The US Navy has a new weapon to fear — and this one could change the entire game.
The Chinese air force has modified a small number of H-6 bombers apparently to carry a very large new anti-ship missile, The National Interest reported.
The new munition, possibly a variant of the DF-21D ballistic anti-ship missile, could pose a serious danger to US Navy vessels operating in the western Pacific. Aircraft carriers, in particular, could be at risk.
The new H-6N variant of the venerable Chinese bomber — itself a clone of the Soviet Tu-16 — first appeared over Beijing during preparations for celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The H-6Ns feature an under-fuselage recess that could accommodate a single, very large missile. The DF-21D is more than 30 feet long and weighs around 32,000 pounds. It can travel as far as 1,300 miles with a 1,200-pound warhead, the National Interest reported.
“Experts say that there at least four of these aircraft presently assigned to a People’s Liberation Army Air Force bomber brigade in China’s Central Theater Command region,” Joseph Trevithick wrote at The War Zone.
Reports about the H-6N and its ballistic-missile launching mission first began to emerge in 2017. Xi’an Aircraft International Corporation’s H-6, a derivative of the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger, has been the centerpiece of China’s bomber force since the 1970s.
In 2009, the H-6K variant, a significant redesign from the original aircraft optimized as a carrier for long-range anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, entered service. The H-6N is a further outgrowth of this earlier missile carrier version.
The most notable change between the N and K is the complete elimination of the bomb bay on the N and the addition of semi-recessed area with a hard point for a large missile. This is similar in some general respects to the ability of Russia’s Tu-22M Backfire bombers can carry a single Kh-22 or Kh-32 anti-ship cruise missile in a semi-recessed mount under its central fuselage.
There are no pictures from the parade preparations that show the H-6Ns carrying a payload and some of them appear to have a plug installed that gives the fuselage its normal profile when a missile is not loaded. So, it remains unclear what type of weapon, or weapons, the Chinese intend to employ on these aircraft.
But Trevithick thinks it’s the DF-21D. “Previous reports have indicated that an air-launched derivative of the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, reportedly called the CH-AS-X-13, will be the primary weapon for the H-6N.”
Besides arming its bombers with a possible new missile, Beijing has been making efforts to diversify and harden its anti-ship arsenal, The National Interest reported.
The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force positioned at least a dozen transporter-erector-launcher vehicles for the DF-26 anti-ship ballistic missile at a previously undisclosed training range near Alxa in China’s Inner Mongolia region, Jane’s reported after reviewing DigitalGlobe satellite imagery dated Jan. 9, 2019.
The deployment reportedly was a response to the appearance of a US Navy warship near the Paracel Islands on Jan. 7, 2019. The destroyer USS McCampbell sailed near the island group as part of a “freedom-of-navigation operation,” or FONOP.
China, Vietnam and Taiwan all claim the Paracels, which lie around 650 miles from China’s Hainan Island. In recent years China has dredged several reefs in the Paracels and built military outposts on them.