Xian H-6

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Xian H-6
H-6K 20119 20151127.jpg
Xian H-6K
Role Strategic bomber
National origin China
Manufacturer Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation
First flight 1959[1]
Introduction 1969[2]
Retired Iraq (1991)
Egypt (2000)
Status In service; in production
Primary users People's Liberation Army Air Force
People's Liberation Army Navy
Egyptian Air Force (historical)
Iraqi Air Force (historical)
Number built 231+[3][4]
Developed from Tupolev Tu-16
Variants Xian H-6I

The Xian H-6 (Chinese: 轰-6; pinyin: Hōng-6) is a licence-built[1] version of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 twin-engine jet bomber, built for China's People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF).

Delivery of the Tu-16 to China began in 1958, and a licence production agreement with the Soviets was signed in the late 1950s. Xi'an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (XAC) manufactured aircraft at Xi'an as the "H-6"; the first flew in 1959. By November 2020, the PLAAF had as many as 231.[3]

The latest variant of the H-6 is the H-6N, a heavily redesigned version capable of aerial refueling and carrying air-launched cruise missiles. According to the United States Department of Defense, this will give the PLAAF a long-range standoff offensive air capability with precision-guided munitions.[5][6]

Design and development[edit]

A H-6K landing at Zhuhai Jinwan Airport with cruise missiles (2018)
H-6 over Changzhou (2010)

The first domestically produced H-6 was completed in 1968[7] and evidence of bombing training was recorded by U.S. spy satellites on August 13, 1971.[7] By March of the following year, the CIA estimated that the PRC had 32 aircraft operational with an additional 19 awaiting completion.[7]

The H-6 was used to drop nine nuclear devices at the Lop Nur test site. However, with the increased development in ballistic missile technology, the nuclear delivery capabilities that the H-6 offered diminished in importance. The CIA estimated in 1976 that the H-6 had moved over to a dual nuclear/conventional bombing role.[citation needed]

Developed versions[edit]

PLANAF HY-6U with aerial refuelling pods (2008) "The most distinct difference between HY-6U and HY-6D is that HY-6U has a metal nose cone, while HY-6D still has the transparent glass nose".

Early variants of the original H-6 – a conventional, free-fall bomber – later built included the H-6A nuclear bomber and H-6B reconnaissance variant. Two subsequent variants had improved countermeasures: the H-6C (conventional bomber) and H-6E (nuclear bomber). The H-6D was an anti-ship missile (ASM) carrier and the HY-6 series were mid-air refueling tankers.[citation needed]

The H-6D was introduced in the early 1980s, to carry the C-601 antishipping missile (NATO codename "Silkworm"), an air-launched derivative of the Soviet P-15 Termit ("Styx"); two C-601s were carried, one under each wing. The H-6D featured various modernized systems and sports an enlarged radome with a Type 245 Kobalt I-band surveillance radar under the nose. The Type 245 radar was based on the Soviet PSBN-M-8 NATO codename Mushroom radar used on the Tupolev Tu-16. Earlier versions (Type 241, 242 and 244) were installed on the early models of the H-6. The H-6 has also been used as a tanker and drone launcher. Later H-6 production featured extended curved wingtips.[1]

Many H-6A and H-6C aircraft were updated in the 1990s and merged into the H-6F designation. The main improvement was a modern navigation system, with a GPS satellite constellation receiver, Doppler navigation radar, and inertial navigation system.[citation needed]

New variants were produced in the 1990s: the H-6G was a control platform for ground-launched cruise missiles and the H-6H could carry two land-attack cruise missiles. In terms of the missiles carried, five immediate possibilities were considered by PLAAF: the indigenous HN-1, HN-2, HN-3, DH-10/CJ-10, and a variant of a Russian-designed cruise missile. The CJ-10 was apparently chosen as the main missile carried by the H-6H.[8] Subsequently, the H-6M cruise missile carrier was also introduced, with four pylons for improved cruise missiles and a terrain-following navigation system. Apparently these variants did not include internal weapons bays, and the designs also omitted most or all of the previous defensive gun turrets.[citation needed]


The H-6K, first flying on January 5, 2007,[9] entered service in October 2009 during the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China,[10] and is claimed to make China the third country with an active strategic bomber after US and Russia. [10][11] With a reinforced structure making use of composite materials,[11] enlarged engine inlets for Russian Soloviev D-30 turbofan engines giving a claimed combat radius of 3,500 kilometres (2,200 mi),[10] a glass cockpit with large size LCD multi-function display,[12] and a reworked nose section eliminating the glazed navigator's station in favour of a more powerful radar, the H-6K is a significantly more modern aircraft than earlier versions. Six underwing hardpoints for CJ-10A cruise missiles are added. The rear 23 mm guns and gunner position are replaced by electronic components.[12]

