A People's Liberation Army Air Force H-6K strategic bomber. Photo: Xinhua

The only Chinese strategic bomber in service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) – the H-6K – will take a detour from its intensified air circumnavigations of Taiwan.

It will lead a big fleet of aircraft including the lightweight J-10A fighter, the JH-7A fighter-bomber, the IL-76 and Y-9 airlifters on a mission to Russia to showcase the air force’s newfound might at an international military gathering.

Xinhua noted earlier this week that the Chinese Air Force fleet will also carry troops to Russia who will take part in the International Army Games at the end of the month.

The International Army Games 2018, initiated by the Russian defense ministry and co-organized by the armies of China, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Iran, will start on July 28 and finish on August 11.

Russian News Agency TASS reported that 32 nations would attend the event which would include 26 military contests as a spectator sport. The military fanfare will take place in various Russian military training facilities as well as on several military bases abroad, including those in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the coastal province of Fujian.

Since the events’ inception in 2015, Russia has maintained an unbeatable record of victories. Last year the PLA finished second.

It will be the first time H-6K bombers and Y-9 transport aircraft have gone abroad to take part in friendly military competitions, a spokesperson for the Chinese Air Force said.

Military buffs and observers can expect some close-up photo ops of the Chinese planes at the event, subject to the Russian organizer’s rules that will ensure consoles and key parts are kept away from prying eyes at all times, given the Moscow-Beijing defense cooperation.

Since its debut in March 2015, H-6K patrols over Taiwan as well as the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait in the East and South China Seas have become commonplace. The H6-K is China’s main strategic bomber, able to carry a variety of land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles and precision-guided munitions with 1,600-kilometer air-launched cruise missiles and reportedly a combat range of 3,500km, according to The National Interest.

That said, observers say the unknown number of H-6Ks flying to Russia from their bases in central China will have to be refueled midway, even after being fitted with Soviet-era D-30KP turbofan engines.

The H-6Ks and other bombers and fighters will congregate at the Chelyabinsk Shagol Air Base, which straddles the border of Europe and Asia, about 5,000km from central China. It also remains to be seen if the H-6Ks will take part in any friendly rivalry with their more advanced Russian counterparts.

The journey to Russia can be deemed a retro-themed one as the overall airframe design of the Chinese bomber is modeled on the Old Soviet warhorse, the Tupolev Tu-16 bomber.

There were rumors the PLA plans to extend the H-6K’s operations zone as far as the US territory of Guam. By that time it will have acquired new avionics and fly-by-wire systems, as well as an air refueling probe and drogue to enable longer flights.

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