The new H-6K bombers of the PLA Air Force flew several thousand kilometers for nearly 10 straight hours during a recent drill. They set a new record for continuous flight time and range while flying over the sea. But what are the special characteristics of these bombers, and will they fly over the South China Sea?
Upgraded fuel economy and range
The H-6K bombers boast low fuel consumption and lightweight engines, with a targeted redesign performed on the inlet. The significantly increased air intake of their engines boosts the thrust by 30 percent, while cutting down on fuel consumption by 20 percent.
Improved ground attack capability
The H-6K has hardpoints under its wings, which can carry six cruise missiles and a maximum payload of up to 15 tons, effectively improving the attack capability of the aircraft.
Latest electronic equipment
The front of the fuselage of the aircraft has been redesigned to be narrower and shorter. Closed streamlined fairing is used, and the bombers are equipped with a new fire control radar and search radar.
Improved onboard experience
The H-6K can carry four crew members in two rows. It has an independent ejection seat, a glass cockpit and six digital multifunction displays, which greatly simplify the operation of the aircraft.
What role will the H-6K bombers play at sea?
Among China's domestically built bombers, the H-6K features the longest range and maximum bomb capacity. It will play a significant role in safeguarding China both at sea and in the air. Because of its long flight time, it can fly over the Nansha Islands for reconnaissance, surveillance and patrols. During wartime, it is capable of dropping bombs and launching missiles, according to Cao Weidong, a military commentator.
In early May, British magazine Jane's Defense Weekly wrote that if the H-6K bombers fly over the South China Sea, it will show China's willingness to deploy strategic forces in the region.
The recent appearance of the H-6K over the South China Sea was the consequence of normal training, while U.S. aircraft carriers, bombers and anti-submarine aircraft in the region demonstrate real militarization, said commentator Du Wenlong.