60-year-old missile carrier with Russian roots serves successfully in China

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The Tu-16 bomber has become one of the most impressive aircraft in the entire history of Russian aviation. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought a major victory in the arms race over its Western rivals. The stake was placed not just on nuclear potential. Much attention was paid to improving the air fleet and developing strategic aviation.

The Soviet Union became the homeland of the world famous missile carriers Tu-95, Tu-160 and Tu-22M. One of the most iconic aircraft of this type is the Tu-16 (NATO classification – Badger).

This strategic jet bomber is over 60 years old, and its Chinese version, the Xian H-6, is still in service today. At the time of its appearance, the Tu-16 was an incredibly impressive bomber. In fact, it became the mainstay of the Soviet Air Force.

The Badger made its first flight in 1952, but the plans to create it was made much earlier as Moscow sought to build a strategic bomber that could compete with US aviation. At that time, the fleet of the Soviet Air Force consisted only of Tu-4 piston-engine bombers, which were a copy of the American B-29. “The Soviet Union needed a faster, larger and much more efficient aircraft.

The result of the work of Soviet specialists from the Tupolev design bureau was an impressive swept-wing bomber equipped with two AM-3 turboprop engines. The most important characteristic for Moscow was that this plane could carry nuclear weapons or a massive 20,000 pound FAB-9000 bomb (about 9 tons).

However, the Soviet ‘Badger’ was capable of fulfilling many roles. Tu-16 began its service in the Soviet Air Force as a high-altitude bomber, and then the Tu-16A version appeared, which was a carrier of free-fall atomic bombs. Other modifications of Tu-16 were also created, including tanker aircraft and electronic warfare aircraft. Over time, the Tu-16 also became a missile carrier. Over the years, the multifaceted Badger has acquired a reputation as an efficient and reliable aircraft.

The Badger was a sign of a giant leap forward, a real breakthrough for the USSR Air Force. The Tu-16, capable of carrying destructive weapons, including bombs of enormous power, became the work horse of Soviet aviation.

The universal design of the Tu-16 made it easy to adapt it for different roles. This allowed it to remain in operation for many decades.

Tu-16 was in service with the air forces of Egypt and Iraq too. 

Bomber Xian H-6 

Bomber Xian H-6 is a Chinese licensed copy of the Soviet Tu-16 jet bomber. A licensing agreement with the USSR was signed in the late 1950s, and the delivery of the Tu-16 by China began in 1958. It was produced at the Xi’an aircraft plant. On September 27, 1959, the Xian H-6 bomber made its maiden flight. The Xi’an H-6 is a swept mid-wing monoplane with two engines in nacelles on the sides of the fuselage integrated into the center section. The fuselage is cigar-shaped, round in the bow, with gradual compression on the sides to the stern. Technologically it consists of compartments: front pressurized cabin, center section, cargo compartment, rear technical compartment, aft pressurized cabin.

 Xian H-6 missile carrier
Xian H-6 Image: Chinese Media

Tu-16 modifications in China:

Xian H-6 is a licensed copy of the Tu-16. Used by China for the first air thermonuclear explosion over Lop Nor on May 14, 1965

Xian H-6A – bomber carrier of thermonuclear weapons

Xian H-6B – reconnaissance variant

Xian H-6C (H-6III) – modernized version with electronic warfare equipment

Xian H-6D (H-6IV) – carrier of the Shang You anti-ship missile (the early 1980s, export index – C-601, NATO designation – Silkworm, version of the Soviet P-15 Termit). Later it was upgraded for carrying two supersonic anti-ship missiles, The C-301 / HY-3 (Western CSSC-X-6) or four supersonic HIAC C-101 / YJ-16 / CSS-C-5 Saple missiles.

Xian H-6E – bomber with advanced avionics (in service with the Air Force since the 1980s)

Xian H-6F – the new designation for the upgraded H-6A and H-6C (INS, Doppler radar, GPS receiver)

Xian H-6G – used to guide cruise missiles (the 1990s, no bomb bay and electronic warfare systems)

Xian H-6H – carrier of 2 strategic cruise missiles (the 1990s, no bomb bay and electronic warfare systems)

Xian H-6M – a carrier of strategic cruise missiles with a terrain-following system and four hardpoints under the wing (the 1990s, no bomb bay and electronic warfare systems). There is information about the resumption of production of this version from the beginning of 2006

Xian HD-6 (Hongzhaji Dian-6) – electronic warfare aircraft

Xian H-6K – the latest modification of the H-6 with new turbofan engines WS-18 (D-30KP-2) with a thrust of about 118 kN each, has modern electronic digital equipment, enlarged air intakes, a modernized cockpit and an enlarged aerial fairing without 23 -mm guns. The combat load is 12,000 kg. The bomber can carry 6 CJ-10A cruise missiles and be able to carry the aircraft version of the Dongfeng-21. Combat radius increased from 1800 to 3000 km.

Fuel tankers

Xian HY-6 (Hongzhaji You-6) – air refuelling tanker

Xian H-6DU  is a mid-air refuelling tanker for the Chinese Navy, an upgraded H-6D.

Export version

Xian B-6D – export version of the H-6D

Experimental aircraft and prototypes

H-6 Engine Testbed – H-6 serial number 086, used for testing engines for 20 years (before the purchase of the IL-76 for replacement)

H-6 Launch Vehicle – A proposed option for launching a launch vehicle with a satellite from an altitude of 10 km (2000). Shown at the 2006 Zhuhai Air Show

Xian H-6I – modification with 4 Rolls-Royce Spey Mark 512 turbofan engines from the Hawker Siddeley Trident aircraft. Two additional engines were located under the wing. The range increased to 8100 km (with a standard payload) and over 5000 km (with a nuclear load). Developed in 1970, it made its first flight in 1978

Xian H-8I is a strategic bomber based on the H-6. Developed at Research Institute No. 603 since March 23, 1970. Two variants of the propulsion system were proposed – with four turbofan WS-6J (Type 910) or six turbofans Pratt-Whitney JT-3D. Was not built.

The Xian H-8II is a more ambitious evolutionary design of the H-6 with 6 WS-6J turbofans. Was not built.

By November 2020, there were 231 Xian H-6 copies, modifications and derivatives in service with the PLA.


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