Modern Ships magazine printed a centrefold graphic showing China’s new H-6N strategic bomber in their latest edition, with the publication having risked charges of espionage. The state-owned magazine showed the long-range aircraft H-6N, which is modelled on the Soviet Union’s defunct T-u-16 bomber, the Daily Telegraph reports. The faux-pas revealed the never-before-seen aircraft, which subsequently showed China’s hand to the rest of the world during episodes of high tensions with the West.
Another of China’s state-funded publications, the Global Times, played down the image as nothing more than an artist’s impression.
Ciying an “insider source” they added: “The images are computer generated, merely conceptual and have no official background.”
But analysts believe it may be the first glimpse of an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) that China has been working on.
Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in Defence and Strategy capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: “This may be the CH-AS-X-13 Air Launched Ballistic missile (ALBM), which is evidently an air-launched variant of the DF-21 medium range ballistic missile.
“The combination of the range of that system – about 1700km plus the range of the H-6N – would give China greater ability to strike either at land targets as far out as Guam, or potentially, if equipped with an antiship mode, maritime targets at similar range.
“That means, between the DF-26 antiship capable IRBM, this missile, and the land-based DF-21D, China is building a much more sophisticated A2AD in which precision conventional missiles play a major role.
The image comes after Beijing warned Donald Trump that the US must stop “flexing its muscles” in the South China Sea, as the two superpowers continue to trade blows over the disputed waters.
The warning came after US Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe met Monday in Bangkok.
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The US is determined to ensure that the disputed waters remain open to all ships, in an effort to protect “freedom of navigation”.
This is particularly important, as billions of pounds worth of commercial traffic passes through the waters each year.
As a result, the US regularly sends warships to the region and in recent weeks has carried out a series of naval training exercises with India and Japan in an apparent show of strength.
But in a sign that China will no longer passively countenance the presence of US warships, China announced that it was sending its new aircraft carrier to the region for training and research purposes.
Beijing claimed that the deployment of the carrier was not linked to recent events.
In a statement on its website, the People’s Liberation Army Navy spokesman Cheng Dewei said: “Training of the homemade aircraft carrier is a normal arrangement in the process of aircraft carrier construction, is not aimed at any specific target and has nothing to do with the current situation.”
Global Times said the testing “will allow the aircraft carrier crew to become familiar with the sea area where it will often sail in the future.”