H-6 bomber/strike variants gallery

(H-6/6A image). In September 1957, the Chinese aircraft manufacturer Xian purchased the production rights for the Tupolev Tu-16 “Badger A” medium strategic jet bomber from the Soviet Union, although it was later decided that the aircraft would be manufactured by Xian and Harbin companies. The first technical documents arrived in China in February 1959, followed by two model aircraft, a Tu-16 “semi-knocked-down” (SKD) kit and another Tu-16 “component knock-down” (CKD) kit to be assembled in China.
(H-6/6A image). The first aircraft was assembled by Harbin company in 67 days and made its first flight on September 27, 1959 under designation “H-6”. On May 14, 1965, one of these three prototypes carried out the first launch of a Chinese nuclear bomb at the Lop Nur test site. Subsequently, another 8 launches/tests were carried out in this same place. Of the H-6 variant, only 2 units were manufactured, which were actually the two Tu-16 “Badger A” sent by the Soviets in the form of assembly kits.
(H-6/6A image). In 1961, all work was transferred to what would become Xian Aircraft Manufacturing Company (XAC), but it was not until 1964 when the work began. All this delay in the work was due to the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution that began in May 1966, which caused the loss of technical documentation and blueprints of the aircraft. Finally the first H-6 bomber manufactured entirely in China made its maiden flight in December 24, 1968, with designation “H-6A”.
(H-6/6A image). The H-6A carried two Xian Wopen WP8 turbojets of 9,487 kg (93.17 kN) static thrust each. These engines were the Chinese version of the Soviet Mikulin AM-2M-500 engines, and in level flight and “clean” configuration the H-6A bomber reached a maximum speed of 992 km/h. The cruise speed was 786 km/h and the maximum range was 4,300 km, with a combat radius of 1,800 km.
(H-6/6A image). The crew was made up of 6 members because in addition to the pilots and the weapons operator, the aircraft carried a defensive armament consisting of three turrets armed with two 23mm Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 guns. These turrets were located in dorsal, ventral and tail positions, of which the dorsal and ventral guns were operated remotely while the tail guns were operated by a gunner. The bomb load was 3,000 kg, which were carried in a ventral bomb bay.
(H-6/6A image). The H-6A bombers were the first operational variant and were intended for conventional and nuclear bombing missions and entered service in 1969 with the PLAAF. This variant incorporated some improvements, such as an improved bomb launching system and a bomb bay with air conditioning and thermal insulation. Some of the first examples manufactured carried different monitoring equipment for the first aerial nuclear weapon test carried out in May 1965. These bombers were initially deployed in 8 PLAAF bomber Divisions but were withdrawn from active service years ago, although some aircraft are currently in service (2024) training new pilots within the 2nd Training Brigade based in Harbin.
(H-6/6A image). Along with the H-6A, the “H-6B” variant for strategic air reconnaissance was developed, which carried different cameras for observation. In the mid-1970s, an improved conventional bombing variant called the “H-6A-II” appeared. This variant incorporated a general improvement of the systems and avionics as well as curved, low-drag wingtips. At the end of the 70s, another conventional bombing variant appeared, designated as “H-6C”, which incorporated new defensive countermeasures systems. All aircraft of these variants belonged to the PLAAF and were retired several decades ago.
(H-6D image). In 1975 the development of a variant to carry out maritime strike missions for the PLA Navy Air Force (PLANAF) began. This variant is considered as a “second generation H-6“, received the designation “H-6D” and performed maiden flight on August 29, 1981. This aircraft had various updated systems, enlarged engine intakes and a radome under the nose housing a target acquisition radar. The H-6Ds carried two C-601 (Silkworm) anti-ship missiles on underwing hardpoints. These missiles were later replaced by two C-301 or four C-101 supersonic anti-ship missiles and a modernized variant (H-6IV) capable of carrying four YJ-8 (C-801) anti-ship missiles is currently being developed.
