While propaganda in police states is annoying to the people on the receiving end, foreign intelligence agencies also monitor it because a government staple is stories about government officials visiting military units and the resulting photos and films of the official inspecting the troops and their equipment often reveals important information that is otherwise kept from public view. Such was the case when the Chinese leader recently visited an air force bomber unit to show off himself and the H-6K bomber.
This is the latest version of the H-6 and while much is known about it, there have been no pictures of the cockpit, at least none that the public could see. Apparently Western intel agencies had not had a look inside either as there was some buzz in the intel community when the propaganda pictures of the visit showed the inside of the cockpit and the modern (“glass”) cockpit that consisted largely of five flat screen touch displays rather than the older array of many switches and small indicators. These pictures also showed that the H-6K had a new side entry door that could use a stair or a ladder.
Since 2011 China has received over twenty of the latest model of the H-6 bomber, the H-6K. This model only entered service in 2011, after several years of development. The H-6K uses more efficient Russian engines (D30KP2) that give it a range of about 3,500 kilometers. Electronics are state-of-the-art and include a more powerful radar. The fuselage of the bomber has been reinforced with lighter, stronger, composite materials giving it longer range and greater carrying capacity. The rear facing 23mm autocannon has been replaced with electronic warfare equipment. The H-6K can carry six of the two ton CJ-10A land-attack cruise missiles under its wings and one more in the bomb bay. These appear to have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers, as they are similar to the older Russian Kh-55 (which could be armed with a nuclear warhead). The CJ-10A is sometimes described as a high-speed (2,500 kilometers an hour), solid fuel missile. But that type of missile is a short range (about 300 kilometers) system. The CJ-10A appears to be more of a copy of the American Tomahawk (using a much slower jet engine). The CJ-10A can carry a nuclear warhead but usually does not. Armed with these missiles the H6K can attack American bases on Okinawa and Guam with these cruise missiles. The H-6K can also carry up to eight anti-ship missiles, making it a threat to American carriers.
There are about a hundred H-6s in service (out of about 200 built). These are Chinese copies of the Russian Tu-16s (about 1,500 built). Although the Tu-16 design is over fifty years old, China has continued to rely on their H-6s as one of their principal bombers. The H-6 is a 78 ton aircraft with a crew of four and two engines. Most models can carry nine tons of bombs and missiles, with the new H-6K able to haul about 12 tons. Most H-6s carry the CJ-10A and C201 missiles, as well as bombs. It does not appear that China is building a lot of H-6Ks, perhaps no more than thirty. The Russians kept their Tu-16s in service until the early 1990s, but China kept improving their H-6 copy. Thus the H-6K is a capable heavy bomber that will apparently be around for another decade or two.