CH-AS-X-13 / H-6N Bomber
A grand military parade was held in Beijing on 01 October 2019 to mark the People's Republic of China's 70th founding anniversary. The debuting H-6N is a home-made strategic bomber capable of air refueling and long-range strikes. China’s latest bomber, the H-6N with refueling capability, made its debut at the National Day parade in Beijing on Tuesday, and Chinese military analysts said that the new bomber’s ability to take aerial refueling can give it a much longer operational range compared to its predecessor H-6K.
Three H-6N bombers flew above Tiananmen Square during the parade. The new H-6N with refueling capability is believed to be the latest entry to the H-6 bomber family, with many improvements made to its predecessor H-6K, including an in-flight fuel-receiving probe on the nose of the aircraft, military observers said. This probe will allow the H-6N with refueling capability to conduct aerial refueling, significantly extending its operational range and expanding weapons load. The H-6N with refueling capability is capable of launching more powerful missiles. Aside of the H-6N, H-6K variant also took part at the event. An echelon consisting of three H-6N and six H-6K bombers flew over Tian'anmen Square. The most notable change between the N and K variants is the complete elimination of the bomb bay on the N and the addition of semi-recessed area with a hard point for a large missile.
CH-AS-X-13 is a two-stage solid fuel ballistic missile with a range of 3,000 kilometers. It is very likely to be an air-launched improved model of the DF-21. The missile uses a new composite material to reduce the weight to make it easier to load on a bomber.
On 10 April 2018, the US "Diplomat" magazine website reported that China is developing and testing air-launched ballistic missiles. This type of missile is considered to be similar to the size of the Dongfeng-21 missile. It has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers and will carry nuclear warheads. Implementing a nuclear deterrent against the United States. This is the first time that the United States had confirmed the existence of China’s air-launched strategic ballistic missiles. The journal believes that the purpose of developing such missiles is to enhance the viability of strategic nuclear forces.
According to the report, it is understood that the latest US government source of information on the PLA's intelligence assessment said that China has conducted five test flights of this type of missile, and the US intelligence agency gave the new missile the code CH-AS-X- 13.
According to the source, the missile was first tested in December 2016, and the most recent test was conducted in the last week of January 2018. In recent years, the Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency also mentioned the missile in his last two speeches on the global threat assessment, saying that it can carry nuclear warheads.
It is said that the recent two tests of this missile system were carried out through a modified H-6K strategic bomber that was modified for aerial refueling. US intelligence agencies claim that the bomber is a H-6X1, or a H-6N, which is a model that was modified on the basis of a standard H-6 aircraft to perform air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) launches. The modification was carried out by China Xi'an Aircraft Manufacturing Company, which began manufacturing the H-6 series aircraft in the late 1950s. The photo of the H-6X1 H-6N appeared on Chinese social media for the first time in August 2017.
The operational radius of the H-6X1-6N bomber may exceed 6,000 km - which is much higher than the previous H-6. As a means of projecting nuclear weapons, launching CH-AS-X-13 from its maximum range with H-6N will attack targets in Alaska and Hawaii. In addition, it is worth noting that the CH-AS-X-13 air-launched ballistic missile can also improve anti-ship missiles called conventional warheads, which will threaten the US military aircraft carrier group in the Pacific.
A source told the Diplomat magazine that US intelligence agencies have assessed that China may be ready to deploy the CH-AS-X-13 missile by 2025. This was the time announced by Ma Xiaotian, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force in September 2016, when he commented on the US military report for 2017, saying that China will develop a new generation of long-range strategic bombers and will deploy in the mid-2020s.
In addition to the H-6X1 H-6N, China has also widely used H-6 to perform a variety of support and attack purposes. Such as the H-6K, it can carry the CJ-20 long-range cruise missile with precise guidance capability. These bombers have repeatedly performed voyage training through the first island chain into the Western Pacific.
Previously, the Dongfeng-21D anti-ship missile covered the first island chain. The Dongfeng-26 anti-ship missile covered the second island chain of Guam. The service of the CH-AS-X-13 air-launched missile means that China would have anti-ship capability from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean.
In addition, the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy has also deployed the H-6G, which can carry anti-ship missiles to carry out sea-attack and maritime patrol missions. In recent years, US intelligence officials have repeatedly stated that China is developing air-launched ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons. On March 6, 2018, Major General Robert Ashley said, "China is developing two air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may carry nuclear weapons."