(H-6/6A image). In 1987 Iraq received four H-6Ds, designated “B-6D”, along with 50 C-601 “Silkworm” anti-ship cruise missiles. These aircraft fought in the Iran–Iraq War, scoring hits on 14 merchant ships. An Iraqi B-6D was shot down by an Iranian F-14A Tomcat, but the other three B-6Ds survived the war, although later they were destroyed by the United States during the 1991 Gulf War. In the early 1990s some H-6Ds were converted into tanker aircraft designated “H-6DU”. These aircraft were equipped with a hose-drogue pod under each wing and maintained the PV-23 fire control system, so they could continue carrying out bombing missions. All aircraft of this variant were retired.
(H-6/6A image). During the 1980s, a new nuclear bombing variant designated “H-6E” entered service with the PLAAF, incorporating new countermeasures equipment. Later, during the 1990s, the H-6A and H-6C variants were modernized, giving rise to the “H-6F” conventional bombing variant. These aircraft carried a new doppler navigation radar, a new inertial navigation system and a GPS receiver. Currently there are no bombers of this variant in service with the PLAAF.
(H-6G image). According to some sources, in 2005 the replacement of the PLANAF H-6Ds by a new maritime strike variant called “H-6G” began. These new aircraft had improved avionics along with new countermeasures and could carry jamming pods at underwing hardpoints. This new variant could carry up to four new YJ-83/C-802 (CSS-N-8 Saccade) subsonic anti-ship missiles, very similar to the French Exocet missiles. But the information about the H-6G variant is confusing and in January 2018 the Asian Times journal reported that China Central Television (CCTV) had said that H-6G bombers were being converted into electronic warfare (EW) aircraft by incorporating ECM pods, electronic jammers and anti-radiation missiles.
(H-6J image). According to CCTV, the H-6G were originally aircraft dedicated “to guide and provide targeting data to ground-launched cruise missiles”, information that is also stated in other media. According to these media, the H-6G variant appeared in the 90s and lacked a bomb bay and defensive weapons. Probably both information is partially correct, because there are currently (2024) 27 H-6Gs in service with the PLANAF, distributed in the 6th and 8th divisions, based in Changzhou and Guiping respectively. This number seemed too high for an electronic warfare variant and it is likely that there will be a small number of H-6G bombers dedicated to electronic warfare (EW) missions, but surely the most of H-6G fleet are dedicated to maritime strike missions.
(H-6/6A image). In the late 90s the PLAAF also began the development of a new missile carrier variant that would lead to the variant known as “H-6H”. These aircraft lack an internal bomb bay and defensive armament and can carry a YJ-63/KD-63 anti-ship/land attack cruise missile under each wing. They have a teardrop-shaped radome installed behind the bomb bay area as a distinctive feature. These bombers entered service in 2002 and there are currently (2024) 38 in service within the 10th and the 36th Bomber Divisions, based in Luhe/Ma’an and Xian/Lintong respectively.
(H-6K image). At the beginning of the 2000s it was decided to thoroughly review and redesign the Xian H-6 bomber to adapt it to the new times and make a much more effective aircraft giving raise to the “H-6K” variant. The structure of the aircraft was reinforced so that it could carry up to three KD-20 or KD-63 land attack cruise missiles (LACM) or three YJ-12 anti-ship missiles under each wing. The nose was redesigned, replacing the original glass of the Tu-16 with one made of composite materials. The original cockpit was also changed for a “glass cockpit” type with modern multifunction screens and a new radome was installed under the nose that houses the antenna of a passive electronically scanned array radar or, potentially, an active electronically scanned array (AESA). In addition, an electro-optical/infrared turret was incorporated under the fuselage and the avionics were improved with the incorporation of passive sensors and an updated countermeasures suite was installed.
