The strategic bombers of the People's Liberation Army Air Force can now launch all-weather, long-range, precision strikes, military observers said.
"The fact that our H-6K bombers have performed several long-distance drills far into the Pacific Ocean indicates that the H-6K fleet has become capable of conducting various operations such as long-range precision strikes," Fu Qianshao, an aviation equipment expert with the PLA Air Force, told China Daily on Tuesday.
"In the past, our bombers could only deliver airdropped bombs and so were unable to conduct precision attacks, but the H-6K, with the adoption of some of our most advanced aeronautic technologies, is able to carry and launch air-to-surface cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, which means it can take out multiple targets on the ground or at sea within one mission," he said.
Such capability is indispensable for any air force if it wants to perform strategic missions, Fu said.
"The PLA has defined its air force as a strategic force and pledged to obtain offensive capability for it. An air force with strategic aspirations must be able to perform long-range precision strike operations, so the H-6K is undoubtedly a valuable asset to the PLA Air Force," he added.
His remarks came as PLA Daily reported that H-6Ks from a bomber unit under the Guangzhou Military Command flew several thousand kilometers to an unidentified airspace during a recent exercise and destroyed multiple targets using precision weapons.
The bombers used sophisticated maneuvers and tactics to break through the "enemy defense" and overcame bad weather and the "enemy's electromagnetic blockage", the report said.
The bomber unit is the first to use the H-6K and has flown out of the "first island chain" several times this year to perform long-range drills, according to the newspaper.
PLA military theorists refer to two island "chains" as forming a geographic basis for China's maritime defensive perimeter. The precise boundaries of these chains have never been officially defined by the Chinese government.
By commonly accepted definitions, the first island chain refers to a series of islands stretching from Japan in the north to the Philippines in the south. The second island chain runs from the Bonin Islands in the north and moves southward through the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the Caroline Islands.
H-6K is the latest variant of the H-6 bomber and possibly the only one in the five-decade-old family that can be defined as a genuine strategic bomber. The original H-6 was developed based on the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger, which was designed in the 1950s and retired by Russia in the early 1990s.
"Even though the plane lacks stealth capacity, it still can carry out long-range strikes thanks to the capability of launching airborne cruise missiles," he said.