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PLA Air Force Bomber Force Organization

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  • China Aerospace Studies Institute

This report provides an overview of the organization of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force (PLAAF) Bomber force.

According to the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2021:

“The PRC’s bomber force is currently composed of H-6 Badger variants, which are domestically produced versions of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 (Badger) bomber. Despite the relative age of its bomber force, the PLAAF has worked to maintain and enhance the operational effectiveness of these aircraft. In recent years, the PRC has fielded greater numbers of the H-6K, a modernized H-6 variant that integrates standoff weapons and features more-efficient turbofan engines for extended-range. The H-6K can carry six land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs), giving the PLA a long-range standoff precision strike capability that can range targets in the Second Island Chain from home airfields in mainland China.

“During the PRC’s 70th anniversary parade in 2019, the PLAAF publicly revealed the H-6N, a derivative of the H-6K optimized for long-range strikes. The H-6N features a modified fuselage that allows it to carry externally an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) that may be nuclear capable. In October 2020, an H-6N was observed carrying an air-launched ballistic missile. The H-6N’s air-to-air refueling capability also provides it greater reach over other H6 variants that are not refuelable in air. As of 2020, the PLAAF has operationally fielded the H-6N bomber, providing a platform for the air component of the PRC’s nascent nuclear triad. In 2021, the H-6N-equipped unit very likely will be developing tactics and procedures to conduct the PLAAF nuclear mission. In addition, the PLAAF is seeking to extend its power projection capability with the development of a new stealth strategic bomber, with official PRC state media stating that this new stealth bomber will have a nuclear mission in addition to filling conventional roles. The PLAAF is also developing new medium- and long-range stealth bombers to strike regional and global targets. PLAAF leaders publicly announced the program in 2016, however it may take more than a decade to develop this type of advanced bomber.

“The PLA can conduct air-to-air refueling operations to extend the ranges of its fighter and bomber aircraft equipped with refueling probes using the H-6U, a modified tanker variant of the H-6 bomber, as well as a small number of larger IL-78 Midas purchased from Ukraine. China has also developed the long range supersonic YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) for the H-6 bomber.

“Following former PLAAF Commander General Ma Xiaotian’s 2016 public statement that China was developing a new generation of long-range bombers, a number of reports suggest the new bomber, likely named the H-20, could debut sometime in the next decade with the following features: a stealthy design, employing many fifth- generation technologies; a likely range of at least 8,500 km; a payload of at least 10 metric tons; and a capability to employ both conventional and nuclear weaponry.”

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