(H-6K image). In addition to updating all the electronics, the new H-6K also received other improvements such as new air intakes and larger diameter engine nacelles to provide adequate airflow for the new Soloviev D-30KP-2 turbofans. These new engines developed 117.68 kN (11,098 kg) of thrust each and allowed heavier weapons loads to be transported over greater distances, and had better specific fuel consumption which extended their combat radius to 3,500 km. The tail gunner’s position and all the defensive weapons that had been maintained in some previous variants were also eliminated. The bomb bay was maintained, although it is not capable of housing the missiles carried by these aircraft.
(H-6K image). According to China Central Television (CCTV), with all these improvements the H-6K bomber had a payload that reached up to 12,000 kg and could carry up to 40 tons of fuel. At the same time as the H-6K was being developed, a new Chinese turbofan was being developed to be introduced in both the H-6K and future variants. It was the WS-18 engine, which is actually a Chinese reverse engineered copy of the D-30KP-2 turbofan.
(H-6K image). The first prototype of the H-6K made its maiden flight on January 5, 2007, but the first aircraft did not enter service until 2011. Since then it has become the main variant in service within the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and is currently (2024) 108 units are in service in the 8th, 10th and 36th Bomber Divisions based in Shaodong, Leiyang, Anqing, Luhe/Ma’an and Wugong. It appears that around 2018 an improved sub-variant called “H-6KH” appeared, incorporating two new underwing hardpoints for KG600/800 jammer pods and a SATCOM dome in front of the tail. More recently, at the end of 2020, H-6K with wingtip EW pods carrying YJ-12 anti-ship missiles have been seen, so these aircraft could also perform maritime strike missions like the H-6J naval variant. These bombers have received the designation “H-6KG”.
(H-6M image). In 2006 a new variant of the H-6 bomber could be seen that had four under-wing hardpoints for anti-ship or cruise missiles. These aircraft received the designation “H-6M” and lacked an internal bomb bay as well as defensive weapons but incorporated a new terrain-following system that improved their attack capabilities. This variant has been considered a provisional model until the entry into service of the more modern and capable H-6K bomber. Currently (2024) the PLAAF has 15 units in service within the 10th and 36th Bomber Divisions, based in Luhe/Ma’an and Wugong respectively.
(H-6J image). In September 2018, satellite images showed 4 new bombers at the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) air base at Guiping-Mengshu in Guangxi. After analyzing the images, it was concluded that these aircraft were a new variant called “H-6J” acquired by the PLANAF to replace the H-6G bombers. The H-6J bomber made its first flight in 2014 and is basically an H-6K bomber of the Air Force adapted to carry out maritime strike missions. This naval variant has the same capabilities of the H-6K in terms of payload and range/combat radius but has been fitted with a new long-range surface search radar and an electro-optical targeting pod for target acquisition.
(H-6J image). H-6J bombers can carry up to seven YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM). These missiles have a range of 400 km, depending on launch altitude, and carry a 200 kilogram high-explosive warhead. They reach a speed of Mach 3 and are capable of performing evasive maneuvers before striking their target. If these missiles have this range, they could put the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier strike groups in serious trouble, as they could be launched beyond the range of the Aegis Combat System and the SM-2 surface-to-air missiles carried by the escort ships. There are currently (2024) 18 H-6Js in service and they are based in Guiping.
(H-6N image). In October 2019, the PLAAF publicly revealed that it had its first nuclear-capable bomber, which could be refueled in the air, and with this, China once again had its “nuclear triad.” The nuclear triad consists of land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and long-range nuclear-capable bombers, and is the cornerstone of nuclear deterrence. With the addition of the new bomber, China ensured a viable second-strike capability in the event of a nuclear war. The new bomber had entered service in 2018 with the PLAAF and was the “H-6N”.
