BEIJING, -- Chinese state television revealed during the first week of May that a Xian Aircraft Corporation (XAC) H-6K bomber of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flew over China's new base on Fiery Cross Reef, indicating China's willingness to employ strategic assets to enforce its claims in the disputed South China Sea.
An episode of the Chinese state television series Military Life revealed the H-6K deployment to Fiery Cross Reef. However, the programme provided no indication of the date of the deployment, the number of H-6Ks flying that mission, or whether they actually landed on the newly reclaimed island base.
The deployment was not a main part of the television show's storyline, which concerned the career of an H-6K pilot named Liu Rui. Alert Chinese military fans found a very brief video segment showing a picture of Fiery Cross as seen from the front windscreen on an H-6K.
The deployment of the PLAAF's latest bomber is significant because it demonstrates China's willingness to use a strategic weapon system that can deploy nuclear weapons to defend its new island bases and larger claims in the South China Sea.
First revealed in 2007, the H-6K is the latest version of XAC's H-6 bomber series, a copy of the Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-16 'Badger', which began production in China in the late 1960s. The H-6K uses the more powerful 10-tonne thrust Russian Soloviev D-30KP-2 turbofan, has a redesigned nose employing a large radar, and an electro-optic targeting system.
It also has six wing pylons that can carry the 1,500 km range KD-20 (DF-10) optionally nuclear warhead equipped land attack cruise missile or non-nuclear anti-ship cruise missiles such as the 250-500 km-range, Mach 4 maximum speed, ramjet-powered YJ-12.
This latest television programme also showed an H-6K carrying the older 200 km range KD-63 optically-guided ground attack cruise missile.
The People's Liberation Army Air Force H-6K Badger Strategic Bomber.