Key Point: Could this work in a combat scenario?
China’s H6-K may be an old Soviet-designed bomber—but it’s getting twenty-first century missiles.
Chinese H-6Ks—a knockoff of the 1950s Soviet Tu-16 bomber—will be armed with hypersonic weapons, according to Chinese media.
“The warplane could eventually be armed with hypersonic weapons that can destroy hostile military hubs 3,000 kilometers [1,864 miles] away within minutes,” said the Global Times news site. “Together with J-20 stealth fighters, H-6Ks could devastate the enemy's fighting capability even before a war gets fully underway.”
Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told Global Times that while the H-6K is neither fast nor stealthy, it can carry long-range cruise missiles.
“The H-6K can remain within a safe zone, launch its missiles that can reach targets 2,000 kilometers away," Wang said. “With China developing hypersonic weapons [missiles that fly at least five times the speed of sound] in recent years, its attack range and speed could become even greater than a conventional cruise missile, potentially capable of taking out targets deep within hostile territories 3,000 kilometers away within just a few minutes.”
Assuming that each H-6K can carry six missiles, ten bombers can attack as many as sixty vital military hubs, Wang added.
Interestingly, the expert quoted by Chinese media suggested that H-6Ks armed with hypersonic missiles could be paired with J-20 stealth fighters. “The J-20 could partner with the H-6K and clear the sky by shooting down hostile aerial hubs such as early warning aircraft and tanker aircraft, while the H-6K will scorch land hubs such as command centers and missile positions,” Wang told Global Times, which also noted that H-6Ks are already training with unspecified fighters and early warning aircraft.
In effect, China is turning an older bomber into a missile truck. The message seems to be that China would target the ground and air infrastructure that would enable American fighters to project power among the vast Pacific expanses: shooting down early warning planes and aerial tankers, and destroying command centers, would disable U.S. airpower as effectively as destroying U.S. aircraft themselves.