May 21, 2018

Chinese Bomber(s) Land on South China Sea Island: US Feigns Surprise


China has gone one more step in indicating it can deploy bomber power, in a theatrical way, deep into the South China Sea. This puts some more Western ships and Southeast Asian capitals, like Manila and Hanoi, into range of the cruise missiles Chinese H-6K bombers can carry. These capitals were already in range of more easily disguised land based, surface ship based and submarine based Chinese cruise missiles, not to mention IRBMs.

Like the much larger B-52s (in service 1955) the H-6Ks (airframe in service as the Russian Tu-16 in 1954) derive from very old airframes. But it is electronic countermeasures frequently updated in the B-52 and H-6K as well as their reliance on standoff cruise missiles that reduced their vulnerabilities. Their missiles keep them relevant in warfare against moderately armed enemies and they can also drop free fall bombs on less well armed insurgents or "terrorists".


Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported May 19, 2018:

"China angers US after landing warplanes, including H-6K bomber, on South China Sea reef
Pentagon condemns military activity as ‘raising tensions and destabilising the region’

A Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force strategic bomber landed for the first time on [Woody Island] in the South China Sea.

...The Chinese air force said in a statement on its website that several bombers, including the H-6K, its most advanced [but deployed by Russia 60 years ago!], had conducted take-off and landing training on an island reef, though it did not specify which one.

Hong Kong-based military observer Song Zhongping [who is really a semi-official spokesman and graduate of the PLA's Second Artillery Engineering University, no less] said the aircraft landed on Woody Island – or Yongxing in Mandarin – the largest of the Paracel group and southernmost of the islands claimed by Beijing in the disputed waterway.

The aim of the exercise was to strengthen China’s military presence in the region, after the US air force flew B-52 bombers there during a so-called routine training mission in April [2018], which Beijing described as “provocative move”, Song said.

The [Chinese] air force said the latest exercise had elevated its abilities of “reaching its full territory, assaulting in full time and space, and striking in full scope”. 

Song...said the next mission for the long-range H-6K strategic bomber, which is reported to have a combat range of up to 3,500km, might be to land on China’s furthest outlying artificial islands.

 “To boost China’s military presence and give the PLA better control in the region, it’s possible the H-6K will fly further in the future, to the airstrips on Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs [in the Spratly Islands],” [Song] said.

Each of the three reefs features an airstrip, high-frequency radar and other monitoring equipment, and lighthouses.

“In the future, the air force will conduct regular landings on Woody and the man-made islands, although they are not yet developed enough to be permanent military bases,” Song said..."


Woody Island with its now extended bomber capable airport (Photo courtesy AMTI.CSIS.ORG via CNN Philippines)

The H-6K has a claimed combat radius of 3,500 km (2,200 miles) and can carry up  to six YJ-12 anti-ship missiles and 6 or 7 CJ-10 nuclear or conventional warhead land attack cruise missiles


In this part unrelated Chinese propaganda video the H-6K appears at:
-  5 secs    taking off possibly from Woody Island airport
-  17s        two H-6Ks flying close
-  25s        H-6K dropping flares as decoys against heat seeking anti-aircraft missiles
-  47s        H-6K flying with J-11s?
-  53s        flying towards Mischief Reef (?) but then perhaps landing on Woody Island(?)

Tomorrow I'll write how the "Woody bomber" ties into China's wider power projection geography. 



Anonymous said...

China is gradually enforcing its claim on the SCS. The 9 dash line has morphed into a solid line. It is a well thought out strategy, reinforcing your territorial claims with less than subtle threats to neighboring countries, achieving your strategic goals while avoiding open conflicts (which would threaten the economic well being of all).
We can already predict H-6k will be landing next in the Spratly's. Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief reefs all have class A runways, as long as the one on Woody. Several reinforced hangars there are large enough for them. That will put Northern Australia and Guam within range.

Anonymous said...


The H-6K is aerodynamically similar to previous H-6s and Tu-16s, but the use of modern turbofans (of Russian manufacture - D-30s) give it a much greater range and payload. That said it is still a regional bomber, not an intercontinental one. Australia for instance would be out of practical range of even cruise missiles without midair refueling.