H-6K had been delayed from 2007. The delivery of the 32 new engines would allow the H6K production line in China to restart. According to these reports, at least 16 D30-KP-2 engines would be used to assemble 8 H-6K bombers, and the rest will act as a store of spare parts. Although the supply contract between China and Russia for the Il-76 transport aircraft did not become effective, Russia intended to fulfill within the main framework agreement the supplement contract of supply of the D30-KP2 engine to China. According to the related agreement, these engines were originally to be used in the Chinese Il-76 transport aircraft's backups. But the Chinese side actually prepared it to change them for the domestically produced new bomber aircraft production.

The final fifth batch of the D-30KP-2 engines manufactured by Research and Production Association Saturn was delivered to the Chinese customer on 23 March 2011. The batch is comprised of 11 engines manufactured under an agreement between Russian State Intermediary Agency for Export and Import of Military and Dual-Purpose Products, Technologies and Services (Rosoboronexport) and People's Republic of China becoming effective in April 2009. The agreement provided for supply of 55 engines until 2012. The final batch of D-30KP-2 engines was scheduled for delivery before the end of March 2011. The agreement also provided for technical support by the manufacturer during the warranty period.

The previous four batches of D-30KP-2 were delivered by the Russian side in November 2009, March, May and October 2010, respectively. The Chinese delegation and the representative of the Chinese Embassy in Moscow Zheng Kai were satisfied with early and high-quality performance by Saturn of its obligations under the agreement. According to Sergei Popov, commercial director at OAO NPO (Research and Production Association) Saturn, "NPO Saturn, which has longstanding friendly relations with the Chinese customer, takes pride in effective completion of this agreement. We look forward to continuing Russian-Chinese cooperation, in particular, supplying D-30KP-2 engines to China."

At least two regiments of the Chinese Air Force were believed to be operating the H-6Ks as of 2015.

The H-6K should make the United States nervous, military expert David Axe argues. Axe called the Tu-16 "a solid, reliable airplane, much like the United States' B-52, which first flew in 1954 and, with lots of upgrades, is still going strong."

"The H-6K is Beijing's B-52 a far-flying, fuel-efficient heavy bomber combining a simple, time-tested airframe with modern electronics and powerful, precision weaponry. Although to be fair, the B-52 flies much farther with more bombs and missiles," he explained.

The strategic bomber could carry "12 tons of weapons, including up to six YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missiles or CJ-20 subsonic land-attack cruise missiles, capable of striking targets 250 and 1,500 miles away, respectively," the defense analyst noted. The aircraft's combat radius is reported to be nearly 2,200 miles and could be significantly extended with mid-air refueling.

The plane is estimated to be capable of hitting targets in Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Guam, Hawaii and Alaska without leaving the air defense zone, the Military Today website reported. There is a certain area of concern with regard to the H-6K the bomber's targeting capabilities are limited and its fuel consumption is high, according to Axe. But it is safe to assume that China will tackle this challenge.

H-6K, the latest variant of the H-6 bomber, is possibly the only member of the five-decade-old family that can be defined as a genuine strategic bomber. The deployment of the H-6K means the PLA air force possesses a long-range strike capability and can take out any target along the second island chain, which runs from the Bonin Islands in the north and moves southward through the Marianas, Guam and the Caroline Islands, Wang said. "Despite the aircraft having an old aerodynamic design and lacking stealth capacity, its improvements in avionics and its engine enable it to carry cruise missiles to launch beyond-visual-range strikes on ground targets or ships," he said.

Compared with older H-6 variants such as the H-6H that appeared in the 2009 parade, improvements to the H-6K have made it a brand new bomber altogether because 90 percent of its equipment has been upgraded, according to Bao Lianjing, commander of the bomber formation in Thursday's parade. Fu Qianshao, an aviation equipment expert with the PLA air force, said the military will continue to upgrade the H-6 series and will develop a new long-range strategic bomber. He added the PLA air force will also increase it use of unmanned aircraft because they have proved to be more effective and flexible than manned planes in some operations.

The PLA air force announced on Sina Weibo on 18 May 2018 that it had deployed several bombers including H-6K, and carried out landing and taking-off drills at an unidentified island airfield in "southern sea area" after carrying out simulated strike training on targets at sea. Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said at a routine press conference on 31 May 2018 that the PLA air force will continue to deploy planes to circle Taiwan, commenting on a recent deployment of H-6K bombers to cruise the island at night on May 25.

Chinese bombers including the H-6K have the capability to cruise Malacca Strait, military analysts said after reports stating that China's People's Liberation Army Air Force carried out landing and taking-off drills on some islands in the South China Sea. Lan Shunzheng, a military researcher, made the statement in an interview with the Science and Technology Daily published on 01 June 2018. "It will be no problem for H-6K to cruise the Malacca Strait, if taking off from Chinese airports in South China," Lan said.

"PLA air force's drills signify that it already has the capability to cover the whole South China Sea, including every nation in the region, way beyond merely the Malacca Strait," Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.




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