A new variant of the H-6K strategic bomber dubbed H-6N was spotted in China with a nose-mounted in-flight refueling (IFR) probe.
The new variant is thought to be the naval version of the legacy H-6K with the capability to be armed with an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). The H-6N is reportedly able to carry a special version of DF-21 ASBM externally underneath the fuselage.
The H-6N with ASBM is intended to provide a capability to attack a moving aircraft carrier strike group or land-based mobile launchers from a standoff distance.
The IFR probe can increase the range of the H-6N substantially and is expected to be supported by the newly acquired Il-78 tanker.
About Xian H-6:
Xian H-6 is a licence-built version of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 twin-engine jet bomber, built for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force.
Delivery of the Tu-16 to China began in 1958, and the Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation (XAC) signed a licence production agreement with the USSR to build the type in the late 1950s. The first Chinese Tu-16, or “H-6” as it was designated in Chinese service, flew in 1959. Production was performed by the plant at Xian, with at least 150 built into the 1990s. China is estimated to currently operate around 120 of the aircraft.
The latest version is the H-6K, a heavily redesigned version capable of carrying air-launched cruise missiles. According to United States Department of Defense, this will give the PLAAF a long range standoff offensive air capability with precision-guided munitions.
The Dong-Feng 21D (DF-21D) is a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket, single-warhead medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) and is thought to be the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).
The missile is the latest variant of the DF-21 MRBM developed by China Changfeng Mechanics and Electronics Technology Academy. DF-21 was developed from the JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and is China’s first solid-fuel land-based missile.
According to the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the ASBM has a maximum range exceeding 1,450 kilometres (900 mi, 780 nm).
The ASBM is also thought to employ maneuverable re-entry vehicles (MaRV) with a terminal guidance system.