China’s Xian H-6K heavy bombers, a heavily modernised Chinese licensed copy of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16, are expected to be armed with China’s hypersonic weapons once they come online, the Global Times newspaper has reported.
According to the newspaper, the bomber class, which already has nuclear strike capability and is capable of carrying both anti-ship missiles and land-attack cruise missiles, is likely to be fitted with hypersonic missiles, currently undergoing testing, enabling them to “devastate the enemy’s fighting capability even before a war gets fully underway.”
The missiles, Global Times said, will be able to destroy enemy infrastructure up to 3,000 km away in just minutes, meaning, theoretically, that an H-6K flying somewhere in the East China Sea could easily attack Guam, while a bomber flying in Beijing-claimed territories in the South China Sea could strike northern Australia, if necessary.
Last week, Pentagon Chief Mark Esper said that in the wake of Washington’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, the US was seeking to deploy ground-based intermediate range missiles in the Indo-Pacific region to challenge China’s perceived strategic superiority there. This week, both Australia and the Philippines ruled out hosting such weapons in their countries, with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowing he would “never” allow such a deployment because it would escalate the danger of World War III.
Speaking to Global Times, Wang Ya’nan, editor in chief of Aerospace Knowledge, a Chinese aviation-related magazine, said that the H-6K’s comparatively slow speed and lack of stealth are more than made up for by its long-range attack capability.
“The H-6K can remain within a safe zone, launch[ing] its missiles that can reach targets 2,000 kilometres away,” Wang explained, saying that even existing missiles are difficult to intercept due to their stealthy characteristics.
“With China developing hypersonic weapons in recent years, its attack range and speed could become even greater than a conventional cruise missile, potentially capable of taking out targets deep within hostile territories 3,000 kilometres away within just a few minutes,” Wang added.
The aviation expert calculated that with each H-6K capable of carrying up to six such missiles, a squadron of 10 bombers could strike up to 60 enemy strategic points.
Furthermore, Wang said, a fleet of H-6Ks accompanied by Chengdu J-20s, China’s new stealth fighter, could prove a particularly deadly combination, with the fighters destroying enemy early warning and tanker aircraft, while the H-6Ks would ‘scorch land hubs such as command centres and missile positions.’
The H-6K has an estimated range of up to 6,000 km and aerial refuelling capability. The People’s Liberation Army Air Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy have at least 180 H-6s of various modifications in their arsenals.
Last year, Sputnik reported on possible testing of hypersonic glider technology by China. In August 2018, the Global Times reported that China had successfully tested its first hypersonic glider, known as the Xingkong-2, or ‘Starry Sky-2’. A month earlier, the Federation of American Scientists claimed that China was engaged in testing of a Chinese analogue to Russia’s Kinzhal cruise missile aboard a modified H-6K.
The South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, has been the scene of growing tensions between the US and China caused by the territorial disputes between China, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan. In recent years, the US has repeatedly sent warships to the region on so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ missions, with Beijing, which has de-facto control over 80 percent of the contested area, calling the missions “provocative” and urging Washington to stop. Over the weekend, the Pentagon warned that the US would not tolerate Beijing’s “aggressive” and “destabilising” activities in the South China Sea, promising that the US would not “stand idly by” while China attempted to “reshape the region to its favour.”