The H-6K is designed for long-range attacks and stand-off attacks. It is capable of attacking US carrier battle groups and priority targets in Asia. This aircraft has nuclear strike capability.[13] While previous models had limited missile capacity (the H-6G could only carry two YJ-12 anti-ship missiles and the H-6M two KD-20/CJ-10K/CJ-20 land attack cruise missiles), the H-6K can carry up to six YJ-12 and 6-7 ALCMs; a single regiment of 18 H-6Ks fully loaded out with YJ-12s can saturate enemy ships with over 100 supersonic missiles. Although the aircraft has a new nose radome housing a modern air-to-ground radar, it is not clear if the bomber or other Chinese assets yet have the capability to collect accurate targeting information for successful strikes against point targets in areas beyond the first island chain.[14][15][16] An electro-optical targeting system is fitted under the nose.[17]

The WS-18 (or WS-18A) engine may be intended to re-engine the H-6K.[18] The WS-18 - a copy[19] or derivative[18] of the D-30 - began development in 2007 and flight testing in 2015.[19]

In 2015, about 15 H-6Ks were in service.[20]

Landing Xian H-6K (Russia, Aviadarts, 2021)

A H-6K fitted with a refuelling probe may have first flown in December 2016. Besides extending range, a possible mission for the variant may be to launch satellites or ballistic missiles.[21]

Defense Intelligence Agency chief Ashley confirmed that China is developing two new air-launched ballistic missiles, (CH-AS-X-13)[22] one of which can carry a nuclear warhead.[23][24] The H-6K would be suited to launch such missiles.[citation needed]

In January 2019, Norinco announced it had tested an analog of the American "Mother of all Bombs." The weapon is carried by an H-6K and takes up the whole of the bomb bay, making it roughly 5–6 m (16–20 ft) long and weighing 10 tons. Chinese media claimed it could be used for wiping out reinforced buildings and shelters as well as clearing obstacles to create an aircraft landing zone.[25][26]

Operational history[edit]

China has repeatedly used H-6 aircraft to perform long-range drills near Japan, prompting the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighters.[27][28][29]

In December 2020, the H-6 carried out joint patrols at an altitude of the Sea of Japan.[30]

In June 2021, a combat drill was conducted near Taiwan's air defense identification zone.[31]

In May 2022, two H-6 aircraft along with four Russian warplanes including the Tu-95 entered the Korean Air defense identification zone near Jeju Island without advance notice to South Korea.[32]


Xian H-6 bombers at the Chinese Aviation Museum in Beijing (2008)
PLAAF Xian H-6 (2008)

Production versions[edit]

  • Xian H-6 – Conventional bomber. Tupolev Tu-16 produced under license in China, first flew in 1959.[1] A prototype conducted China’s first aerial nuclear weapon test at Lop Nor on 14 May 1965.
  • Xian H-6A – Nuclear bomber.[1]
  • Xian H-6BAerial reconnaissance variant.[1]
  • Xian H-6C – Conventional bomber with improved counter-measures suite.[1] Initially designated H-6III.
  • Xian H-6DAnti-ship missile carrier introduced in early 1980s, armed with two air-launched C-601 missiles, one mounted under each wing. Fitted with larger radome under the nose and various improved systems.[1]
Later upgraded to either two C-301 supersonic anti-ship missiles, or four C-101 supersonic anti-ship missiles. An upgraded version, capable of carrying four YJ-8 (C-801) anti-ship missiles is currently under development.[9] Initially designated H-6IV.
  • Xian H-6E – Strategic nuclear bomber with improved counter-measures suite,[1] entered service in 1980s.
  • Xian H-6F – New designation for upgraded H-6A and H-6C. Many aircraft upgraded in the 1990s with new inertial navigation systems, doppler navigation radar and GPS receiver.[1]
  • Xian H-6G – Provides targeting data to ground-launched cruise missiles, built in the 1990s. No internal bomb bay or defensive armament.[1] Electronic-warfare aircraft with underwing electronic countermeasures pods.[33]
  • Xian H-6HLand-attack cruise missile carrier armed with two missiles, built in the 1990s. No internal bomb bay or defensive armament.[1]
  • Xian H-6K – Latest H-6 variant, re-engined with D-30KP turbofan engines of 12,000 kg thrust replacing the original Chinese turbojets. Other modifications include larger air intakes, re-designed flight deck with smaller/fewer transparencies and large dielectric nose radome.
  • Xian H-6J – Version of H-6K for use by the People’s Liberation Army Navy Air Force (PLANAF) to replace the H-6G; has greater payload and range with performance similar to H-6K.[34]
  • Xian H-6M – Cruise missile carrier, fitted with terrain-following system and four under-wing hardpoints for weapons carriage. No internal bomb bay or defensive armament.[1] Production of this variant is believed to have resumed in early 2006.[35]
  • Xian H-6N/H-6X1Air-launched ballistic missile carrier in service as of 2019.[36][37][38] This variant has a semi-recessed area hard point underneath its fuselage. It is capable of mounting an air-derivative of the Dongfeng-21D anti-ship ballistic missile or the CJ-100 supersonic cruise missile,[39] with an added 3,700 mile range including aerial refueling or a variety of other oversized payloads - including those with nuclear warheads.[40] It may be also possible that the modification is to enable carriage of the WZ-8 high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle.[36]
  • Xian HD-6 (Hongzhaji Dian-6) – Electronic warfare version with solid nose and canoe fairing believed to contain electronic counter-measures equipment.

