China’s PLA Navy has once again sought to project power in the disputed South China Sea by conducting drills with its latest H-6J strategic bomber.
The development assumes significance in the backdrop of tensions between Beijing and Washington, with the latter sporadically sending its warships to the region as part of its Freedom of Navigation Operations.
The H-6J bomber, the most recent type of bomber to enter service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, recently took part in a live-fire exercise in the South China Sea, practicing bombing on islands and sea mine-laying, demonstrating the aircraft’s traditional bombing capability apart from its existing standoff strike competence, reported the Global Times.
A regiment headquartered in south China’s Hainan Province, which is affiliated with the Naval Aviation Force under the PLA Southern Theater Command, conducted the exercise involving the real use of high-explosive bombs and undersea bottom mines.
The bomber was unveiled by China in July last year and is another variant of the H-6 series that comprises the H-6G, H-6M, H-6N and H-6K, according to the publicly available information. The H-6J was said to be the successor to the H-6G variant at the time of its launch.
An August 2020 report of the Global Times had stated that PLA Navy’s newly revealed bomber, the H-6J, was deployed for the first time to Yongxing Island in the South China Sea.
Experts had then stated that this would allow the PLA to counter provocative US military activities in the region and that its weapons load, which could include anti-ship ballistic missiles, will present a significant deterrent to US aircraft carriers.
The recent drills are believed to point towards a more belligerent and assertive PLA Navy which is trying to display its military might so as to counter the American Indo-Pacific strategy and its military support to Taiwan.
A Well-Planned Bomber Drill
As part of the latest drill, several bombers took off at night, established aircraft formations, and arrived over the chosen sea location at dawn amid difficult weather circumstances, including thick clouds.
According to state-owned broadcaster CCTV, the aircraft first lay sea mines before dropping the bombs, which are known for their high speed and enormous explosive radius. The bombs hit targets on islands and reefs as revealed in the footage.
The bombers then returned to base after the first round of bombing, underwent comprehensive inspections, and were resupplied with ordnance and fuel before taking off for the second airstrike. The bomber was also carrying the YJ-12 anti-ship missile under its wings, in addition to bombers and sea-mines in its belly.
#PLA Navy’s latest bomber, H-6J, recently joined live-fire drill in South China Sea, practicing island bombing and sea mine-laying. Analysts said it displayed aircraft’s traditional bombing capability in addition to its standoff strike competence. https://t.co/1G81Cz0vl1 pic.twitter.com/46MGuImuYR
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) December 5, 2021
The elaborate process of taking off, replenishing, and going back to hit select targets again, all in a span of a few hours, is believed to be a Chinese attempt at achieving a dual objective — one, intimidating the neighbors and other claimants of assets in the South China Sea and two, creating deterrence against the US Navy fleet with its increased forays into the region recently.
The manner in which the drills were conducted reveals elaborate planning that went behind it. The Chinese also indicated that it was only the beginning and that more such drills were in the offing.
“Both types of munitions have been thoroughly tested for accuracy and reliability. We will seek innovations in tactics and approaches, taking into account the real condition of the opponents, and create breakthroughs in the use of new types of weaponry and equipment in the next step,” Zhang Yanjie, a deputy commander of the regiment, stated in the report.
A few days after the H-6J bomber’s unveiling last year, National Defense spokesperson Senior Colonel Ren Guoqiang stated that H-6J bombers, along with their predecessors, H-6Gs, had conducted intensive round-the-clock drills in the South China Sea, completing training exercises such as takeoffs and landings, long-distance strikes, and surface-to-surface attacks.
The H-6J is a naval version of the H-6K bomber aircraft, which is the most recent type of the H-6 family of strategic bomber aircraft made by the Chinese manufacturer Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation. It can carry out combat missions in all-weather conditions and can precisely attack moving maritime targets.
It is a long-range bomber that can carry seven YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, six beneath the wings and one in the armament bay, according to the Chinese media. The H-6J’s weapon capacity is roughly double that of the H-6G, with a fighting radius of about 3,500 kilometers, or 50 percent longer than the H-6G.
The original Chinese turbojet engines are replaced with D-30KP turbofan engines with a thrust of 12,000 kg in the H-6J. Larger air intakes, a revised flight deck with smaller/fewer transparencies, and a huge dielectric nose radome are among the other changes.
The modification to the H-6J with the YJ-12 missiles includes fully new airframes, reduced weight composites, new fuel-efficient D-30-KP2 turbofans, advanced avionics, and a full glass cockpit, according to The Diplomat.
For target acquisition, the bomber is also equipped with a new long-range surface search radar and an electro-optical targeting pod.
According to a Beijing-based military specialist, the simulation demonstrated that the H-6J retains its classic bombing capacity, despite the fact that it can also be outfitted with standoff weaponry including anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles.
At a time when “foreign forces” and “Taiwan secessionists” are making provocations, the PLA drills could serve as a deterrent, the Global Times quoted analysts as saying.
The PLA has been constantly upgrading its military prowess in the face of rising tensions with the United States. This year has particularly been tumultuous given the Chinese incursions into Taiwanese airspace and American warships sailing through the Indo-Pacific waters as a cursory response.
Earlier, China reportedly built mockups of American warships that it apparently practiced sinking. It has also continued its intrusion into the waters of other constituents of the South China Sea, with the Philippines registering a strong protest recently.