Long-range Xian H-6 bombers were first put into service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Aviation in the early 1960s. These aircraft are still in use today. This exceptionally long lifespan was achieved by performing consistent maintenance and development work to introduce new features and improvements. In particular, the bomber was outfitted with newer weapons as it progressed. As a result of this, the contemporary H-6 fleet can employ a diverse assortment of missile weaponry for a variety of missions.
The initial iteration of the Chinese bomber H-6 was a licenced version of the Soviet Tu-16. Its first flight was in 1959, and H-6 enlisted in both the Air Force and the Navy in the early 1960s after completing its training. In its first configuration, H-6 became a bomb carrier equipped with conventional weaponry. On the foundation of this design, subsequent innovations such as tanker aircraft, a nuclear bomb carrier, and so on were made.
In the 1980s, Chinese aircraft manufacturers started developing new variants of the H-6 that were equipped with missiles that could strike ground and surface targets. This route is still being pursued and has been the primary option for a long time. The missile carriers have continually been produced in several different iterations, each of which varies in the make-up of the equipment, the list of weapons compatible with it, the list of performance characteristics, and the list of combat capabilities.
H-6 strength in PLA service
Because of the obvious advantages, conventional bombers were rapidly phased out as newer models of the H-6 equipped with missile weaponry took their place. At this time, the People’s Liberation Army only possesses missile carriers of this category, which can be deployed in a number of different configurations. There are also tanker planes, surveillance aircraft, jammers, and other aircraft on the same platform.
According to The Military Balance 2022, the PLAAF now possesses seven bomber regiments flying H-6 aircraft with various configurations. Additionally, a new brigade is in the process of being formed and equipped. In addition, there are training groups that utilise older bombers. There are just two H-6 units in the Naval Aviation service.
It is possible that the total number of H-6 aircraft could exceed 215-220 units. The H-6K modification aircraft make up most of the fleet in the PLAAF, with approximately 100 planes. There are around 60 older H-6Hs that are gradually being upgraded to the H-6M level by the Air Force. The newest iteration of the H-6N is being manufactured for the Air Force in a limited production run. In addition, ten to twelve vintage H-6A bombers are utilised for training. The PLAN possesses between 18 and 20 H-6Js that have been modified to fly over the ocean. The PLAN currently operates up to 25-30 older model H-6G aircraft, which will eventually be upgraded to the “J” variant.
Air to Ground role
The PLAAF and PLAN H-6 bombers can attack ground targets on the enemy’s territory. Their objectives include stationary structures, as well as concentrations of troops and other types of forces. Target coordinates can be known in advance or set while the weapon is in flight, including after the weapon has been dropped. It has been suggested that primarily guided missiles of a wide variety of sorts should be used to tackle such issues.
According to the currently available data, one of the primary air-to-ground weaponry the H-6 is equipped with is a subsonic air-launched cruise missile from the Hong Niao Series (HN-1/-2/-3). These missiles have been in service since the late nineties. It is well known that there are three types of missiles within the same family, each with its unique properties. Every Hong Niao missile has a turbojet engine, and it uses satellite navigation and inertial navigation to get where it has to go. There are also nuclear alterations in addition to conventional ones. The first rocket in the series, the HN-1, had a range of up to 600 kilometres; by the time they got to the HN-3, this range had surpassed 1200-1500 kilometres.
Beginning in the 2000s, the military put more modern subsonic CJ-10K ALCMs into service. The most recent iteration of the H-6K bomber was designed to use this type of armament, which was intended to deliver a conventional or nuclear payload up to a distance of 1,500 kilometres. After some time, China debuted the Changjian-20 missile (CJ-20), which had a range of at least 2,000 kilometres.
It was known that China is working on an aeroballistic version of the Dongfeng-21 rocket for a number of years prior to recent revelations. This kind of product will range up to three thousand kilometres. The Chinese plan to equip the most recent upgrade of the H-6N aircraft with weapons.