Aerial refuelling versions[edit]

Under-wing aerial refuelling pods fitted to the HY-6U tanker variant (2008)
  • Xian HY-6 (Hongzhaji You-6) – First successful in-flight refuelling tanker variant in Chinese service. Retained PV-23 fire control system of H-6 and thus can still be deployed as a missile launcher.
  • Xian HY-6U – Modified HY-6 tanker in service with the PLAAF, with PV-23 fire control system and Type 244 radar deleted, and thus a dedicated refueling aircraft[41] Also referred as H-6U
  • Xian HY-6D – First aerial refueling tanker for PLANAF, converted from H-6D. The most distinct difference between HY-6U and HY-6D is that HY-6U has a metal nose cone, while HY-6D still has the transparent glass nose. Like the original HY-6, PV-23 fire control system is also retained on HY-6D, which enables the aircraft also to serve as a missile carrying and launching platform.
  • Xian HY-6DU – Aerial refuelling tanker for the PLANAF, modified HY-6D, also referred as H-6DU. Similar to HY-6U, HY-6DU is a dedicated aerial refueling tanker when its PV-23 fire control system is removed from the aircraft.

Export versions[edit]

  • Xian B-6D – Export version of the H-6D.

Testbeds, prototypes and proposed variants[edit]

  • Xian H-6I – Modified version powered by four Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 512 turbofan engines, originally purchased as spare engines for Hawker Siddeley Tridents in service with CAAC. Modifications included a lengthened fuselage and smaller engine nacelles with smaller air intakes in the wing roots, where the original two turbojet engines were replaced with two Spey turbofans. Two more Spey engines mounted on pylons, one under each wing, outboard of the undercarriage sponsons. Ferry range increased to 8,100 km (with standard payload), and combat radius increased to over 5,000 km (with nuclear payload). Development began in 1970, maiden flight took place in 1978 and state certification received in the following year.
  • H-6 Engine Testbed – One H-6, serial number # 086, was converted into an engine testbed. Remained in service for 20 years until replacement by a converted Ilyushin Il-76.
  • H-6 Launch Vehicle – Proposed variant intended to launch a 13 tonne Satellite Launch Vehicle at an altitude of 10,000 m. In 2000 preliminary studies began on the air-launched, all solid propellant SLV, capable of placing a payload of 50 kg in earth orbit. Mock-up of the SLV and H-6 launch platform shown during 2006 Zhuhai Air Show.


Map with Xian H-6 operators in blue with former operators in red

Current operators[edit]


Former operators[edit]

  • Egyptian Air Force — "Some" H-6 acquired post-1973 along with spares for the Egyptian Tu-16 fleet. Last aircraft retired in 2000.[1]

Specifications (H-6)[edit]

Line drawing of a H-6 with wing-tip extension
KH-11 image of a Xian H-6

Data from Sinodefence.com[9]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Length: 34.8 m (114 ft 2 in)
  • Wingspan: 33 m (108 ft 3 in)
  • Height: 10.36 m (34 ft 0 in)
  • Wing area: 165 m2 (1,780 sq ft)
  • Airfoil: root: PR-1-10S-9 (15.7%); tip: PR-1-10S-9 (12%)[43]
  • Empty weight: 37,200 kg (82,012 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 95,000 kg (209,439 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Soloviev D-30KP-2 turbofan engines, 118 kN (27,000 lbf) thrust each


  • Maximum speed: 1,050 km/h (650 mph, 570 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 768 km/h (477 mph, 415 kn) / 0.75M
  • Range: 6,000 km (3,700 mi, 3,200 nmi)
  • Combat range: 1,800 km (1,100 mi, 970 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 12,800 m (42,000 ft)
  • Wing loading: 460 kg/m2 (94 lb/sq ft)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.24


  • Guns:
    • 2× 23 mm (0.906 in) Nudelman-Rikhter NR-23 cannons in remote dorsal turret
    • 2× NR-23 cannons in remote ventral turret
    • 2× NR-23 cannons in manned tail turret
    • 1× NR-23 cannons in nose (occasional addition)
  • Missiles:
  • Bombs: 12,000 kg (26,400 lb) of free-fall weapons

See also[edit]

Related development

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era


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External links[edit]