MELBOURNE, Australia ― China’s air force announced Tuesday that it had conducted a large-scale exercise involving 12 of its long-range bombers.
According to a news release issued by the Ministry of National Defense, 12 Xian H-6K bombers belonging to the Shenwei Unit took part in the exercise, which involved missions into the South China Sea as well as the Tibetan Plateau.
Video and photos of the event showed bombers belonging to the 36th Bomber Division of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF, were involved in the exercise. They operated from an unknown base in Shaanxi province under the People’s Liberation Army’s Central Theater Command.
The 36th Bomber Division has at least three bomber regiments in its order of battle, with two operating the H-6K and the other retaining older variants of the H-6. China has recently increased the tempo of its bomber flights, although such flights have usually involved a much smaller number of bombers.
This uptick in tempo has seen increasing instances of PLAAF and People’s Liberation Army Navy H-6 aircraft undertaking flights over international airspace, specifically over the Western Pacific near the Japanese-administered islands of what is known as the First Island Chain. The bombers have also been reportedly circumnavigating international airspace around Taiwan, which China views as a rogue province.
The H-6K is the latest variant of the venerable H-6 bomber, which started out as licence-produced versions of the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-16 Badger bomber dating from the 1950s. The H-6K has been fitted with newer Russian turbofan engines, although these are still the Soloviev D-30 engines originally designed in the 1970s.
China’s PLAAF utilizes the H-6K primarily as a missile carrier, with the type able to carry up to six missiles such as the CJ-10 cruise missile or YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship missiles on underwing hardpoints.
China is also reportedly developing a new sub-variant of the H-6K, with a provision for air-to-air refueling.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.