Air Force Bombers Land on Island Airport for First Time
Air Force Bombers Land on Island Airport for First Time
(Source: China Daily; issued May 21, 2018)
The official Sino Weibo account of the PLA Air Force released a group of photos and a video clip of an H-6K bomber's first landing on May 18 on one of the disputed islands that China has turned into large military bases. (PLA photo)
The People's Liberation Army Air Force landed its H-6K bomber aircraft on an airport in the South China Sea during a recent exercise, marking the first time Chinese bombers have used an airport in the region.

Several H-6Ks from an unidentified aviation division, headed by division commander Hao Jianke, took off from an undisclosed air base in South China and made a simulated strike against sea targets before landing on an island in the South China Sea, according to a statement published by the Air Force on Friday.

The aircraft then conducted takeoff drills using the island's airport, the statement said. It noted the operation provided experience for Air Force bomber units to use islands as their bases.

The division involved in the exercise has taken part in patrols over the western Pacific Ocean, South China Sea and plateaus, according to the Air Force.

The statement quoted Wang Mingliang, a researcher at the PLA Air Force Command College, as saying that takeoff and landing exercises on islands in the South China Sea will help the Air Force strengthen its combat capability to deal with marine security threats.

Wang Yanan, editor of Aerospace Knowledge, told China Daily that after the Air Force's bombers are able to be deployed on islands in the South China Sea, their operational range as well as China's maritime defense parameters will be tremendously extended, adding to existing prowess to deter any plots to compromise China's territorial integrity from the sea.

According to the Chinese government, there are at least four large airports in the South China Sea - on Yongxing Island in the Xisha Islands and Meiji, Zhubi and Yongshu reefs in the Nansha Islands - that are capable of handling large aircraft.

In 2016, large jetliners from Chinese airlines carried out landings and takeoffs using airports on Meiji, Zhubi and Yongshu reefs.

The H-6K is the PLA's most advanced bomber and is capable of carrying supersonic cruise missiles to make precision strikes against land targets or ships. Foreign analysts speculate that the aircraft has a flight range of about 3,500 kilometers while China's CJ-10 series cruise missiles have a minimum range of 1,500 km, which means the bomber is able to hit targets at least 5,000 km from where it takes off.

Aviation Industry Corp of China, the nation's leading aircraft maker, is developing a new long-range strategic bomber, which observers say is likely to have an operational range of at least 12,000 kilometers and a maximum carrying capacity of 20 metric tons of bombs and missiles.

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Why Did H-6K Choose Yongxing Island for its First S. China Sea Landing?
(Source: China Military Online; issued May 21, 2018)
The official Sino Weibo account of the PLA Air Force released a group of photos and a video clip of an H-6K bomber's island / reef take-off and landing training on May 18, drawing extensive attention from domestic and foreign media.

Considering the location of the runway and other infrastructure in the video released by the PLA Air Force, an article published by the US Defense News said that the airport where the H-6K took off and landed was situated on the Yongxing Island, one of the Xisha Islands, and was not the airport that China has built on the Nansha Islands.

In the video clip, the number 23 appeared at the end of the runway, which is consistent with the runway number on the Yongxing Island as shown in satellite photos.

A Chinese military expert who asked for anonymity told the reporter that the H-6K bomber flew to the Yongxing Island for its first landing in the South China Sea perhaps for three reasons.

First, the airport on the Yongxing Island has existed for many years with complete facilities. Its runway is about 3,000m long, which is convenient for the takeoff and landing of large planes like the H-6K. Boeing 737 passenger planes used to take off and land there.

Second, by taking off from there, the H-6K gains certain strategic advantages. When it takes off fully loaded with conventional bombs, it is able to cover all of Vietnam in the west and the entire Taiwan Island in the east, and still include all the Nansha islands in the south. The scope of coverage is even larger if it takes off with a full fuel tank.

Third, the Yongxing Island is located in the Xisha Islands, so the H-6K taking off from there wouldn’t draw too much attention from the South China Sea claimants, thus minimizing objections from the international community.

Of course, China has every right to have the H-6K take off and land at the airport in the Nansha Islands because that's within its own territory. The H-6K's taking off and landing on the Yongxing Island shows China's restraint on the South China Sea issue.

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