The H-6 aircraft are equipped to utilise guided bombs, which allow them to hit targets within a radius of tens of kilometres. Reports have shown this type of bomber is compatible with the contemporary LT PGB family of bombs. It encompasses a variety of products with a calibre of up to one thousand kilogrammes and semi-active laser guiding or satellite/inertial navigation.
The H-6 missile bombers, in their various forms, can carry a number of missiles or bombs, depending on the modification. On earlier models of the H-6H, there were just two underwing points that could take big missiles or beam holders for bombs. However, this number was increased to 4-6 on later models with the “K” and “M” modifications. As a result of modifications made to the aircraft’s fuselage bottom and cargo compartment as part of the H-6N project, it is now possible for the aircraft to transport a massive DF-21 missile at a position that is only partially visible.
Anti Ship role
A lot of missiles designed to attack ships are capable of taking out mobile surface targets as well. As a result, the Air Force and the Navy can engage in combat against hostile ships. However, because numerous aircraft modifications are now in service, the capabilities of the two services are rather distinct from one another.
The Yingji-63 is currently in use and is one of the oldest anti-ship missiles. The previous Shangyu product, the Chinese equivalent of the Soviet P-15 anti-ship missiles, has been given a significant facelift in this newer, more advanced model. Some modifications were made to the design during production, and some new devices were included. The range of the flight was increased to 200 kilometres.
During the same period, the anti-ship missile known as the Kundi-88 was being developed and put into service. This weapon is a hypersonic missile equipped with a ramjet propulsion system and radar guidance. The maximum range of the flight is 200 kilometres. A warhead strikes the target with a mass of 165 kg and a speed of approximately 3.5 metres per second. The warhead was semi-armour penetrating.
Now there is information on the testing and/or development of anti-ship missiles of the Yingji-12 type. In technological aspects, it is comparable to the earlier KD-88; however, it is distinct in that it is larger and heavier and carries a heavier warhead that weighs 500 kilograms. Flight range can be increased to 350 and 400 kilometres when launched from an air platform. The speed increased to between 3.5 and 4 metres per second.
The YJ-100 product was developed, while the CJ-10 cruise missile was researched and designed. This anti-ship missile travels at a subsonic speed and can cover 800 kilometres in one trip. A warhead weighing 500 kilograms is dropped on the target. It is not known what kind of targeting will occur. Most likely, some type of global positioning system (GOS) is utilised in addition to navigational systems.
There have been reports of the feasibility of comparable processing of anti-ship missiles of the DF-21D coastal complex in creating an aeroballistic variant of the DF-21 missile. This possibility was discussed in the context of the project. If there is indeed work in this area, the results of that work should be able to be disclosed publicly in the near future.
The only way that H-6 naval aviation bombers can carry these missiles is on an external sling, just like “land” bombers. They are identical to H-6H/M/K aircraft in every respect, including payload capacity and the positioning of weapons. A missile carrier can carry anywhere from four to six missiles at a minimum, depending on the ammo load it is allotted. On the other hand, smaller products, like the KD-88, can be hung side-by-side on the same pylon.
Armament and technological advancement
The Xian H-6 missile bomber is quite ancient, and its design has been rendered irrelevant for a long time. This kind of aircraft can no longer be considered a cutting-edge and user-friendly platform, despite all of the improvements and alterations, as well as the introduction of new engines and other equipment. It is inferior to foreign technology in its category in terms of its performance qualities, and there are some limits placed on its operation and use.
Despite this, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese aviation industry are working tirelessly to improve the H-6 aircraft family and achieve the highest levels of success. One of the ways that this kind of development might take place is through the consistent and timely modernisation of the weapons complex and accompanying systems. Almost continuously, brand-new gadgets and weaponry are being developed and distributed.
It would appear that the command of the PLA Air Force and Navy deems this strategy appropriate and practical, and they have no plans to abandon it. This indicates that H-6 bombers, with their existing modifications, will continue to be able to carry a diverse selection of guided missiles and bomb armaments. Consequently, the outmoded bomber’s fighting qualities will stay at a respectable level, despite all of the objective constraints.