One of the reasons the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s flights through Taiwanese airspace have caused a backlash in the region is the fact that the Chinese warplanes involved, including H-6K bombers, took off from airbases far inland, well beyond the reach of Taiwanese radars.
The long routes plied by these planes, intruding into not just Taiwan’s air defense zone but also the Japanese air border along the Miyako Strait of the First Island Chain, are also evidence of the extended reach of the PLAAF at a time when the Chinese military is on an aggressive buildup campaign.
On Monday, state broadcaster China Central Television aired a feature program headlined “From Shaanxi to Western Pacific,” which hinted that two major PLAAF bases in Xian and Xianyang in the central province of Shaanxi would be where powerful bombers got airborne should there be any emergency in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, or the Western Pacific.
Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is also the chairman of the Central Military Commission, the PLA’s command and control authority, inspected an airbase in Xian in early 2015 and even climbed into the cockpit of an H-6K and simulated a flyover while being briefed on the features of the modernized model of the strategic bomber.
Satellite images of the two neighboring airbases, in Xian’s Lintong district and Xianyang’s Wugong county, show legions of warplanes believed to be H-6Ks.
Analysts believe that Shaanxi province, in the geographic center of China, is now a vital stronghold amid the PLAAF’s westward deployment to marshal warplanes and pilots away from the coastal areas susceptible to the prying of the radars of foreign militaries.
The distance from Xian to Taipei is around 1,600 kilometers, while an H-6K is said to have a combat radius of 3,500km thanks to a reinforced structure making use of composite materials and enlarged engine inlets for its turbofan engines. In 2015, about 15 H-6Ks were in service.
China’s fifth-generation J-20 jet fighters are also reportedly based in central and western provinces within the PLA’s Western Theater Command.