In May 2017, Major General Vincent Stewart, former director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), also said: "Two new air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which can carry nuclear weapons." It is unclear whether the conventional model of the two missiles mentioned here is the conventional warhead type of the CH-AS-X-13, which may perform anti-ship operations.
Regarding why China develops air-launched ballistic missiles, Diplomacy believes that China pursues the principle of not using nuclear weapons first, and therefore attaches importance to retaliation. This air-launched ballistic missile is more viable than road-mobile intercontinental missiles, and is also launched by nuclear submarines. Like nuclear missiles, they have features that are difficult to detect and intercept in advance.
In addition, China can also use air-launched cruise missile technology to expand the range of attacks in anti-intervention and refusal operations. The magazine believes that since there is no official Chinese news to confirm such air-launched ballistic missiles, and such missiles do not seem to enter deployment immediately, perhaps China will only verify the relevant technology through test shooting.
Images appeared in the popular Chinese military magazine "Modern Ships" offering the first look at the country’s upcoming air-launched ballistic missile, slung under the belly of an H-6N bomber. Observers noted its similarity to China’s Dong Feng-15 missile, as well as Russia’s Kinzhal. The new edition of the magazine Modern Ships featured on its cover a drawing of Beijing’s H6-N bomber carrying what seems to be an air-launched ballistic missile underneath its belly. The images reportedly note only that the plane’s center-line pylon can be equipped with “large external objects,” but observers have noted the weapon’s incredibly similarity to the Dong Feng-15 ballistic missile already employed by China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF).
The only other ALBM currently in use is Russia’s hypersonic Kinzhal missile, which was introduced in 2017 is fired from a MiG-31 interceptor. The US and UK attempted to develop a viable ALBM in the Bold Orion project and GAM-87 Skybolt missile; while the program yielded the Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile employed by the British Royal Navy as part of its sea-based nuclear deterrent for decades, the Pentagon abandoned the ALBM as intercontinental ballistic missiles became more a more viable alternative for a nuclear response. The Soviet Union, four years behind the US nuclear program, never considered the weapon, immediately developing ICBMs.
When the new H-6N modification of China’s H-6K bomber appeared in September, observers quickly noted its bomb bay seemed to be removed in favor of an exterior hardpoint semi-conformed to the plane’s profile. Another potential use for the exterior attachment could be lifting a new supersonic drone spotted in the National Day parade on October 1, which seems to have a corresponding top attachment spot.
However, China’s nuclear arsenal developed along very different lines than those of the US and Soviet Union. China’s small bomber fleet was never a viable threat to the US or USSR, and so in the late 1970s Beijing’s nuclear deterrent fell on the PLARF’s shoulders, building dozens of ICBMs.
In the Pentagon’s 2018 China Power Report, the Office of the Secretary of Defense noted the January 2018 testing of an ALBM known only as the CH-AS-X-13, judged to be a derivative of the Dong Feng-21 medium-range ballistic missile with its range increased to between 1,900 and 2,500 miles. Other modified versions of the DF-21 include an anti-ship ballistic missile, part of Beijing’s strategy of countering superior US naval power with more cost-effective “carrier-killer” anti-ship weaponry. However, this in May 2019 China Power Report noted a second ALBM could be in the works, with one being nuclear-armed and the other not, so it’s possible both the DF-15 and DF-21 are being modified for launch from an H-6N bomber.
Recent images in the Chinese magazine Modern Ships that show an H-6N bomber carrying an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) are not official confirmation of the H-6N's ALBM capability, a magazine insider said. The images are computer generated, merely conceptual and have no official background, the insider told the Global Times 07 November 2019.
The insider was responding to numerous foreign reports that have jumped to conclusion. UK-based Jane's Defence Weekly reported on Wednesday that the magazine's illustrations indicate the H-6N is capable of carrying an ALBM and it could be "in the final stages of development, or may even have entered service."
Making its debut to the general public in the National Day parade on October 1, the H-6N has attracted attention of foreign military analysts who have previously speculated the bomber is capable of launching an ALBM, as the weapons bay of its predecessor, the H-6K, has been seemingly replaced with stations used to carry a large external load. An ALBM could be used to attack an aircraft carrier or even deliver nuclear warheads, foreign media claim.
The H-6N might also be used to launch the WZ-8 high-altitude, high-speed reconnaissance drone, which was also displayed for the first time at the National Day parade, foreign reports said. Neither the Chinese military nor official Chinese media have yet confirmed the H-6N's capabilities.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|