(H-6N image). The new H-6N bomber has an aerial-refueling probe in the nose and a special concavity under its fuselage that allows it to carry a large payload. These aircraft carry enhanced avionics and defensive systems, including a high-angle infrared missile approach warning system (IIR MAWS) and identification friend-foe (IFF) sensors. The new large ventral external station observed in the photos has given rise to numerous speculations about what type of payload it can carry and the most accurate thing is to think that it is for an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) or for a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) or even to carry a WZ-8 rocket powered strategic reconnaissance drone. However, this aircraft maintains the six underwing hardpoints and can perform the same standoff strike and maritime strike missions like the H-6K and H-6J bombers.
(H-6N image). What is certain is that the H-6N is the most capable variant to date and can use a wide variety of missiles. Among them are the KD-20 or KD-63 land attack cruise missiles (LACM), the CM-401 air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM), the YJ-12 anti-ship missile, the entire range of guided or free fall bombs and a new air-launched ballistic missile derived from the DF-21D land-based medium-range ballistic missile, named by the U.S. government as “CH-AS-X-13”, although according to anonymous PLA sources, it could be the rumored “CJ-100” long-range high-altitude supersonic cruise missile. This new missile was seen in October 2020 installed on the ventral concavity of an H-6N bomber but the official name within the PLAAF is still unknown. It is speculated that it must have a range of about 3,500 km which would allow it to be launched well beyond the range of the U.S. Navy carrier-based air cover.
(H-6N image). Currently (2024) the number of H-6Ns that the PLAAF has in service with the 106th Air Regiment based in Dengzhou/Neixiang is unknown, but it is known that they continue to be manufactured along with the H-6J naval bomber. Analysts consider the H-6N as a great and worrying step in China’s expansive strategy, since this type of aircraft is capable of attacking targets such as the US base in Guam, Taiwan, South Korea, Okinawa in Japan and the countries Southeast Asia from mainland China or from military bases that China has developed from atolls in the South China Sea, on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef (Zhubi), Mischief Reef (Meiji Reef) or Woody Island (Yongxing) among others. These four bases have runways of at least 3,000 meters in length, from which these bombers can operate without problems.
(H-6U image). In addition to bomber variants, different variants of the Xian H-6 have also been produced for in-flight refueling under designations HY-6, HY-6U or H-6U, HY-6D and HY-6DU. Some special, experimental and electronic warfare versions have also been developed. The H-6 with serial number 086 was converted into an engine testbed aircraft, a task it maintained for 20 years. A Xian H-6 was also planned to carry a “Satellite Launch Vehicle” called “Shen Long (Divine Dragon)” up to 10,000 meters of altitude, from where it would be launched to put satellites weighing up to 50 kg into orbit. Although a model of an aircraft called “H-6LV” was presented in 2006, the project was finally canceled. The HD-6 variant is electronic warfare and was characterized by having various antennas and radomes installed throughout the fuselage.
(H-6I image). In 1970 a possible replacement for the H-6 bombers was proposed. The program consisted of the installation of 4 Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 512 engines to improve its autonomy and combat radius. The 4 engines, which had been purchased as spare parts for Hawker Siddeley Trident aircraft, would be installed in individual pods under the wings and the fuselage would be lengthened to be able to carry more bombs. With these modifications the “H-6I”, as it was designated, would have a range of 8,000 km and could carry up to 18 tons of bombs in the bomb bay. A prototype was built and made its maiden flight in January 1978, but the project was ultimately cancelled.
(H-6M image). The H-6 bombers have demonstrated China’s ability to transform an outdated model into an aircraft fully capable of carrying out its assigned missions half a century later. The manufacturing of these aircraft has been carried out at a very slow pace, about 4 aircraft per year, although in a sustained manner, in fact, manufacturing continues today. Currently (2024), there are 179 H-6H/K/M bombers in service with the PLAAF distributed in 3 Bomber Divisions (8th, 10th and 36th), to which we must add an unknown number of H-6N bombers of the 106th Air Brigade. These are joined by another 27 H-6G aircraft plus 18 H-6J bombers from the PLANAF. The H-6Gs are deployed with the 6th and 8th Divisions and the H-6J with the 1st Independent Regiment.

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