Last September the China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) posted a video via its Weibo social media account that showed a simulated attack on the U.S. military base on Guam. Titled “The god of war H-6K goes on the Attack!,” the 15-second video, which was noted for its high production values and even its use of dramatic music, featured a Chinese heavy bomber attacking Andersen Air Force Base.
A Growing Threat
Now it seems that the PLAAF has taken it a bit further, as it conducted “simulated missile attacks” on the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) last month. According to The Aviationist, as many as 28 aircraft including as many as eight H-6 bombers “intruded” into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) between Jan. 23 and 24 – just three days after President Joe Biden took officer.
While the Chinese aircraft remained more than 250 nautical miles from the U.S. carrier and its strike group, pilots of the H-6K bombers could be heard in cockpit conversations confirming orders for the simulated targeting and release of anti-ship missiles, The Financial Times reported. The U.S. warships would have been outside the estimated range of the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missiles carried on the H-6K.
“The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group closely monitored all People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) activity, and at no time did they pose a threat to U.S. Navy ships, aircraft, or Sailors,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command spokesperson Capt. Mike Kafka said via an emailed statement.
“The PLA activities highlighted here, are the latest in a string of aggressive and destabilizing actions,” Kafka added. “These actions reflect a continued PLA attempt to use its military as a tool to intimidate or coerce those operating in international waters and airspace, to include their neighbors and those with competing territorial claims. The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, demonstrating resolve through our operational presence throughout the region.”
South China Sea Tensions
The U.S. Navy had announced the same day as the Chinese PLAAF’s drills that the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) entered the South China Sea, Jan. 23, to conduct routine operations. TRCSG was on its scheduled deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet to ensure freedom of the seas, build partnerships that foster maritime security, and conduct a wide range of operations.
TRCSG consists of USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), Destroyer Squadron 23, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Russell (DDG 59) and USS John Finn (DDG 113).
Theodore Roosevelt departed San Diego for a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific, Dec. 23.
While in this recent PLAAF drill, the H-6 bombers may have been out of range that may not be the case in the coming months. The H-6Ks, which are a Chinese copy of the Cold War Soviet Tu-15 bomber, could be armed with hypersonic weapons, which could be used against targets upwards of 3,000 km (1,864 miles) away. The PLAAF has been modifying a small number of the H-6s to carry a new anti-ship missile, possibly a variant of the DF-21D ballistic anti-ship missile. That could pose a serious danger to the U.S. Navy in the western Pacific.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.